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There’s always a few random chores The Mom intends for me to do whilst I’m home visiting. And generally speaking, she’ll announce them at the beginning of my trip and then when I tell her I’ll get to it later, she’ll wait until the last day or two to remind me that I still haven’t done it. There will be no reminding in the intervening period.

But never mind. The day or two before I fly back to London are never well thought out and full of last-minute things. Like laundry, buying presents, sending postcards and spending as much time in the pool as possible.

Add to that the fact that the random chores The Mom wants doing are usually along the lines of fixing the computer or changing a lightbulb. This time, however, she got a jump on things.

An old rusty dirt-covered shovel had been in the kitchen for a few days. Knowing her and the way the house functions, I avoided making eye contact with it as well as mentioning it. In this house, if you simply don’t talk about it, it’s as though it doesn’t exist. But, I was called downstairs after early morning swim the other day.

“I’m going to need you to dig a hole,” The Mom announced, with a look on her face that indicated this wasn’t even half of it.

Curious, too, because late August is not generally hole-digging season. That’s in spring when she decides she wants to put a new tree in ‘somewhere’ (which is then narrowed down with a general flapping of hands in the direction of the back yard).

“Oh?” I said.

“Yes.”

A moment passed between us and I knew in her head she was trying to work out how the conversation would go in order to get me in precisely the right frame of mind. It was also a stand-off of sorts: who would blink first, me or her? As in, would I ask the stupid question of why a hole needed digging or would she break under the pressure and simply tell me. I have a tendency to win these little tete-a-tetes as I have spent years learning how to be as obnoxious as possible whilst exerting minimal energy.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll put on some sensible footwear.”

I returned moments later in the one pair of sandals I have with me that stood a chance of staying on my feet as I dug.

“So,” I said, following The Mom out into the garden. “Why am I digging you a hole?”

“Well,” she said breezily. “Since the fridge went on the fritz yesterday, things have been thawing.”

“Why were things in the fridge frozen?” It seemed an obvious place to start.

“They aren’t.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“I think the freezer’s going funny too. There’s a lot of frost built up.”

There are reasons why the frost has built up and none of them include the freezer being on the outs, but, thankfully, I sense this is not the moment to use Kryptonite against The Mom. Logic has its place, and that place is not The Mom’s house.

“Are we burying frying pans or something? We don’t have to do that you know. We’re not Kosher.”

“No,” she says in that tone that indicates I’m simply being ridiculous for the sake of it.

She’s got a small cooler in her hand and I can only think we’re burying perfectly good meat she’s decided has gone a bit off. You may not be familiar with The Mom’s decision-making process as pertains to whether or not something’s gone off. It’s a loose system, based entirely on whether or not she feels like finding you something else to eat. If she doesn’t whatever you think’s gone off and smells ‘funny’ is, in fact, fine and you are instructed to eat it or starve to death.

So the mere fact that something had gone off enough to merit a burial was intriguing to say the least.

“What kind of hole am I digging?” I asked. It seemed a reasonable question.

“Grave-sized.”

I eyed the cooler with suspicion.

“You got a body in that?”

“Yup,” she replied. “Several, actually.”

“So you want several small graves?”

“One big one should do nicely.”

You may wonder why I didn’t ask her who we were burying. It’s because I knew that a) I’d find out soon enough and b) we spend a lot of time burying small creatures. The birds, though hardy souls, don’t often live longer than seven years. So we’ll go a few years and then we have to do a mass burial.

I dug her a hole, with some difficulty. I don’t spend a lot of time digging graves in London, as you might imagine, and I was a bit out of practice. The Mom scoffed at my poor skills, but eventually I managed to hack away at the ground enough that we could fit everybody in.

Dr Ginsberg, Buttercup, Finch, Rose, Poppy, Rascal and a couple of their friends were laid in the hole. I took a few pictures of them as they thawed in the shallow grave. Which, at the time, seemed nice and sweet but upon reflection was perhaps, slightly morbid.

But, it’ll be something The Mom can add to her charts and notes surrounding the lives of the birds. These are much more accurate than anything she’s got like that for us. Ask her if we had all our shots as kids and she’ll shrug, but if you want her to recite say, Buttercup’s family tree, she can rattle it off like nobody’s business.

“Are there any more chores like this you’ve got waiting for me? We aren’t going to do a big funeral the day I fly out are we? I don’t think that sets a good tone for a flying day.”

“No, we’re good. Repairman’s coming tomorrow, the other bodies are in the garage. I think they’ll keep til next year.”

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