On Friday night we had our farewell bash for the Husband, vaguely combined with a birthday for me. In my experience, these combined bashes never quite work out that way (kind of like combined birthday/Christmas presents). One occasion always overshadows the other, and on this one the Husband’s Big Trip was definitely more significant than my week-old not-so-significant birthday. Which was fine – when your birthday is four days after Christmas, you get very used to people being distracted on the occasion.
It was a good party, though the Husband I had a minor domestic as we were getting ready, while a terribly polite friend of his, who’d arrived early so he wouldn’t have to go home between work and us, sat beneath the air conditioner in the study and pretended it wasn’t happening. The Husband and I are opposites in many ways. One of those is our approach to household cleanliness. I’m no domestic goddess and he, despite initial New-Age mumblings about being a contented House Husband to my Career Woman, is even worse. But whereas I am at one with my inner (and outer) slattern, he inevitably becomes Martha Bloody Stewart within a couple of hours of guests arriving. Which is generally too late to achieve much. Hence, he gets very frustrated and brings up all the Home Beautiful issues that have been stewing beneath the surface since the last blow-up. And I react badly. The storm usually subsides when we finally laugh at ourselves.
So, on this occasion I arrived home from my first week back at work (and my first week of training my replacement) to find laundry thrown all over the bedroom and the couch throw and cushions and strewn across the lounge room floor. I had cycled home from the train station, my ankle-length dress whipping up dangerously above my knees as I rode. I spent the journey clapping my right hand from the handlebars to my knees and back in a possibly doomed attempt to protect my modesty, and arrived home sweaty and flustered. My hair felt like I’d rubbed it in hot chips and I had about an hour to shower and change before people started arriving. Plus, I also had to tidy F’s room before his dad (due ten minutes ago) dropped him off. And this was no ordinary clean-up.
I had arrived home on Tuesday night (my first day back at work) to find my desk covered in even more debris than usual, the expired food from the fridge plonked defiantly on the kitchen table, my own bedroom carpeted in half my wardrobe, and half the house rearranged. And F’s room completely trashed – toy boxes on the bed, comics buried under blankets, cushions and sleeping bags, clothes and textas and drawings everywhere. All of this was part of the Husband’s cleaning-up method, aimed at making previously stashed-away clutter unbearable, so that life is unbearable until it is cleaned up. I’d grumpily done my room and desk until late on Tuesday night (F was at his dad’s this week, so his room seemed less urgent). Wednesday night I got home from work and didn’t move from the couch until bedtime. Thursday night we were out until 1.30am at a very pleasant (and boozy) farewell dinner with some of the Husband’s work friends. So, that night, Friday night, I had to fix F’s room so that he could eventually go to bed, and so that the kids coming to the party could play in there.
I’d known this all day (all week, in fact), but the minute I spotted my laundry-strewn bedroom, I was hit by a tsunami of anger and sheer bloody exhaustion. When there came a knock at the door, I wrenched it open with a snarl, only to find the Husband’s friend (who I had been forewarned about, but had momentarily forgotten) grinning back at me. He was closely followed by the Husband, who went to kiss me hello. I turned so it landed on my cheek and stomped off to have my shower. The fight culminated with shouting in the kitchen and wrestling over a glass of water in the hallway (he didn’t want me to drink out of the new glass yet – it was for the mojitos, I insisted I would drink out of any damn glass I chose to), which predictably spilt all over the carpet.
An hour after my bad-tempered arrival home, my Friend with the Kids (I only have one) swept in. I abandoned my green garbage bags, gave what was left of F’s mess a quick tidy around the edges, and began pouring drinks. We settled at the kitchen table, as the Husband set up a bar on the back deck and began preparing the mojito jug, popping back to take orders. I joined him on the back deck, ostensibly to restock the drinks fridge, but really to test the marital waters. He greeted me with another kiss.
‘No cheek this time?’ he quipped.
‘Do you love me now?’
Domestic over, though there was a dangerous moment when the Friend with Kids commented on how tidy the place was, observing: ‘Ariel, you’re not known for being neat. It must have been the Husband’. I dryly informed her that, while usually I could laugh at myself along with everyone else, today was not that day and she should leave it alone. She did.
The mojitos were good, the weather was suitably balmy, some guests arrived early and stayed late, others came for an hour and disappeared. I caught up with old friends, including one couple I ran into at the local pool during the week and invited on inspired impulse and the (much-loved) Friend with the Kids, who made the trek from Gisborne. F had a brilliant time, eating chips and drinking lemonade, playing his Lego Star Wars Play Station game for far too long, worshipping his Bionicles with B, the youngest visiting kid, and making a cubby by torchlight in the backyard, oblivious to the grown-ups downing mojitos and designer beers as he squeezed past them. He even dragged his sleeping bag out onto the deck and had a nap on the couch there with B, before returning to the Play Station. It was only later, when the Friend with Kids departed along with F’s playmates and he was sent to bed, that he took stock of the situation and decided to befriend the grown-ups after all, playing the cute card on various lame-excuse-driven trips from his bedroom to the kitchen table (which my friends had colonised for some reason, creating a kind of Friend Apartheid between us and the Husband’s guests – who I do like - on the deck).
Predictably, my (one) single nightclubbing friend arrived after all my other friends had left. He had fallen asleep on the couch after a big one the night before. It was good of him to then catch the train here and walk the twenty minutes from the local station, pre-mix Jim Beam and Cokes in hand. Apparently, he encountered an all-male twenty-something party along the way, and was rattled when a stray bottle smashed at his feet. (‘Sorry mate!’ they yelled, and invited him to join them.)
We ended the night with Nightclub Friend, the Husband’s early guest, and the Husband’s conspiracy theorist friend, who regaled us with stories about how he has actually bet money on the likelihood that world oil will dry up completely in 2007. The Husband encouraged me to share my own half-joking apocalyptic contingency plan (which I drunkenly did) - that we should start stockpiling bottles of water somewhere for when we run out. As you do at 2am, we began discussing whether we should store the water at my mother’s house in Adelaide (problem: if oil runs out first, we won’t be able to get there) or in the shed (problem: we don’t own the house, and it would be a bugger to lug hundreds of bottles of water around with us every time we move house).
‘I guess at least my mother would be saved if we were stuck here,’ I sighed.
‘That’d be good. You’d want to save your mother, wouldn’t you? You want to take care of your mother most of all,’ rhapsodised the conspiracy theorist.
‘Well, and my son, really.’
Of course, it wasn’t long after that that our remaining trio of guests banded together to catch a cab to the inner north of the city, where they all variously live. The Husband and I waved them off at the door and returned to the deck to inspect the after-party debris and savour the fairy lights (brought out for special occasions only) for a few last moments before bed.