A Quiet House In The Country
It's almost five o'clock now. They will be home soon, but I am ready. I've spent weeks preparing for this day. Now it's time. Judgement day has come. It's the perfect day for it, too, one of those soft, gentle days of late spring, sunny but not hot. A sweet-smelling breeze brushes my west side, rustling the leaves of the bougainvillea. It's quiet too. They went on a picnic and took their noise with them.
That's mainly what brought me to the breaking point. That and the mess. I simply cannot live with these people, no self-respecting house could. It wasn't that way with the Other One. She was a gentle person, quiet and tidy. She had her needlework and her Chopin, and when her friends came to visit they drank tea and played bridge and gossiped about the widow Shultz and the delivery boy from Harmon's Grocery, or bragged about the fantastic bargain they got on cotton voile at Miller's last week. Not at all like these new people, with their beer parties, their constant arguing, and that dreadful, pounding din they call music. The Other One was gone, though, a stroke, someone said, and the moving men had come and taken away her things. Then her son had come with the Realtors, and the Realtors had come with other people, and again with more people, and finally they had brought Them.
Right from the start I knew They were the wrong kind. Before they were even inside, the Old Woman was complaining about the sagging shutters and the fence that needed painting. Like she expected perfection in a ninety-five-year-old house. The Husband and Wife never stopped bickering the whole time they were here, but in the end they decided to buy. I felt a strong sense of foreboding, but there was noway I could prevent it, and so I steeled myself and accepted it.
When They moved in, though, it was worse than I ever expected, and for a while I thought I would go out of my mind. To begin with, there were the children. Now I have nothing against children as a rule. The Other One had had children, too, many years ago, but they had been well-behaved and well disciplined. These new ones most certainly were not. In all my years of existence, I've never encountered amore uncivilized and quarrelsome bunch of brats.
The Older Daughter is a slovenly pig who seems to eat constantly and spills almost as much as she eats. If it isn't blueberry pie, it's orange soda or spaghetti sauce, and my once immaculate parquet floors are now permanently stained. The Son is another problem. If he isn't beating on his drums in the attic bedroom, he's throwing that accursed baseball against my garage door for hours on end. Such aheadache as you would not believe! Just last week he threw that same ball through my parlor window (I WILL not call it a den!), a painful injury which still has not been attended to. And the things he does with his pocket knife are too terrible to even contemplate.
The Little Girl is somewhat easier to cope with. Being younger, she is less experienced at inventing mischief, and being smaller, less able to carry it out. Writing on walls with crayon and climbing on bookcases are not in themselves capital crimes, but it's obvious that if something isn't done immediately, she will soon be following in the destructive footsteps of her older siblings.
The Parents do very little to try to control their delinquent offspring, in fact the Wife seems not to even notice. She spends nearly every waking hour lounging in front of the TV set, reveling in the trials and tribulations of her favorite soap opera characters in the mornings, and cheering on the cartoon super-heroes in the afternoons. She seems not to have the slightest concept of the function of a broom or dishcloth, and rarely ventures into the kitchen except to get herself a beer or a glass of iced tea.
The usual domestic chores are left to the Old Woman, who resents the imposition and says so, loudly and often. She resents her son's work that brought them to this place, she resents this town and everyone in it, and most of all, she resents "this old house". Well, I may be old by her standards, but I will still be standing a hundred years from now. She and her uncouth kindred most certainly will not. As a matter of fact, They won't be here another night if I have anything to say about it, and I do. Everything is in readiness. It's only a matter of time, now.
Time. What time is it, anyway? Five-thirty? Six? They should have been back by now. I just want to get this over with. I wonder what can be keeping them. It's already starting to get dark. There they are now, just coming up the road. I'm so nervous I can hardly keep from trembling. Now the car is parked in the driveway and the picnic things have been carried into the house.
He couldn't wait two minutes, that Boy! Already he's out there with that dreadful baseball. Bang! against the garage door. Bang! Bang! Again and again! But it's going to be different this time. Did you notice that the garage door is up, just a little? Just enough for a nine-year-old boy to slither underneath. Easily wide enough for a baseball to roll under. Bang! That was close! Bang! Bang! There! I just felt the slightest breath of air as it went under. He's at the door now. The manual control is inside, so he'll have to crawl under if he wants his ball back. He's out of breath from all that exertion, so he won't even be able to scream. The door is going down now. I can feel a slight resistance. Down farther. The resistance is stronger now, but I am strong, too. Just a little more and it's over. He's not moving any more. I wish there weren't that mess on the pavement, but it couldn't be helped. Anyway, time and the cleansing rain will take care of that.
The Old Woman is carrying an overloaded wastebasket out to the trash can behind the shed. I wonder if the salesman told them about the old well there at the corner. It has a wooden cover, but wood rots, you know, and with the weeds growing over it like that.... Ahh. I hardly felt that at all. Just a slight tearing sensation and then a thud.
The Older Sister is in the kitchen getting a snack. Lunch was over four hours ago, and she could hardly be expected to wait for dinner. Atchoo! I do wish she wouldn't leave the refrigerator door standing open like that. I think I'm catching a cold. She's finally decided on a cold spaghetti and meatball sandwich (how revolting). I don't suppose she notices the puddle of sauce she spilled this morning. It's partially dried, but still quite slippery. Oh, my, that countertop does have a sharp corner, doesn't it! Ouch! That one hurt a little.
The parents didn't hear. How could they? They're much too busy arguing over whether to watch The Simpsons or Baywatch. The TV set doesn't seem to be working quite right, though. The sound is okay, but the picture isn't coming in at all. The Husband goes out and looks up at the roof. The lead wires seem to have come loose from the antenna. Now I wonder how that could have happened. Well, there's nothing to do now but haul the ladder out and climb up there. He thinks it's too dangerous in the dark, but his Wife insists. She isn't about to miss her favorite reality show. Did he remember to replace those loose shingles over there next to the chimney? Oops, Iguess not.
The Wife is still in the living room waiting for the picture to come on. Maybe if she tried another channel. Darn remote doesn't work, either. She gets up and pushes the channel button on the console. Oh dear me. The television seems to have suffered a power surge.
There's only one left now. She's in the parlor, playing with a big pink stuffed rabbit. She's not a bad sort, really, considering her background. Perhaps it's not to late to set her on the right path. Perhaps with the right sort of guidance... She's looking up now. Her doll is on top of that tall bookcase. Her brother put it up there to make her cry. She'll probably try to climb up and get it. The anchor bolts are a bit loose, and it's starting to pull away from the wall. Wait a moment while I tighten them. Wait, I said! Don't climb up yet! You're too heavy. I can't hold it! Get off! Do you hear me? Get off, I say! I can't hold on!
* * * * *
It's quiet now, very quiet. Excuse me, sir? Yes, you. You look like a well-bred, refined gentleman. Retired engineer, I'd guess. Civic-minded wife, children grown, moved out of state? I thought as much. Would you be interested in buying a nice, quiet house in the country?
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