My short story Suspicious Move was published in 2008 by the ezine Getting Hitched.
Getting Hitched Fiction – Suspicious Move
By Laura Rittenhouse
“We’re out of milk for the tea. I’ll just pop down to the shops and get some. Back in a tick.” That’s my husband absconding from the scene of an unpleasant task. Something he’d be famous for, if anyone besides me ever witnessed his prowess.
We’re moving next weekend, so today we’re starting to pack. Let me rephrase that; today I’m trying to get my husband to help me start packing. No mean feat. As soon as we woke up, Ralph had a craving for pancakes. He said they would fortify him against the day’s strenuous activities. So I whipped up a batch (using the last of the milk) and watched him slowly cut each piece and slide it gently across his plate to ensure maximum syrup absorption. When he sat back with a sated expression on his face, I whisked the plate out from in front of him and stuffed it into the dishwasher. I rubbed my hands together and said, “Do you think we should start with the office or maybe the linen closet?” That’s when Ralph decided he needed more tea to keep his energy levels up and sauntered into the kitchen to put the kettle on. By this time, I’d started to become suspicious that I hadn’t been fully successful at infusing the love of my live with my commitment to the theory that packing early avoids packing stress.
That said, it’s hard to argue with the fact that we’re out of milk; we’re out of almost everything – which has been the plan, since we’re moving. But Ralph can’t be expected to drink his tea black, so he’s got a legitimate excuse to walk out. Or so I tell myself as I tape up a carton and stand in front of the linen closet trying to decide whether I should bother changing the sheets one more time or whether we can wallow in our own dirt for another week. What about those heat pads? Should I throw them in a box or is there a chance that one of us will strain our backs while packing?
Anyway, the milk run is much more legitimate than last weekend’s excuse. Last weekend was our house clean-out day. Ralph called it our day of reckoning. Since we’ve been living together, every time I brought something home, he’d warn me that one day there would be a reckoning, when I’d have to admit that my new possession was just a different form of rubbish. That day came a week ago Friday, when I realised that we’d consume a small forest to make enough boxes to hold all the things that we didn’t need.
So, last Saturday, Ralph and I agreed (yes, agreed) to go through closets, shelves and shed, collecting the surplus to be distributed between the Salvos and the tip. No sooner had we started, than Ralph decided that he’d have to mow the back garden again before we could move. And that the mower needed a bit of a tune-up before he could mow. Four hours later, I had created 7 cartons of goods to be donated to charity and Ralph had created a grease spot on his jeans. Of course the grass was mowed, but that’s not my point. My point is that if there’s a distraction within a cooee distance of Ralph when an unpleasant task is looming, he’ll grab that distraction with both hands and milk it for all it’s worth. All the while acting like he’s doing the right thing. This leaves me with two options. One: to take on the unpleasant tasks solo. Or two: to wait until the inevitable total panic strikes, when unpleasant tasks become last-minute-unpleasant-tasks, and Ralph transforms himself into a whirling dervish.
Or, more scarily: a combination of the two. Though I have no explanation for it, both options manage to co-exist, contrary to any law of physics I’ve ever heard of. So there’s not really much point in getting myself tied into knots over the whole packing thing, is there. But still, I should get started on the linens. Right after I check on the shed.
The shed is Ralph’s exclusive domain. Not that he’s ever forbidden me to enter it, there’s just absolutely no reason why I would ever want to. He was in there for hours last weekend so he’s probably got it all cleaned out and packing it will be really easy. That’s just like him, he’ll undoubtedly say he wants to pack up the shed today and I’ll be stuck with the linen closet and pantry. So if I just peek in while he’s shopping, I can see whether I should volunteer to help with the shed after he helps with the linen closet, or leave it totally to him.
The shed assaults me as I enter – literally. A hoe, which I’ve never seen before, lunges at me as I open the door. I suspect Ralph of positioning it so that any uninvited visitor gets a bop on the head for his trouble. Clever of him, to be sure, but it will take more than a slight bump on my scalp to discourage my snooping.
If the assault had ended there, all would be right with my world. But it turns out the shed has more sinister defences at its disposal. The next salvo it in its arsenal is a Horror Stench; a mixture of last year’s cigarettes overlaid onto something like paint thinner, oil, and dirty socks, all left soaking in an old coffee can for weeks. Daunting, yes, but still insufficient to stop me. I pull my shirt up over my nose in gas mask fashion and gather my courage. Bravely, not really knowing what to expect next, I turn on the light switch; which flickers blindingly for about 45 seconds, before finally illuminating the shed and making me recall those sightless seconds with fond memories.
On top of the workbench is Fishing Journal, a rather obnoxious magazine full of overweight men and beady-eyed fish. Ralph gave up his subscription a couple years ago, at the same time as I gave up my subscription to Women’s-World. The sacrifices were in honour of some compromise brokered to resolve an argument that I’ve forgotten about. What I do remember is my sense of joy at the expression on Ralph’s face as he agreed to cancel his subscription. It was so worth the loss of Women’s World.
The date on the magazine is from last week. So, not only did my scoundrel of a husband have a piss-poor excuse for not helping me sort through our possessions, he spent the time, not in tinkering with his mower, but in reading that tacky rag and smoking what looks like 3 packets of fags.
I think I’ll stick to the linen closet and leave Ralph with his shed.
The linen closet is all boxed up. I’ve decided to change the sheets, so I’ll have to do a quick bit of laundry. And I’ve determined it’s best to leave out the heat pads. After some deliberation, I convince myself that the spare pillows won’t be needed but the doona might be (you never know when we could have an unseasonable cold snap). As I pick up my marking pen, I hear a car slowing down in front of the house and work myself into an indignant stance. There is no way that it takes this long to get some milk. The car pulls away; false alarm. But it wasn’t time wasted, because an indignant stance only improves with practice.
I’m mulling over the likelihood of needing creamed corn in the next week when the fridge door opens right next to me. I drop the tin in the back of the pantry and give a bit of a squeak.
“Sorry love, didn’t mean to startle you. Just putting the milk in the fridge. I stopped by the bakery and got us some muffins; your favourite – chocolate-chocolate-chip.”
It seems pointless to look indignant in the face of muffins, so I turn around, crawl back into the pantry and mumble, “Fine dear, I’ll bring them out to your shed. Which you can pack after the office.”
There’s a loaded silence coming from behind me. I have no idea if Ralph’s trying to think of a way to get out to the shed to hide the evidence, or if he’s just ignoring me. I hear the water running into the kettle and suspect it’s the latter.
Sunday night is down time for me. I like to sit and watch a DVD. As I lean on my heat pad to gain some relief for my aching back, Ralph rummages through the cartons looking for the one with the DVD player in it. He finds it in the box with the wok that’s labelled “throw-pillows”. “Oh, good. Toss me one of those will you darling? My back is killing me.”
Ralph is going on about the way I mark my boxes but he’s doing it under his breath so I can ignore him. That’s one of the little ways we keep the peace at home. Comments need no rebuttal unless they’re said clearly at a volume that tolerates no claim of mishearing. You’d be surprised how satisfying it is to have the last word under your breath while ignoring your partner’s last word because it’s said under his breath.
Now I’m sitting with my feet up, my back heated and my wok resting on the coffee table. I’m going to enjoy this quiet moment of escapism. Oh no, I let Ralph pick out the DVD, it was another excuse to get out of packing. The result is that we’re watching some sci-fi thriller written for 14 year old boys.
Hell. There’s no other word for the last 7 days. First, there was the week of evening-packing. (And the regrettable unpacking. No mortal could have foreseen the need for barbecue tongs on the night before the move.) Then my suspicion that Ralph shirked almost all of the packing was confirmed when I counted a total of 4 boxes with his handwriting on the outside.
Next there was Saturday. The movers actually had the audacity to arrive early. I had packed the last minute toiletries, but hadn’t even opened the linen closet door. However, like a pro, I ignored the muscle-bound-boys and filled the last half-dozen cartons. As I was panic-packing, Ralph waved his arms about with great purpose, tutted and generally supervised the labourers. He’s much better at that than I am. I can’t help but feel that it’s rude to watch someone carrying your family treasures into a waiting van, as if they’re planning to hurl the boxes marked “fragile” into the back of the lorry. In fact, there is one school of thought that suggests that it was Ralph’s “supervision” that caused that box to spiral from the truck.
It’s Sunday afternoon. All that’s left to be done today is the clean-up of the old house so that we can get back our full bond. Our overdraft is motivating Ralph into a frenzy like I’ve never seen. I’m not sure I have the strength of character, never mind body, to keep up with him. But since I did three-quarters of the packing, I figure Ralph can do three-quarters of the cleaning.
“Oops, I seem to have a hole in the end of my rubber glove. I’ll just pop down to the shops and get a new one. Back in a few minutes.” Getting a hole in the end of a rubber glove isn’t as hard as you might imagine. All you need to do is catch it on the edge of an oven rack and yank.
I’ve been craving this second helping of chocolate-chocolate-chip muffins all week. I suppose I have time for one more cup of tea. By then I should have finished reading Women’s World and I suspect Ralph will have finished scrubbing the kitchen.
© Laura Rittenhouse 2008