I had just returned from a religious retreat, when my house-sitter greeted me at the door.
Her face was puffy; her eyes damp. A soggy tissue was in her hand.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“Awful,” she said, disgusted. “I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“Look,” I said, “it’s only dust. Just open a window. That’s what I do.”
“But it’s winter.”
I wanted to say “so what!” but I learned at the retreat this would be the wrong approach.
No, time to be fatherly. Show some empathy.
“Now, now,” I said, soothingly. “Let it all out. What’s the problem?”
“It’s you!” she cried.
“But I wasn’t even here.”
“Look,” she said, “you ask me to come to this godforsaken place to take care of your house — and, by the way, your plants were already dead when I got here — and there’s NOTHING to do. Even your television reception is awful — who knew they still had rabbit ears?”
“Now, now,” I said, suppressing the urge to scold her for taking the Lord’s name in vain. She can’t be more than 17. Why embarrass her?
“I realize now how bored you must have been. I should have told you there’s a deck of cards on the bottom shelf of the fridge. You could have played solitaire.”
“Solitaire?” she spat. “Who the hell plays solitaire these days?” Another swear word! “What’s next — Snakes and Ladders?”
Yes, I mumble under my breath. It’s under my mattress, but I wasn’t going to tell her that.
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry ... but I don’t know what I could have done.”
“I know what you could have done,” she said. “BOOKS! That’s what you could have done. Have you ever tried reading? I looked everywhere, but all I could find was some silly little pamphlet written by some guy I never heard of: Kama Sutra. I’ll say one thing, he can draw.”
So she found my Kama Sutra. She’d been in my drawers.
She wasn’t done bitching.
“You’re such a hypocrite. You’re so bloody fat and yet guess what I find? A little pamphlet full of yoga positions.”
Oh no, I tell myself, she’s even looked under my pillow.
“Did you browse through the book?” I ask, meekly.
“I tried to but some of the pages are stuck together ... same with Sutra’s book. It’s like you were reading them while eating pancakes with syrup.”
Good, she doesn’t know. Ha. Little Miss Innocent.
Still, I’m not letting her off the hook.
“Young lady, um, where else in here did you look for books?” I ask.
“Well, in the bathroom,” she says. “By the way, why are there two Golf Digests in there? And who are Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan? But the ads were good. Brylcream? What a dumb name.”
I want to tell her a little dab will do you, but I don’t. I also want to tell her I’ve let my Golf Digest subscription lapse.
Now it’s time for her to leave. She sneezes and hands me her damp tissue. She was right about the dust.
“Would you mind phoning for a cab?” she asks.
“What’s the number!”
“Who knows,” she says. “Look it up.”
I haven’t the heart to tell her I don’t have a phone book. I had lugged it to the Antiques Roadshow and forgot it there. We thought it was an antique; we were wrong.
“Come on,” I say. I’ll drive you.”