“You can’t just leave us hanging,” my friend said. “I want to know what happened to Kay.”
“Kay?” I said, feeling a bit oblivious.
I was sitting at lunch with two friends. It wasn’t something I had been able to do for quite sometime without guilt that there was something else I was supposed to be doing besides enjoying myself and gossiping about my nephews and hearing what they had to say about grandchildren and other relatives. We’ve all got slightly dysfunctional families and it makes for good stories. Every once in a while, our relatives will reach peaks of excellence and that has to be told, too, like Hugh being invited to continue on for his PhD or my friend’s granddaughter being asked to continue on in a special teacher’s class because she has top marks and is a leader (at the tender age of ten!).
And so I had somewhat forgotten that she had been keeping up with family doings on this blog. She was wondering what had happened to dithery Kay and her invitations for coffee on Friday night that bloomed from two to twenty.
Kay was in the kitchen when last we saw her, arranging flowers and tidying up the art room table so that people could come through and think she was a normal housekeeper.
At midnight, she crawled creakily and tiredly to bed. It wasn’t long before she was dead out and it was a good thing, too. She had a big day waiting for her.
Friday came but she had no energy. She couldn’t settle to the tasks that were before her. First of all, she had left the vacuuming until the end and that had to be done early. It was unthinkable that someone might arrive with the vacuum cleaner still out and standing, its long, snaky cord still strewn about the floor; it was more unthinkable that the they would see the rugs in the state they were, with fluff, crumbs and uneven foot marks.
Kay, however, couldn’t function until she had had her first cup of coffee and her daily check of the computer. Who had sent e-mail during the night? What were her blog stats? Had the Austrians checked in? Or that wonderful photographer in London? What about the New York crew? There were a few that looked in regularly from there; and one from Austin, Texas. And then she had to get her fingers nimble on her Freecellian addiction. Nothing would get done if these had not been done.
Kay brewed a large pot of decaf. Her coffee pot would be working overtime for visitors. It would be better to have some reheat on hand to soothe her during the day. When she had dosed her first cup, she headed for the computer.
That done, she steeled herself for her most unfavorite housekeeping task. She extracted the vacuum from it’s hiding place and started on the carpets, unravelling the long black cord to the nearest operative plug outlet. She swore under her breath, although no one was around to hear her, that the horrible machine was spewing bits and pieces out behind and making things worse. When she got to the study, the vacuum refused to pick up the scattered worms of office paper that littered the floor where the shredder was kept. Kay checked the connections, checked the end of the corrugated tube for suction. There wasn’t much. What if the filter was full or the translucent dirt collector tubes? She dismantled the tubes and emptied them then unlocked the filter box and withdrew the dusty square of sponge that prevented fine dust from going somewhere. To the motor? Back into the room?. She cleaned this, then replaced it; replaced the dirt collector tubes and tried out the suction one more time. It had barely improved . When she tried picking up the paper bits, they seemed to multiply. And so she put away the Dirt Devil that seemed to have earned its name by perversely undermining her good housekeeping and went to find the hand vac she had gotten for “free” when she bought the upright.
Once the vacuuming was done, Kay ticked off the things she still felt she had to do – put food out in bowls; make tuna wraps in the tortillas she had bought, clear off the teak table, make ice cubes, sweep the kitchen floor and wash it if need be. A terrible lethargy assailed her suddenly. She didn’t want to do any more. Just nothing at all.
She sat with the remote control in her hand, watching the channel offerings roll by. She switched to the Weather channel and checked out what to expect for the weekend then flipped back to the circulating schedule. She looked at the couch and the two nice pillows beckoning to her.
“Kay!” they whispered. “Kay! Over here, Kay. It’s nice and soft. You could have a snooze. It would be so comfortable. Why don’t you get out the blanket you just put away. No one is coming until seven. You still have six hours. You deserve a rest.”
It was as if the Devil from the Vacuum cleaner had somehow escaped (maybe that was he, spewing out behind, along with the other bits) and now was wedged somewhere in the comfortable couch tempting her to rest.
Our Kay is a girl with the determination of the Tortoise, putting one foot before the other and winning the race, but as a Gemini, she has the weakness of the Hare. Temptation called and she wavered, went for the blanket and crawled under it, justifying to herself that there couldn’t be that much more to do, could there? She would sleep for only an hour and she would be refreshed. She would work faster. She would be better company when company came. So with the television crooning her to sleep and the green knit afghan keeping her warm and cozy, Kay succumbed to the leisure of the couch and fell asleep.
She awoke at two without an ounce of guilt. Her last and only challenge was that large teak table she was using for her drawing station. Truth be told, she had never been able to clear it up enough to actually work on drawings there. It had been littered with all the things she couldn’t figure out what to do with as she was unpacking hers and her mother’s things. She had actually seen the teak surface once or twice in the past eight months, but it was rare. Lately, she had put a great push into putting the things away, taking some down into the basement for storage and others that were tucked into bookshelves or drawers, but the space had immediately been filled up with things that were pending the weekend exhibition.
The only place on the main floor that was to be excluded from visitors was the study and that, she decided, was where all the table top items would go. By the time she was finished, the thick green blanket was cradling an 19th century turkey platter filled with small hardware of hooks, plant hanging rings, possibly still useful light bulbs, masking tape, orphaned thermos lids, saved ribbon, the warranty for the fridge at her mother’s sold house and similar oddities that she hadn’t yet dared throw out.
There was a pile of papers on the printer that would have prevented any churned out letter from escaping the wheels and mechanisms of its inner workings. There was a pile of important papers involved with upcoming taxes at the foot of her computer chair; there was a week’s pile of unopened mail sitting on the chair itself, threatening to slide to the floor at the slightest movement of said chair; and the extra books, magazines and newspapers that had accumulated on several surfaces around the house had been perched perilously wherever there seemed still to be a spot to sit. It reminded Kay of auks nesting on barren rocks hanging on for dear life, with their necessity to walk cautiously lest a precious egg fall to its demise on its fall to the sea. She sighed with dismay as she envisioned her task next week trying to bring order again to her once upon a time sorted papers that had once again become mixed together in an unholy communion.
The teak table was finally bare.
She found the time to fill bowls with tortilla chips and crackers, guacamole dip and cheese slices. She had Anna’s ginger snaps on a plate. There were serviettes and little knives for serving. There were glasses out for wine, just in case; and coffee pots and tea pots ready for preparing a guest’s libation.
She had spread her photos for sale and her hand made cards on the teak table. She had made a price sign for all to see that they were not just there for appreciating, they were there for purchase.
Kay was dressed and ready. Not to be caught, last moment, in some work-a-day outfit, Kay had put on her hostess clothes when she rose in the morning. It was seven. Now all she had to do was wait for the guests.
The phone rang. It was Mrs. Stepford.
“I just phoned to say I won’t be coming.” said Mrs. S. “Everything went OK with the operation but I’m just not feeling up to it. I can’t see anything and I’ve got this great bloody patch over my eye. I don’t want anybody to see me in this state. Mr. S has to go to a meeting. He won’t be coming either.”
Kay had blanched at the thought of a bloody patch, but when she clarified, it was just an expletive that Mrs. S had used.
“Don’t scare me like that!” she exclaimed. But Mrs. S. reassured her that everything had gone well and she was on the mend. Marsha was coming to feed them dinner, and she promised to send her over to Kay’s house in her stead. But Marsha, in the end ,did not come.
Kay began to worry, as she always did, that one after another, those who had been asked to come would phone and cancel. It was a long time fear of hers and the minute that the witching hour presented itself, Kay perspired with the notion that no one would come.
At seven-thirty when her worst fears were closing in on her, Kay saw a woman pass through the garden gate and into the back yard. She looked harmless enough, but just what was she doing there? Kay peered out the window and knocked on the glass. The woman looked up and with her hands pointed in both directions as if to say, “Front or back?”
Kay pointed to the front, went to the front door and opened it.
“I’m Renée,” she said. “I’m showing with Lily – sharing her studio – for this art tour. She said I could come.”
Kay welcomed her in. At the top of the stairs, Renée turned and pointed across the street. “See that other heritage house? That’s where I live. My house is 1906. What year is yours?”
And that was the beginning. Lily and Mark came.
Kay, convinced that the twenty or so invitees would dissolve into these three guests (God bless their souls), suggested a glass of wine. Kay had come to imagine a room full of people mingling – a party- walking about the main floor and admiring the works of art upon the wall like some New York gallery opening; but her guests took their glasses and a nibble from the counter where all the food had been spread, and went and sat as if five o’clock tea had been called. Nevertheless, the conversation flowed.
Renée was a weaver and a jeweller. She had just arrived back from France four days previously. Kay, who had spent the entire month in preparation, marvelled at Renée’s calm. Kay gave a silent prayer of thanks that was short-lived as she was interrupted by the jangle of the telephone.
It was Lara and Glen. They couldn’t come. They had received unexpected visitors and now it was impossible. Kay begged off the phone quickly as the door bell rang. It was Kathy and her daughter, the former occupants of the house. Introductions were made all round. Kay escaped to the kitchen, hoping that the guests could carry on for themselves. When she thought about it, she didn’t really like entertaining alone. It was just so difficult trying to be the caterer and the entertainer at the same time.
And that, my friends is where this story ends. For Kay finally let herself go. She poured herself a good gulp of wine that she downed in the kitchen for fortitude and politely carried a small glass of wine into the company of friends. A few more guests came and they chattered for an hour; then one after another, they made their farewells. Tomorrow was another day, a big day for Kay, and they all knew it.
When she waved the last one away and closed the door she smiled a great grinning smile. She had done it! It was her first soirée and she was so content that she knew her exhibition on the morrow would go well. She had done it on her own.