It felt like a task of Biblical proportions. For forty days and forty nights, Kay cleaned her house for visitors of the non-familial sort.
“First impressions are lasting impressions” Kay’s goaded herself for the entire prelude to the Fortieth Wedding Anniversary Tea for Heather and her husband. The phrase could have been used for the chorus to a feminist opera, with women on their hands and knees, scrubbing in unison, round and round., rubbing windows round and round, sweeping side to side, hanging the laundry on the line in a repeated stretching arabesques, and breaking into an operatic dance with feather dusters.
Kay mused on the Walt Disney production of Fantasia and replaced the frentic dancers with house cleaners, their heads topped curlers, covered with scarfs that looked like Oriental potentate’s turbans. Drifting into these absurd fantasies was the only way Kay survived the drudgery of housework.
Kay lay on the carpeted floor, stretching to hide boxes of papers under the studio table thinking of the saucy stretching cats and Andrew Lloyd Webber. With the house now full of family – eight, to be precise – at least she now could call on assistance.
“Whistler,” she called.” Could you please run down to the basement and bring me up the hand vac?”
Whistler did as she had bidden and brought it upstairs. Kay, in her supine position, was closer than anyone to the electrical outlet, so she sidled to it and plugged it in.
With a deafening whine, the minor appliance went into action; swiveled and shifted along the carpet, vacuuming, snorting the dust into its belly with a ferocious suction. The upright one had quit on her two days before leaving bizarre polka dots of dog hair deposited on the rug. This was Kay’s last chance to provide a good impression. She sidled along to reach underneath the table, to reach around the borders of the carpet on the bare hardwood floor. The carpet was changing colour from a dusty grey to creamy white as she wove the vacuum back and forth across its pile.
“My lord!” she exclaimed under her breath in amazement and a modicum of disgust. While she had been moving furniture and laying carpet in the basement, while she had been painting walls and unpacking boxes; while she had been cutting back the jungle of a garden and planting perennials, she had ignored housework. “Oh well,” she consoled and forgave herself philosophically, ” it’s only worth doing when you can see you’ve made a difference.” Kay was making a difference.
“That’s it!” she announced firmly. “That’s the last act of cleaning I’m going to do before the party begins.” She awkwardly rose from the floor, wound the long black cord around the vacuum cleaner head to put it away. “What time is it?” she called out to anyone who could hear.
“That gives me ten minutes to get dressed,” she announced, equally firmly, when she heard the response to her query. She was tired.
She put the vacuum in Whistler’s hands as she passed him in the hallway.
“Hide this somewhere , would you please?
Whistler raised his eyebrows, taken aback. His clear blue eyes seemed to pop, then he started to laugh.
“Anywhere it can’t be seen” Kay instructed and started to laugh herself.
She was slipping her dress over her head when the doorbell rang. She listened with a cocked ear. Someone was opening the door. Someone was greeting the comers. She wasn’t going to rush. This was the party. It was time to relax. But good grief! Where were her good shoes? They’d disappeared in the clean-up. She put on an old pair and hoped no one would notice. Surely the good ones were in the study where everything else that should not be seen and did not have a regular putting-away place was stacked.
Only last night, Kay had been worrying that there would be no guests besides family. She had received a reply from Linda and her husband, but of the other ten couples Heather had given invitations to, only two had replied, out-of-towners, who could not attend. So the count was eight of us and two of them.
“How on earth did I allow myself to spend two months renovating and cleaning for two non-family visitors?” Kay groaned. She had phoned to the people on the list still without response. Perhaps the mail had not gone through? Could that be possible? It was summer. Were they away? And then two other invitees had called last-minute. Now the number of invitees coming was six, with family, a total of fourteen. That was more like it!
Kay had stewed over having too much food. Now she stewed that there was not enough food. Whistler offered to take her on a food run which resulted in a purchase of a food tray of chicken wings and another of raw vegetables. Party or no party, they would get eaten.
And here was Kay now, coming down the stairs to greet the guests some of whom she had never met before whom had been greeted by Heather, all standing in the front entrance, packed like a herd of sheep not knowing where to go. With a sinking feeling, Kay realized that although she had cleaned her house and laid in a feast, she had no idea what to do at a party. When it came right down to it, she was shy and retiring. She felt awkward. What were all these dressed-up people doing in her house? What was she going to say to them? She had to think quick. They were all looking at her waiting for her to do something. Ack!!!! Double Ack!!!
Like turning on a light, her social upbringing switched on and she went into motion, introducing herself, greeting those she knew, herding them into the living room, encouraging them to sit down. In a bubble of time that seemed to form itself over her, everyone was in motion except her and Heather.
In that second of sheer panic, Kay turned to Heather and whispered. “I don’t know what to do? What do I do now? Do I give them all drinks? I forgot to get the drinks out. I’m not ready.”
“I don’t know,” shrugged Heather. “It’s your party. You do what you want.” Kay fled to the kitchen. Abandoned Heather. Those people all knew each other. They would manage. They could talk to each other. The awkwardness would pass. Hers. Theirs. At least she had something to do. She could get glasses, get drinks.
Soon everyone had a drink in hand and Kay turned her efforts to passing around food, while in her mind she continued to dither. These people were here for two to three hours. They were all sitting in her living room in deadly fixed positions, but now that she thought about it, she hadn’t really wanted them in the living room. She had wanted them in the garden. She’d prayed for a lovely day despite the forecasts of heavy rain but the rain had dutifully stayed away and it was beautiful in the backyard.
Now that she had them all sitting solidly in the living room, how did she get them out of there? At least they were beginning to talk together.
Piece by piece the food was disappearing. A good sign. The nephews and nieces were passing plates, refilling glasses. They too were looking for a way to fit into the unknown present. Don, a former teacher, came into the kitchen and started a conversation. Soon a few more came. The party had changed from static to mobile. Time flew. Migration to the garden occurred. Whistler took the tray of champagne glasses to the garden. Toasts to the bride and groom were made. Heather’s dauntless husband came prepared with a tribute to his wife and to their married life that made us all weep at the depth and the joy of it. Heather cut the Mango Passion mousse cake and portioned it onto plates. Sister Lizbet posed groups for pictures, flash lights flashed, photos were taken. Four hours had gone by.
Then on some magic cue, the guests left, two by two. It was over.
Kay slumped into the easy chair. Lizbet brought her a cup of coffee. The relatives sat down, one by one. Just family. And that, my friends, is what it is all about.
And Kay has a clean and tidy house.