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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Greenhouse Gas

September 15, 2002

“Just hold that thought, Mel, while I deal with this noise,” I murmured  huskily, sliding sinuously, albeit reluctantly, out of bed.  The small black box flew off the dresser as I caught it a glancing slap and fell to the floor, still shrilling hysterically.  I glanced back at my rumpled pillow and sighed.  Mel had left the building, gone to the arms of some Hollywood blonde, no doubt, one who did not have housecleaning scheduled to begin at 6-damned-thirty every Friday morning.  Lousy movie actors are all the same, I thought drearily, fine when you’re sharing… what? …some kind of moment… but mention scrubbing toilets and they waft off, leaving nothing more than a lingering regret and a great desire to turf the old flannelette nightie for something with spaghetti straps and a hint of lace.

I rubbed my eyes and sighed.   Mel Gibson might have better things to do at this hour of the morning but this was cleaning day and I had miles to go and promises that had been weighing heavily on my mind.  Putting said mind on auto, I stripped the sheets from the bed and began my Friday morning routine.

Two pots of coffee, a half jug of Mr. Clean, and a dollop of vinegar later, I came to my senses and looked around, dazed and shaky from effort and caffeine, but more importantly, done!

The bed was remade with crisp, clean sheets, the floors gleamed and the windows sparkled inside and out.  Fresh bread cooled on a rack, as did a dozen banana muffins and a brace of meatloaves, one for re-heating for supper, one for the freezer.  I’d dusted all the horizontal surfaces and a few vertical ones as well, the last load of wash had been folded, sorted and put away, and, finally, in an concerted effort to expunge that nagging promise, I took down the globes covering the kitchen lights and removed a 4-month layer of dust and dead flies.

So far, so good.

Pulling out a kitchen chair, carefully, so as not to mark the clean floor, I began making a list of chore and duties for the remainder of  my Friday.

Visit my poor sick husband in the hospital, remembering to bring Efferdent and his nail clippers.

Visit Ma at Macaulay, take cold potato sandwich and copy of my brother’s last e-mail.

Do grocery shopping.

Pick last of the raspberries and see to the greenhouse.

Oh yeah, the greenhouse.  Phil’s greenhouse, to be exact, filled with all manner of creepie-crawlies and junk, as well as tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness and lettuce and other stuff that needed dealing with, this being Harvest Time in Peaceful Valley and all.  “Don’t forget to pick that stuff,” Phil had admonished from the relative comfort of his hospital bed.  “I know you don’t like tomatoes but there’s no sense in them going to waste.”

One after another,  I attended my listings, bringing such relentless good cheer to my ailing and elderly that they each breathed a sigh of intense relief at my departure.   At Food Fair I scooped the usual goods into my cart: l% milk, lean ground beef, low-fat yogurt, and, what the hell, one of those new Nestle strawberry sundaes.  Home again, I filed groceries into their appropriate spaces,  wiped a few fingerprints from the fridge, picked and ate the last seven ripe raspberries of the season, and finally, with longing glance at my rump-sprung recliner, pulled on my old leather gloves and went forth to bring in the sheaves, so to speak.

Now, I gotta tell you.  Phil, dear man though he may be and unwell into the bargain, is a bloody pack rat!

He  built this nice little greenhouse about eight years ago.  We had just purchased a biggish lot in newly developed Arkell, a sort of wedge shaped thing, narrow at the front and wide where it backed up to the greenbelt.  There were a few trees at the rear of the lot and I envisioned a natural development there, small garden, greenhouse, a bit of a patio for casual summer evening dining followed by gentle, bocce-type games on a close-clipped patch of green.

Unfortunately, Phil had a few visions of his own.  A greenhouse, yes, and a tiny garden.  But a toolshop, as well.  And a woodshed, low-slung but well-sized for the cords of firewood that Phil would eventually glean from neighbouring lot development over the next five years.  More wood, probably enough - at the going rate of burn - to last us until the year 2013, made rustic walls in all directions, bracketed at each end by one of the trees that had played a shady role in my imaginary backyard soirees, and a huge pile of salvaged lumber took pride of place right smack in the middle of my projected brick barbecue pit. 

Resigned, I flew a white flag from the clothes-line that stretched from the rear deck to the shop, abandoned thoughts of genteel evenings and relinquished all claims on the area. Phil graciously accepted my declaration of defeat.  “Dumb idea, anyway.  Mosquitos woulda eaten us up, and look at those…” he pointed to a huge heap of sawdust riddled with ant holes, and shrugged sadly.  “They’d-a packed away the potato salad before the steaks were cooked.”

Remembering his words now, I picked my precarious way through piles of firewood and 2x4’s, trying to avoid stepping on the busy little insects that were doing a bit of fall harvesting of their own. “Never would have had the ants if he hadn’t built them a house to start with,” I grumbled as stepped around a small wriggling clot that appeared to be engineering the removal of a dead mouse from path to heap.  The greenhouse loomed before me, full to the brim and overflowing with good stuff needing to be dealt with.  I opened the door, kicked my way into the interior and looked around.

Oh yeah, there were the tomatoes.  Tons of them, some smooth and round, some oval, some gnarly and ridged, most of them still green, all of them needing to be picked.  Man, I thought, what in the world was I going to DO with them all?  Lettuce filled every other available space, encroaching on the peppers which hung heavy and full, and completely obliterating the carrots that Phil had planted for the grandkiddies who came to visit him in his backyard domain.  Digging under the salad greens with a questing forefinger, I located and pulled a dozen or so lovely orange beauties that the kids had missed.  Mine, I thought jealously, these are my reward for all the rest of the work I’m going to have to do to tidy this up. 

Harvesting Phil’s summer crop did not take long.  Tomatoes and peppers filled a large basket to overflowing.  Lettuce, pulled, rinsed and bagged into plastic, all the better for giving away, no matter WHICH diet I was currently embracing, I could not eat all that green stuff by myself! 

The carrots, MY carrots, were washed and tucked into pockets of my barn jacket for easy access.  And that was it.  Harvest had been accomplished.  All now that remained was to bag up the sorry remains for Compost-Tuesday, tidy the beds for next year, put away the tools, and my work was done.

Sounded good, should have been easy, might have take ten minutes.  Didn’t.

As I removed green and growing, things inanimate and inorganic started showing up, at the ends of the beds, under them, on the window sills, in the shelves above, in the roomy cabinet scrounged from a trip to the War Eagle Mall.  Part tins of paint.  Three paint brushes, stiff with old use.  Seven Perfex jugs.  The bougies from a skidoo. Two hockey sticks.  A bicycle seat, a Frisbee, and a toilet plunger.  Two cracked teacups, a large bundle of asphalt shingles.  And ashtray, a beer stein, a heat register and four electrical boxes.  Copper tubing. A roll of carpeting, beige except where mold had turned it an unattractive green.  Not unsurprisingly, there were dozens of small plant pots, many jars and vases and about a zillion plastic trays.  More baffling was the pair of ladies rubber boots, cracked and split, in a size that was no where even close to my own.

I picked up the Frisbee, and started to put it into a garbage bag.  My God, I thought, how long did it take him to bring all this stuff home?  And how long is it going to take me to sort it out and arrange it tidily?  

More time than I had, I decided as I picked up the basket of tomatoes and hoiked them into the house.  Put them on the window sills to ripen, Phil had said and soon every sill in the house held its full complement of the round or oval or gnarly fruits/vegetables in varying stages of  readiness, ripe, half-ripe, and downright green.  For someone who turned up her nose at tomatoes, I all of a once seemed to have an embarrassing amount of the darn things.  Maybe I’d have to learn to like them.

Tired by my long day, I made it an early night.  Even in the dimness of my bedroom, I could see the tomatoes on the windowsill.  I turned my back and felt the day start to slip away. My eyes drifted shut.

“So Mel….” I murmured sleepily, “you ever tried fried green tomatoes?”

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