One thing leads to another – compulsion!

It started quite innocently, Kay thought.

“Why don’t I just have Mrs. Stepford in to see my house all cleaned up for the Art Studio Tour on the night before?” she said to herself. “The paintings will all be hung; the house will be unencumbered of the moving boxes (nine months later); the house will finally look as I wanted it to.”

There were altruistic reasons for this invitation. Mrs. Stepford was undergoing her lens replacement operation on Friday, the day before the studio tour. She would want to see it, but she wouldn’t want to see it while a mob of people came through nor would she be tolerant of mouthy aliens coming to mock the creations of advanced practitioners of the visual arts. Philistines!

There was another reason. There was little likelihood that Mr. Stepford would come unless he got a private showing and Kay needed him to see that she could bring her house into order. He had a healthy dose of skepticism on this as he ticked the months off on his fingers every time they had talked about making progress on the putting away of moving boxes.

Kay reflected that it wouldn’t take much to do, having them on on Friday night, the night before the show. Just a pot of coffee; maybe a little dessert. Mr. S has a sweet tooth. All it would take was a little raspberry sorbet.

Not much later, Kay thought about Lily. Lily was opening her studio as well. She wouldn’t have a chance to see any of the other artists because she would be stuck minding her own store. Mr. and Mrs. Stepford were great friends of Lily. If Kay were very clear that it was only for an hour, she could handle four people coming.

Kay phoned Lily and asked her to bring Mark, her husband, along with her. After all, Kay thought, Mark and Mr. S knew each other very well and it wouldn’t leave an orphan male wandering about amongst a henhouse full of art-women. Lily was pleased to accept, though she hesitated. She was meeting with Renée who was sharing her studio and showing and selling hand made fabrics.

“Well, I’d love to meet Renée!” said Kay. “Bring her along!”

That was Saturday.

On Sunday, over the fence, Kay was talking to her neighbours, Lara and Glen. After a conversation that went this way and that, Lara said, “Do you by any chance have a copy of the map for the studio tour?”

“I’ve got one in the house.” Kay replied. “I’ll bring it over a little later.” Kay continued on with her garden work. There were two young men coming to clean out the gutters on Monday who had offered to take away all the garden waste to the dump if only it were bagged up and ready for them. Kay was diligently raking up all the winter windfall of cedar and fir branches, cones and other debris.

Later in the afternoon, Kay walked around the corner and past Mrs. Stepford’s house to Lara’s. Lara and Glen are warm, wonderful neighbours, ready to lend a hand anytime; ready to stand on guard against intruders of the homus erectus variety while Kay was travelling; They were watchful and caring.

Lara and Glen knew everyone in the neighbourhood and the conversation flowed with tales and gossip. Hot in the conversation pot was the disposition of the property that lay at the end of both of their gardens. A full acre lot in a residential part of the city was almost unheard of. The owners had died and the estate had sold the land to developers. The huge cedars and firs had been measured up by a tree surveyor just two days before. Rumour had it that the plans were for five duplexes, at best (in the contractor’s view) or three new homes with suites if zoning for five could not be obtained. The whole neighbourhood was waiting for the development application so that its collective voice could be heard.

Kay was feeling so comfortable and happy with this conversation that a luminous idea came to mind. As she was leaving, she said, “Why don’t you come over for a quick preview on Friday night. I’m having the Stepfords in. About seven. Bring the kids. It’ll just be coffee and tea.”

“What were two more?” Kay said to herself. “Well, three with Kate, but Kate was only ten, so just count that as two more,” she said, minimizing the work that it might entail. But when she stopped to think about it as she was climbing the stairs back to her own home, she was already up to seven; eight counting herself, and then Kate.

On Monday the gutters were cleaned. Mrs. S was having hers done. Kay had been putting this off, hoping for a more auspicious time, grossly undefined; but since Mrs. S. had her young handyman in to do it, Kay obliged. The cost of the power washer rental could be halved between them, he had promised. That sounded auspicious, and here they were, streaming water down the gutters; cleaning moss off the outer edges of the eaves, and incidentally, leaving streaks of water through the winter film of dirt on the windows.

Gordon the handyman said, upon leaving, “If you want any other work done, we’re available. Painting, lawn mowing, tree removal, vinyls siding wash down, getting the algae off the steps, window washing, yard work, anything really. Just call.”

“Nothing just now, ” Kay thanked him. She had been counting the hundred dollar bills flying out the window. Four for the raccoon and the squirrels in the roof. Two for lawn maintenance start up, moss de-thatching and lawn aerating. Two for the gutters. She gulped as she added it all up together.

Late on Monday afternoon, the sun was streaming in the western windows splashing a beautiful glow on the kitchen counter, highlighting the mass of items still to be packed away somewhere – pottery platters, the blue and white plate collection; several ornaments from her mother’s estate; ten long play records that Kay suspected were perhaps valuable, from the time of the Beatles; crystal salt and pepper shakers. All of these were mixed in with tools that she was using for finishing off the hanging hardware for some of the paintings she was going to show – hammer, various picture hooks; picture wire; multi-head screwdriver; tape measure; ruler; linen tape and on and on. It was quite an unholy jumble that had to be sorted out before Friday.

Sunshine, she thought, could make anything beautiful. Even this explosion of material goods that were strewn along the counter, covering every inch of it. In a moment of pause, she looked up at the source of the light and her spirits slumped. There was one thing that the sun could not make beautiful. Windows with a winter season of scum upon them. How could she show her home and her work if the windows were not clean. Especially now that they were streaked in runnels from the power washing exercise.

She grabbed a cloth and opened the window. As far as she could lean out, she cleaned. She got a chair and stood upon it. It gave her six more inches of cleaned window. But the rest? There was no way she could reach it. There was no way she was going to get up on a ladder outside to clean the windows and there was no other way to do it.

With profound regret for her flying hundreds, she telephoned Gordon the handyman and asked for a quote. Even before she heard it, she knew she would say yes.

“Listen, Gordon, while your guy was power-washing the eaves, he managed to strip the paint off the front steps and railings. I’ve got visitors coming in. What can you do about it?”

He promised a sweet deal on the window washing and, if Kay found the matching paint, he’d fix that up at no cost.

Kay found the paint that night and calculated her odds. In a rainy place like the Wet Coast, two fine April days in a row were unlikely to see a third. What if the guys didn’t have enough time. What if it rained and then the paint wouldn’t stick. Near midnight, Kay went out to the front steps and treated the knot holes and the cracks with filler. In the morning, she got out the paint bucket herself and gave it a coat of the nearest thing she could find – grey primer. It wasn’t quite the same colour as the other railing and it was mat, but it looked cleaned and cared for. It would do. The alkyd coat could come later when the weather was warm.

It was Wednesday afternoon when she called Mrs. S in for coffee. “Look what I’ve done!” Kay gloated a little prematurely. I’ve gotten all the boxes downstairs or put away. The metal box that had treasures in it is now serving as a closed shoe box in the study; the open wooden shoe box is now holding some small paintings for people to look through; the kitchen nook table is now free to be a kitchen nook table; I can get at my linen drawers. I’ve made huge progress!”

Mrs. S. was suitably impressed. She toured the main floor and commented on the placement of paintings and drawings, giving freely of her expertise in hanging art work.

“I can’t stay,” she said quite firmly, “Kathy is coming for her painting lesson in fifteen minutes. I gotta go. But congratulations, girl, it’s looking good! I’ll call you later when I’m finished and we can have a cup of tea to linger over.”

Ring-a-ling! Ring-a-ling! The phone was demanding attention. It was Mrs. S.

“Can Kathy come to your salon on Friday night?” she asked. I was telling her all about it.”
“It’s not a salon. I was just inviting you in for coffee,” Kay replied with a bit of panic.

“Well, Kathy wants to come with Kurt. They want to see your work and they want to see what you’ve done to the house.”

“Is she standing right there?” Kay said suspiciously.

“Yes,” drawled Mrs. S. Kay could hear her chortling on her end of the phone.

“Of course she can come. I had been thinking they might like to come. I just hadn’t got around to it yet.”

“You can come!” Kay heard her say gleefully and she imagined Mrs. S triumphantly announcing it to her painting student.

“Let me talk to her,” Kay insisted.

“Of course you can come, Kathy. And Kurt. Bring the kids if you need to. You don’t need to get a baby sitter. Lara and Glen are coming too, and Kate. See you Friday at seven”

That evening, as Kay was sorting out another box of treasures to be relegated to the basement she began to feel the import of this snowballing cup of coffee. If all those people were coming, surely Maggie would want to come. If the head count was up to twelve or more, what would two more do? After all, she couldn’t invite Maggie with out inviting her husband. Maggie was another of the hosting artists. She wouldn’t get a chance to come out during the tour either. And so Kay called Maggie.

With all those folks bound to arrive on Friday, what kind of a hostess would she seem to be if there wasn’t just a little something to nibble on. Kay needed crackers and cheese at a minimum. Maybe some taco chips and a dip. Something easy. And what if not everybody drank coffee or tea? What about the kids? They’d want cola or soda pop. And so Kay planned a trip to the big box superstore.

On Thursday morning, early to beat the bridge traffic but not so early as to be caught in rush hour, Kay drove to the store and came home bearing crackers, Balderson’s white cheddar and two rounds of Camembert, roasted deluxe nuts, flowers, pickled artichokes, guacamole dip, a case of Coke in tins, cranberry juice for virgin cocktails, celery and peppers for the vegetable tray.

It was as she was heaving the Coke case up the front stairs a step at a time that she became aware of the algae that encrusted the steps. She looked at her brightly shining railing, spotless clean with new paint and then looked at the green film that covered the other wood surfaces. If she hadn’t cleaned up the railing, the stairs would not have looked so bad! What was it that they said about first impressions? Good Grief! She was going to have to clean the stairs.

Kay settled her groceries on the almost clear counter and in that five minutes of bringing in, had completely covered it again. Niggling at her, the stairs were calling out her name. “Kay! Kay! Come clean us Kay! What will people think, Kay? It’s as bad as having dandruff!’

So dutifully, before it got forgot, Kay filled an old ice cream pail full of hot water and laced with cleaning agent. Careful not to spill, she carried it over the entryway carpet and out to the front steps. A scrub brush in hand, she tore away at the steps lifting up all the green algae and rinsing it away.

“I swear, I am going to remember this colour next summer when I go to paint the trim. I’m going to paint the stairs green and then no one will know if they have algae or not,” she chafed.

She looked at the shoddy stairs, now much, much cleaner, and thought that if only she had time and good weather, perhaps she could touch up the stairs with paint on the morrow….

Now, I can’t tell you the end of this story, because Kay is still in the kitchen, putting away food, arranging flowers, packing up those things on the studio table, sweeping, putting photos into mats and then into glassine envelopes to keep grubby paws from marking them. Kay is thinking up all the things she still has to do. And who knows? Kay will invent more things to do before she is finished.

That’s our Kay.

Now, how many people were coming?


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