I’ve set my 1980s style beat-box to low volume and looped through a few old school love songs but not even the stirring lyrics of Into The Night or the malt liquor vibrato of Barry Mardones can distract me from this quivering irritation. Tyson is eating dried corn from his high chair and flinging every third piece as far as he can and as each light airy kernel strikes the floor my body shudders violently because a TV crew from Today/Tonight are on their way to our house and I’ve been cleaning for five straight hours to once again achieve the unnatural state of Channel Nine cleanliness but I have been thwarted in my attempts by one child-related filthification after another.
‘Try to keep things clean because the TV people are coming,’ I’ve told them at least a dozen times but it has been of no use.
As Reservoir Mum left for work this morning she told me that I shouldn’t be concerned about creating the appearance of perfection because no-one expects it from a parent with three children but they were only hollow words because we both know that it won’t be her being chased down the road by a television crew who are trying to expose her as a Mentally Sexy Fraud.
As Archie and Lewis throw the sliding door open and tear through the living room I notice the muddy footprints on the carpet first and the large wet dirty basketballs in their hands second. The third thing I notice is how hard they throw the balls up the carpeted staircase and the fourth thing is how unusually squeaky and barely noticeable my voice is as I scream, again ‘The TV people are coming!’
I feel faint and am overwhelmed by a dense fog and I become aware that I’m running flat-chat. When I look behind me I see the television crew nipping at my heels and on both sides of the street curtains and front doors are opening and when I reach down mid-stride to pick up a stray newspaper to hide my face from the peering, judging masses I see that it’s no use because on the front page is a picture of me in a pair of mentally sexy underwear and suddenly I’m stumbling and tripping because the television crew are distracting me from my attempts to place one foot in front of the other with complex questions like, ‘You don’t really de-cobweb the cornices, do you RD?’ and ‘Can you even tell us what products are used to clean a toilet bowl?’ and ‘You’ve never picked the fluff from your wife’s favorite jumper have you, RD? HAVE YOU?’
‘I fricken-well have…’ I scream back at them as Tyson’s Pterodactyl-like scream pulls me from the nightmarish vision. He smiles at me and tilts his head and I have to acknowledge that he is ridiculously cute but just as I smile back at him I notice through the front window that a dark van has pulled up on our lawn. ‘Holy shit,’ I say.
‘You can’t say that word,’ Lewis says.
‘Shit… I know Lewis. Oh shit!’ I say again, as I do a perfunctory 360 spin on the spot before sprinting to the cupboard for the vacuum. I have it plugged in and functioning in a matter of seconds and I grit my teeth and start sucking the recently applied filth from the carpet like a pack-wolf attempting to beat his brothers to the best parts of a recently killed beast. As the dirt disappears I somehow manage to confiscate the basketballs and throw them through the open sliding door and just as the electrical cord snakes its way back into the vacuum the door bell rings.
The world falls quiet. Outside, the wind howls and as the house creaks its reply we are frozen and wide-eyed and Lewis’s mouth opens and then shuts and as my heart waits for the signal to start beating again Archie turns his head towards me slowly, as if he is nothing more than an old silent image on a Super 8 Film, and whispers, ‘The TV people are here.’
I open the door and the next three hours are a whirlwind of crazy directions, big microphones and bright lights, strange people asking me all kinds of crazy questions, Archie acting unusually defiant, Lewis acting usually defiant, Tyson screaming through his desire to sleep and even though I am somehow aware that I am ultimately in control of my own actions I find that I am easily directed from one scene to another – the camera man’s voice taking the place of my own, usually unrelenting, inner dialogue. I wash and rewash dishes, iron a singlet with long intense strokes, dust vigorously, lower my eye to the tops of tables as if to locate the barest hair of debris, load the washing machine three times and, although I have never done it before, measure the washing powder into a cup with the piercing glare of Clint Eastwood. I’m a maniac on the dance floor and I’m dancing like I’ve never danced before. I clean the toilet from five different angles and when I am instructed to look up in shock/fear when I hear Reservoir Mum return home I do so and then I deliver her a cup of tea and vacuum around her as she sits on the couch and I ask her to lift her feet and then I even re-vacuum an area when she is told to point out some bits that I missed.
Occasionally, I see tiny, red, shiny-toothed demons in the darker corners of the house and their presence is an indication that the person who is following these directions is me, in the sense that my arms and legs are me, but the inner me, the less tangible but more important thinking part of myself is strangely absent and as if to take full and final advantage of my vacuous obedient state the camera man instructs me to polish the staircase knob and even though I have never polished that particular knob before, I do so with furious intent.
All of a sudden we are standing alone in our house again – Reservoir Mum, Archie, Lewis Tyson and me – listening to the howling wind and as we watch them load the massive TV camera (which is kinda cool in the way that a 1980s beat-box is cool) into the van we are all aware without speaking a word that our image is locked inside it and the possibilities to manipulate it are endless.
‘I hope they do something decent with it,’ I whisper.
Reservoir Mum shakes her head and says, ‘I would never sit on the couch and point out where you’ve missed some cleaning,’ she says. ‘I should have said no to that.’
‘I know,’ I say, ‘I mean, you don’t even drink tea.’
‘Shit, I don’t do I…
‘You can’t say that word,’ Lewis and I say in unison.
The van drives off and when Archie turns, Sixth Sense style, and says, ‘Are the TV people gone now Dad?’ I kneel down, take all three of my boys in my arms and say, ‘It’s over now. It’s all over,’ and there is a collective sigh of relief that is interrupted by the ring of my mobile phone. The monitor flashes Unknown Number.
As I lift the phone to my ear the kitchen clock holds itself still and even the wind pauses as if to listen, ‘Hi,’ a voice says, ‘It’s Sam here, from Channel Ten’s The Circle…’
Return next Friday to find out what happened!