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
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
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
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
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
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