House of horrors
Spring has sprung, and not a moment too soon.
All winter long, I have been flirting with insanity at a rate of approximately one day per month. My nerves are shot, my patience has worn thin, my hair’s gone gray. Truth be told, if spring hadn’t finally arrived, I think I’d be writing this column from a padded room.
The most recent incident came when I parked my car in my sister’s driveway, got out, and then watched as my teenage nephew walked behind the SUV just as it started sliding — parked and unoccupied — slowly down the wet and icy driveway.
A high-pitched shriek rang throughout the land, and a moment later I realized it had come from me. The teen fast-footed it across, and escaped unscathed, but I felt at least a dozen new gray hairs emerge on my head.
Relief flooded my body as I hugged him tight, and my husband prepared to move the precariously parked car. But my daughter, not to be outdone, decided she should follow suit. My relief turned to horror as I watched her scurry behind the vehicle. (Instead of a hug, she got grabbed by the scruff and taken into the house while my husband put the Toyota on level ground.)
My heart can’t take it. I swear, I’m too old for this. It took half an hour for my heart rate to return to normal.
Not long before that, I woke on a Saturday morning with an urge to clean. Now if you know me at all, you know this in itself is odd. But I rose early, feeling ambitious, and determined to get my house in order.
When I was a child, every now and then my father would rise bright and early on a weekend and ask, “Who wants to have a party?” We’d all yell, “Meeee!” and he’d go on to explain we were having “a GI party,” which apparently meant “general inspection” when he was in the Army.
Oy. And you wonder why I don’t like to clean?
He would hand out dust cloths, cans of Pledge and Endust, paper towels and bottles of Windex. Then he’d send the five of us out like an army of minions. We were his mini maids, and he would supervise us, calling out instructions and pointing out places we had missed from the general’s seat on the sofa. Usually my mother was at the grocery store or running errands.
When we were finished, the house would reek of cleaning products and we all were dirty and disgruntled. It was something I hated, but here I was doing it myself to my own daughter. How does that happen, exactly, I wonder?
“OK, Elizabeth,” I snapped, sounding so much like PFC Al Ferrazza, US Army, that I scared myself. “Here’s a dust cloth and some Pledge. I want you to tackle the living room. Charge!”
She just looked at me like I had taken leave of my senses. She held the square from an old T-shirt by one corner with her fingertips, and eyed the Pledge can suspiciously.
“But it’s Saturday,” she said. “Do I have to?”
“Fall out!” I ordered. “March!”
She turned on her heel, and followed orders like a good little soldier.
The two of us dusted, polished, scrubbed and vacuumed for a solid hour. But I swear, it seemed the more we cleaned, the worse things looked. My second-grader had left streaks on the glass and the woodwork, and we had stirred up so much dust it sparkled like floating diamonds as the morning sun shone through the smudged windows.
“That’s the thing I hate about cleaning,” I groused to my husband. “It’s never ending. There’s always more to do.”
He was folding laundry and putting it in neat piles on the coffee table, smiling.
“That’s because you only do it once a year,” he said.
“Not true,” I replied. “Not true at all.”
He chuckled. So rude.
“Mom cleans like crazy when company’s coming,” Lizzie offered, dusting the top of the piano.
“Thanks, Liz,” I said.
Suddenly she screamed, dropped her feather duster and jumped 3 feet.
“Ewww, a ladybug!” she cried.
“So get a tissue, pick it up and throw it out,” I said. “Consider it an opportunity for growth.”
On her way to the bathroom, she grumbled, “More like an opportunity for GROSS.”
While she fumbled with the ladybug, I rewashed the windows, then realized the frames and sills needed to be wiped down and dried. Come to think of it, the curtains needed washing, and so did the shades. Every picture in the parlor needed dusting, and so did everything atop my china closet. Actually, everything inside the china closet needed dusting too. And this was only one room.
“See what I mean?” I said, throwing up my hands. “What am I supposed to do? Wash every single thing in this house today?”
My husband just smiled, as if he was witnessing the inevitable meltdown he had been silently awaiting.
“Well, forget it,” I snapped, throwing down my dust rag. “I’m not doing it. Life’s too short.”
Looking up, I noticed a big cobweb in the corner near the ceiling. I grabbed a broom and swept it down, then checked the other corners. Sure enough, more webs. And as I swept, a little bit of loose paint flaked off the ceiling, wafting down around me like snow.
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “This place is a shambles.”
Upon closer inspection, I noticed the walls too could use a fresh coat of paint.
“Look at this,” I said, pointing at the paint flakes with my broom. “How do we even live here? I can’t stand it anymore. This is a house of horrors!”
The more I ranted and raved, the more I knew I couldn’t take another minute in this house. Our house. My beloved 1820 farmhouse. The house I said I never would leave, not even if we won the lottery.
“A house of horrors?” my husband said, looking bemused. “That’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
“I’ve gotta get out of here,” I said, feeling claustrophobic and pulling at my collar.
Tim thought that was an excellent idea.
“You’ve got cabin fever. Go out for a while,” he advised. (I’m sure scenes from “Misery” were rolling in his head.)
“Come on, Lizzie,” I said to my daughter. “We’re done.”
I didn’t have to tell her twice. She happily dropped her Swiffer and followed me upstairs. We changed our clothes, and I went into the bathroom to freshen up, only to let out a blood-curdling scream.
Tim bounded up the stairs and met me in the hallway where I stood in shock with my hand still covering my mouth.
“Go look in the bathroom and tell me if you see what I think I just saw…” I said. Maybe he was right. Maybe I had gone around the bend. Was I seeing things?
He came back in an instant.
“You mean the decapitated mouse in the toilet?” he asked.
I nodded slowly.
“Yup,” he said.
I told you it was a house of horrors.
And the beat goes on.
Kris Ferrazza is a former reporter and copy editor for Courier Publications. Formerly of Waldoboro, she’s now on a waiting list for a room at Trembling Meadows Rest Home.