I’ve just jack-knifed the Tarago into the curb outside the boy’s primary school and – despite being suddenly struck down by a perilous illness – I manage to open the door, stumble out, wave goodbye to Lewis, Tyson and follow up my scream of ‘Have a great day boys!’ with ‘Let your body groove to the music!’ because Madonna’s Vogue is playing on the radio.
‘Okay Dad,’ Tyson says, running away rocket-fast because Maki’s decided, for whatever reason, to throw his school bag at him.
I feel hot, in a very unsexy way, and last night, despite inserting tissues into my nostrils, I woke every hour or so, progressively sicker each time, until the morning rose up like a bright bird-chirping demon intent on burning my eyeballs out.
Before RM left for work she said, ‘Hey, I was thinking about it. You should just sleep for an hour or so today. You’re up and down almost every night to the boys.’
‘Boys just want to have fun,’ I said, dismissing her completely rational suggestion, thinking about my mental ‘to-do’ list and visualising a man, naked (for some reason), trapped in a collapsed mine, strangling a budgie to death.
‘It’s girls just want to have fun,’ she said.
‘Sexist,’ I said, selflessly turning my head to take her good-bye kiss on the cheek so that I wouldn’t infect her.
I’m back into the driver’s seat watching the boys traverse safely over the school crossing, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the rear vision mirror. I’ve seen eyes like that before. Maybe in the bathroom mirror in my Uni days after a week or two of solid drinking, maybe in the cult classic ‘Return of The Living Dead’. I’m not sure. Either way, I look like death, and I’m about to give in, to accept that the house will remain hideous and messy and inviting as a beach full of slaughtered dolphins, until – not for the first time in my life – Madonna transmits guru energy to me, swiping the negatives away from my consciousness with a wise refrain: Beauty’s where you find it, RD, not just where you bump and grind it.
‘Yes,’ I whisper, eyeballing myself. ‘I’m still as beautiful as ever on the inside.’
The baskets of washing, the rooms full of unsorted clothing, the carpets cluttered with shoes and toys and books and the continually shifting mountains of dust and pet hair and dead skin are only a few of the tasks that lay ahead of me. There’s also the new kitten, Gus, who’s still-developing bowels are insisting I mop the floors. There’s the deposits of the new puppy, Jimmy, to attend to in the backyard, and it’s as I’m searching the Tarago for tissues that I notice its calamitous collection of filth – food particles, torn homework, empty packets of just about every kid snack known to man and, OMG, something stuck to the console that looks like a tiny, once slithering but now thankfully dead Gina Rinehart.
I used to love our house – I mean I still do – but when I swing the front door open I’m met with a smell that doesn’t make any sense to me, that would make more sense if I’d just opened the lid of a recently exhumed coffin.
‘This is what you signed up for RD,’ I say, sticking the left headphone in my ear, pausing to blow my nose, sticking the right headphone in, pinching my eyes to kill the sting and clear my vision, swiping through my playlist to find something that’s even more uplifting than Vogue.
I’m walking the hall, scanning each room, unable to settle on a song. My ‘to-do’ list is expanding and ping-pinging like a winning pokie machine, but my chest is feeling congested now so I feel I’m losing big-time.
When I reach the bedroom where all the magic happens, mine and RM’s, the big warm bed is winking at me like a sexy MILF, saying, ‘Get your tush under these covers cutie’ and I’m about to succumb, to fall upon it’s warm motherly bosom and cry myself to sleep but then, completely at random, Spotify suggests ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty, and I’m hitting play, convincing myself that one hour of intense cleaning will at least allow me a sense of accomplishment. The housework can make me feel like a real man again.
Within ten minutes there’s some floor visible, and Tom Petty’s motivating me, and the delirium of disease is feeding on my imagination of the bed as a sexy mature woman to make me think ahead to date night. Maybe, if I can rid myself of this cold, or at least disguise it with the appropriate pharmaceuticals, RM might be keen to try something new this week – me as the awkward teen boy, her as the caring but dominant school teacher who takes advantage of my wide-eyed hormonally charged curiosity. Hmmm….
Just as I’m about to text that idea to her I walk past the beanbag in the living room and there’s a stench I can’t ignore. Gus, the cute little kitten, who I will always love no matter what, has shit on it, and now I have a problem I’ve never encountered before.
The bastard beanbag is full of beans, of course, so it won’t fit in the washing machine. I can’t take the beans out because there’s no way, as skilled as I am, to get them back in the bag again. Wiping it and spraying it with a chemically enhanced rainforest scent won’t give me the security of feeling that it’s actually clean, and so, in a moment of nose-blowing inspiration, I decide to stick it in the bath and soak it for a while.
If I ever write this story into a blogpost, readers who make it this far will know for certain what’s going to happen next, and that’s why I’m saying to myself, out loud, ‘Remember to come and turn the bath taps off, RD. Okay? Seriously remember to do that. RD, you dickhead, don’t fricken forget to come back and turn of the bath taps’ as I’m tripping down the hall, taking a hard right into Tyson and Maki’s room, picking up clothes, sorting the dirty from the not so dirty.
A moment passes as Tom Petty says, You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down and I’m singing through gritted teeth, folding a t-shirt, suddenly sneezing machine-gun style and sitting on the edge of the bed, dazed, convincing myself that I need a moment of idleness to take another charge, when my phone pings at me with an Instagram message from a woman named @lorenaolsson65. She’s wearing a bikini, winking as if she knows me. Her message is short, to the point. ‘Hi’, it says, with a love heart emoji.
‘Oh that’s nice. Maybe she’s seen one of my weightlifting videos,’ is what I’m thinking as I scroll through my other personal messages, noting that there are several other women, all dressed the same way, posing just the same, who have sent me the exact same message, and I shift from feeling slightly chuffed to feeling cheated. Sexism exists, that’s the truth man. These women and the way they try to take advantage of male sexuality…
The resultant anger fuels my steps towards Maki’s crumpled dressing gown and as I’m timing my sniffling to be at its strongest point just as I’m bending over I notice a little water on the floorboards in the hall.
At first I’m thinking Gus has pissed on the floor, again, but when I peer around the door I can see that this puddle is beyond the scope of a cat’s bladder. This is not kitten piddle. Even a fully-grown diabetic Lion, with a harem of pregnant lionesses, who had all been force-fed Powerade and diuretics could not collectively produce this much piss.
There’s water pouring into the main bedroom, soaking the carpet, flowing under the two tonne piano and because of my sudden freak-out I’m running through it, almost slipping over, completely confused for several seconds until, following the flow of the water, I see the overflowing bath. The beanbag’s floating on top of it, hardly even wet because – for fuck’s sake RD, beanbag balls made of foam FLOAT. Jesus. Even I could have told me that.
Two Hours Later
The marital bed has finally claimed me. In the laundry there are thirty soaking towels waiting to be washed and hung out and dried and folded up and put away. The bin is full of drenched paper towels. The house is still a mess. The beanbag still smells like cat shit. I’m sorry Tom Petty, but I’ve backed down.
I’m not sure I can actually get to sleep and
despite being sick, and frustrated, I’m still thinking of RM and so slip a hand from under the doona to text her a quick message.
‘I’ll be a school boy and you be the school teacher next time?’
The three little dots, signally her reply, give me the biggest thrill I’ve had all day. ‘When you are feeling better,’ her text says, disappointingly. ‘You are in the sick bay at present.’
I can feel myself succumbing to sleep, but I want to end this morning with something positive, something anticipatory.
‘You could be the nurse then? I might have strained my groins or something.’
The three little dots again, and I’m keeping an eye open, hoping for something sexy and great and motivational. When her text finally comes through, it’s all of that, and so rewarding that I kind of laugh-cry.
‘I could wear my camp nurse singlet,’ it says.
‘Rock on,’ I text back, tucking the phone under my pillow, letting my eyes close, sick and defeated but with something to look forward to.