Moving Day; or, Mayday, Mayday

Moving Day; or, Mayday, Mayday

When my ex-husband-to-be offered that he would help me move house so that I save money on a moving company, I first thought it was a commendable act of kindness, however belated. I should have known better. More than anything, my dear and loving husband turned out to be plotting a cruel and unusual revenge, deliberately or otherwise. After changing the date of the D-Day (Departure Day) twice, he finally settled on the following brilliant plan:

  • It will be done on a Friday. That’s excellent in that Fridays are notorious for their low traffic and absence of people everywhere because nobody travels for holiday or does shopping for the weekend.
  • He will go to work for a few hours and I’ll go with him and wait until he’s done. That’s sweet in that his work team will surely love to meet for coffee and chat their boss’s wife-to-be-divorced.
  • We’ll go to Ikea, get my chosen furniture and load it in the van. That’s logical in that I’m a heavy-weight weight-lifting champion who has obviously no trouble even to lift and hold her nine-pound cat for a cuddle.
  • We’ll return to our old house, load boxes and drive to my new home. That’s exciting in that we can exchange funny stories from our recently ended twelve-year relationship while we’re stuck in the traffic jam.
  • We’ll unload the van, on which my brother-in-law will join to help. He can’t help with loading/unloading the furniture and the boxes because it’s the day he is spending quality time with his five-year-old in KFC.

I wasn’t consulted regarding the action plan. It was assumed that I agree by default. So I agreed, although I did mention politely that the plan could use some fine-tuning. Actually, I threatened divorce, but the husband helpfully pointed out that I couldn’t double divorce him. Well, if I could, I would.

Post-checkout in Ikea
Post-checkout in Ikea

The D-Day started in the middle of a dark, cold and windy night, at 5:55 a.m. Because getting up at six straight is boring. I had spent the previous day and much of the night packing, as only losers pack in sufficient advance. My vital functions that morning were hence somewhat limited, to say the least. My autopilot programme walked me through the morning routine up to getting in the car, where I promptly dozed off.

I woke up with a start when the car pulled up to a dilapidated building off the motorway. I was wondering if my undear and unloving husband took all the trouble to sell me into slavery or slay me and leave my dead body in a ditch. I was just opening my mouth to suggest I’d prefer to be killed because I’m too exhausted for anything else, when the husband said that this was a stationery warehouse and that he was going to get some printing paper. Great.

He (unhelpfully): Do you want something?
She (meekly): I’d just like to move house.
He (ignoring the previous): So wait here.

The next stop, at the man’s workplace, wasn’t awkward at all, as nobody was staring at me curiously and everybody was eager to gossip about the meanness of the husband/boss, who certainly wasn’t behind everyone’s back at one and the same time. Picture this. It’s fun to imagine, though sadly, I don’t remember it because I came to some sort of consciousness only after having been served a third coffee, which coincided with the boss’s orders to move. Move I did, as I very much wanted to move.

Assembling horror, horror
Assembling horror, horror

The next thing I knew I woke up in Ikea, and my ex-to-be was yelling at me to get the bloody shopping list and move my decreasingly hot ass because this was no pleasure trip. It indeed wasn’t. On the ex’s defence, he might or might have not tried not yelling at me at first, but I wouldn’t have responded as I was walking dead. I was navigating the aisles, much to my companion’s dismay, and advising him to load the trolley with bookcases, tables and chairs. He looked disgusted, though I wouldn’t know, as I don’t really know him.

Inevitably, one trolley was not enough, and I was dispatched to get one of my own. A fun fact: a person is capable of developing incredible strength under pressure. It doesn’t look graceful, unless you’re Hemingway, but it works. More or less. So I was pushing, pulling and sliding the trolley all about Ikea’s self-serve warehouse, having it filled with a flat-packed bed, a chest of drawers, a bedside table, a shoe rack, a mirror cabinet and more, a danger to myself and everyone around, but moving.

The cashier rang my purchases up unceremoniously, as though I spend a three months’ worth of my wages on the regular. I was terrified that my credit card would be rejected because I never exposed it to such degree of exploitation before. But I got away with it, and a three-foot-long receipt. Now let’s reload the trolleys in the van, drive back to the house, feed the van boxes with my possessions and off to move it all in my new home. As simple as that. Except.

Except it became clear that the van was too small to accommodate all the furniture and all the boxes. The move would have to be split in two days. I was screaming internally. Until I thought better of it and decided to conserve any energy I had left for the actual move, which hadn’t even started yet properly. It was about five p.m. that we made it to my destination. It took an hour to move the contents of the van in the flat, floor six – but a lift all aright. Beam me up, Scotty.

Quoth she, nevermore
Quoth she, nevermore

My brother-in-law-soon-not-to-be arrived and furniture assembling commenced. I can’t deny the two brothers’ goodwill and effort, yet in my dazed eyes clouded by utter exhaustion, they looked like Laurel and Hardy failing hard. While the men were abusing Ikea, Swedes and the whole world by extension, I was abusing myself for not having had sense enough to pay professionals for the job who would actually be capable of doing it. I hated myself and the two not-DIY-guys, which I proceeded to share with the world.

Husband (threatening): You’re kidding. You aren’t texting now.
Wife (thinking): Not really, I’m snapping pics of you two guys and WhatsApping them to sympathetic friends with snarky comments. (Saying): No, I’m just looking at the phone.
Husband (outraged): Seriously? Don’t you think you should help us?
Wife (thinking): By acting as a dumb waiter and holding your screws, for instance? (Saying): What do you need help with?
Husband (pauses, hesitates, yells): Take the rubbish to the bin already!

Complying, I assumed the form of Sisyphus and started to shift armfuls of cardboard and plastic to the recycle bins, skidding on the icy path and stumbling like a drunk as sleet was blowing against my glasses. Ikea uses mountains of packaging material, in case you wonder. Returning from my umpteenth dustwoman’s trip, I came to Laurel and Hardy packing their tools away though they haven’t finished assembling yet. It was decided that the rest would be done by my husband Hardy alone the following day.

As I thanked the men and compensated them for their trouble, my brother-in-law Laurel causally mentioned that I was expected on his birthday party the next day. I began to say that my mind understandably wasn’t on family celebrations whilst in the middle of a move, however, I was effectively silenced by the brother I married, who coldly observed that this was the least I could do. Why on earth would a family whom I’m divorcing want me at their gathering? I don’t get you, people. Just let me move, please.

So Many Boxes; or, Packing Half a Household

So Many Boxes; or, Packing Half a Household

Two days before my scheduled move, I was busy blogging rather than packing. After all, the chief reason why I’m divorcing and moving house is the fact that I’m tragically running out of topics to blog about. The afternoon before the M Day (as of Moving Day), I braced myself, made coffee, tuned to socialist labour songs to motivate myself and charged my phone to document my progress.

To start with, I climbed in the attic to get boxes and stumbled on a hibernating turtle. It quite faded from my memory that my husband and I had a pet turtle whom I tucked in for winter sleep last autumn. I was shortly wondering if my ex-husband-to-be would keep the turtle, as I can’t take her in my bedsit, or if we would make turtle soup and share. But focusing on practicalities, I grabbed the boxes and was about to descend the narrow staircase – too narrow in fact for the boxes to go through. Fortunately, the brilliant idea occurred to me that I could stand at the top of the staircase, lean over the railing and drop the boxes to land on the floor below. And that’s how Dropbox was created (as of Dropping Boxes).

When the dust and fragments of some of the more fragile boxes settled, I bravely picked the largest one and proceeded to pack the rooms from east to west in a clockwise manner. The first to go was a dark closet made all the more darker by the fact that about a hundred years ago, a light bulb in the closet exploded and caused minor damage calling for an electrician to deal with. The electrician was never actually called. The closet held cleaning supplies and anything that I wished to conceal from my husband because he never entered the place. I believe that he is household chores intolerant. I moved most of the closet’s contents in a big box to relieve the poor man’s suffering. I sealed the box with duct tape and marked it carefully CLEANING SUPPLIES: TOXIC!

I leaned back to observe with delight my first completed box. My visionary optimism was tainted a bit by the realisation that I might need to rent a crane (the box was too heavy for a human being to lift), that my bilingualism was getting the upper hand over me (I marked the box in English, which the movers likely won’t speak) and that there were about 665 more boxes to go (the first one took an hour to pack, so I probably won’t move until my hair is fifty shades of grey). With a sigh, I unlabelled, unsealed and unpacked the box, and went to repack, reseal and relabel its contents as I distributed them evenly into several smaller boxes.

Seeing that the night is short and the household large, I reasoned to pack the first things first. On which I moved to the kitchen, plundered all cabinets and gathered all slivovitz at one spot. On second thought, I added to it all coffee and chocolate I found on the premises. The husband drinks neither slivovitz nor coffee and as he’s borderline obese, it’s only for his own good to have sweet temptation removed from within his reach. I wrapped each slivovitz bottle carefully in a towel and nested it in a solid box padded with more towels. I sneaked in also cheap champagne that should have been drunk on the New Year’s Eve, except nobody felt like celebrating my separation-turned-divorce back then. Champagne comes in handy for housewarming parties thrown by me for myself, I thought smugly as I was taping the box and labelling it BOOZE.

As the season is winter, I assumed it would be advisable to pack some clothes next. I tore blouses and skirts apart from their hangers and created an impressive pile of clothing on one hand and a mass grave of discarded hangers on the other. I packed neither the wedding gown (as I grew out of it tragically), nor the graduation suit (the local cultural equivalent of the American prom dress), nor what appeared to be my first bikini (pink triangles with tassels). It was confirmed that my feet were as cold as my heart when my remarkable collection of socks and tights alone took up an entire suitcase. It bugged me that I couldn’t mark the suitcases in ink saying WEARABLES without being ridiculous.

The night grew late. I ran out of duct tape and resorted first to carpet tape and then to the good old string. It was indeed old but not very good. The packed boxes were starting to reach up to heaven, if such a thing existed. My mental and physical power had dropped to hellish lows. My fingernails were chipped, fingers cut and hands bruised from all the unused to handiwork. I could hardly move as I was moving the last items from shelves and drawers into boxes of BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, DOCS, STATIONERY, ARCHIVES, ARCHIVES, ARCHIVES… The last box was MISC. I would pack my duvet and pillow in the morning. And I was ready to leave.

A Childless Divorcee in Ikea: Am I Even Allowed?

A Childless Divorcee in Ikea: Am I Even Allowed?

To say that I decided to furnish my new home with Ikea products sounds too much like a voluntary choice. In fact, I was reduced to condescend to Ikea, the quality of whose produce I always deeply doubted, to meet my need for light and flexible furniture, easy to assemble and easy to move. After all, I might be evicted from my rented flat as soon as the landlord discovers that my cat is not as house trained as I misleadingly suggested; actually, she is not house trained at all because it is her first time indoors. Oops.

At first I anticipated that I would be left with no option but to live in an unfurnished flat, sleep on a second-hand mattress on the floor and store my belongings in cardboard boxes. Visionary optimism was never my flaw. It was then much to my surprise, even shock, when my soon-to-be-divorced husband agreed to let me go not only with my personal paraphernalia but also with a little pocket money. With the pocket money I intended to buy a packet of Oreos and all new home furnishings. Because you can’t very well split one household into two, and why not leave old things in the old home and get new things for the new one? A woman’s logic? Or, perhaps, logic.

I spent eight hours a day, repeatedly, diligently researching the Ikea product range and creating elaborate shopping lists after registering with the company and giving up all my personal data to be misused as the corporate power sees fit. I soon grew better informed about Ikea’s assortment of goods than the most passionate Ikea employee and started to consider applying for a full-time job with the Swedes. I would be doing what I was doing anyway, except I would be paid for it. But then I reminded myself of my English Literature Master’s degree, and my doctoral thesis, and resolved that I’d try to do better than Ikea. Maybe the Finnish Asko? Not the Austrian Kika though because the Austrians used to occupy us during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and I never quite forgave them.

Ikea accessories
Ikea accessories

Equipped with a shopping list running for miles, I entered the dark depths of Ikea to preview items on my list and check how much the stunning product presentation on their website differed from the shabby reality. The crowd of shoppers pushed me straight into the Ikea cafeteria, as everyone seemed to have a craving for Swedish horse meat balls and – typically Scandinavian – French fries. I grabbed a bottomless coffee cup, which fortunately did have a bottom, and a chocolate cake, because I’ll soon be poor enough to get a dessert only when the Hare Krishna guys come chanting around and give away what are presumably weed chocolate cookies.

With my sugar and caffeine levels replenished and my wealth nearly depleted, I obediently let myself be carried by the crowd deeper into the bulging belly of the building. I gave up my presumptuous plan to choose my own direction for shopping, which was rendered impossible by the teeming multitude of pregnant women, pregnant women with partners, pregnant women with children already in tow and pregnant women with mothers, cousins and friends (not pregnant with them but plus-oned by them). Damn it, what if the staff discovers that I’m not pregnant? And worse, that I’m not just married but almost just divorced? Am I even allowed, or will I be expelled from the premises for causing a public nuisance? I curled up internally and tried to blend with the crowd.

I soon noticed that many shoppers regardless of the stage of their respective pregnancies push – and pull – cute shopping bags on wheels provided by the retailer. Ooh, I want one of these too! Not stopping to consider whether I even qualify for this special treat, I summoned all my strength from my earlier immoderate coffee consumption and bravely broke loose from the streaming mass as much as I could. Which wasn’t much; just enough to dive in a side aisle, make a risky U-turn and casually steal a bag on wheels from a cage dispenser which looked like a trap that would snap anyone not approved to operate those little lovely trolleys. This particular trap was apparently broken, though, so I got away with the theft and the trolley.

Ikea work station
Ikea work station

As I was flying away on cloud nine, the trolley swished at my tail with sweeping movements, knocking down unmounted items and unattended kids. Equipped like a cool shopper, I incurred a sudden bout of ill-advised excitement about the capitalist perks of Free Choice & co. ltd. and made a series of impromptu purchases to add finishing touches to my as yet non-existent new home (and to earn the right to use the trolley bag). I bought:

  • a set of vintage glass jars and bottles to store sugar, coffee and slivovitz in as the Swedes obviously stole the design from my grandmother’s cabinet and I wanted to impress my blogging friends (hello, friends!) with traditional Eastern European local colour
  • several scented candles in glass as they were ridiculously cheap and I’m the ultimate unromantic person (hence the candles, obviously) who prefers a candle to the torch as an alternative source of light during power blackouts – because batteries; I’m more likely to have a lighter than batteries
  • and also: a toilet brush (I’m practical), a bathroom mat (ditto), a plaid (I’m chronically cold like a lizard), a stick-it mirror on the wall (I’m the fairest one of all), a fly agaric-shaped lamp (it was red and if it’s red, I want it), a set of plastic drawer boxes (they were red) and probably something more which I have already forgotten (hello, Mr Alzheimer!)

The first piece of furniture I came across was, aptly for a literature scholar, the bookcase. I preselected two medium-sized bookcases, one white, the other the same in red. The red one was twice as expensive as the white one – come on, that’s discrimination based on the colour of the chipboard, you racists! I gently ran my fingers along the red shelves though, and I knew she would be mine. Next I came across what looked like a childsize version of the home office table I picked online. It turned out to be the actual life size after all, something of a concession to my soon-to-be more modest circumstances when compared to my huge old workstation occupying a quarter of the room.

Ikea furniture
Ikea furniture

In front of the table there stood a nicely designed round-shaped swivel chair. I loved it in the catalogue but thought it wouldn’t be comfortable enough for a person who practically lives in her chair. I collapsed on said seat just to try out the table, unwittingly emitted an orgasmic cry, and heads turned as I was yelling, YAY!!, because the chair was heaven. Tonight you will be mine, I whispered to the chair under my breath and swivelled a little. It was hard to part from her (the chair), yet part we did and I proceeded to perform the following tasks:

  • climbing up and down several stools to see which one will be best suited for jumping up on it in the likely case of spider emergency – and in case I need to access anything higher than ground level, perhaps a spider hanging on the ceiling and asking to be slayed
  • unfolding, folding and carrying around several foldable chairs to check which will be most convenient for a small flat occupied by a small person with small (wo)manpower who may wish to receive and seat occasional guests
  • touching the irresistibly red surfaces of a chest of drawers in which I mean to fold away my socks and knickers (why, yes, I do fold underwear), opening the single drawer of a sweet little bedside table and thinking that’s where I’ll put my camera, cables and chargers (because it’s best to keep your electronics near your head at all times) and harassing the spacious drawers of an ingenious shoe rack where I disingenuously plan to place my shoes (now you know I have a drawer obsession)

I almost came to like Ikea. But then I wouldn’t because I hate everything. On principle.

Fun with Marriage, Divorce and Appearances

Fun with Marriage, Divorce and Appearances

Circumstances had it that I ended up announcing to my husband that I was leaving him a day before the New Year’s Eve. This not very nice timing was possibly my revenge to the mankind (as opposed to womankind) which I subliminally sought since I was abandoned by a boyfriend fifteen years ago precisely on the New Year’s Eve. The bl00dy b@st@rd of a boyfriend had it premeditated. I didn’t.

The husband didn’t welcome the news, but found it hysterically hilarious, as blogged about here. Further blackly comic situations arose from our mutual agreement that the family won’t be notified until absolutely inevitable. There was Hogmanay, several friend visits and a family theatre visit ahead. I had little trouble keeping appearances because that’s what I’d been largely doing these last years. My opponent and accomplice was however coping poorly, as if he had just learned that his wife couldn’t bear living with him any longer.

The first thing in the New Year my in-laws visited, uninvited, and brought along my nephew, who was even less invited than them. The five-year-old kid scares the kittens out of me, as elaborated on here. (I know there are no kittens in the original idiom, but I need kitty cuteness to counterbalance the nephew’s nastiness.) This time the tiny terrorist scared the puppies out of my husband, as he (nephew) grew inexplicably fond of our (husband and mine) wedding video and insisted on playing it on the loop during the visit.

Until death or divorce do us part
Until death or divorce do us part

Turning his back on the video, the husband gave the impression of a tortured soul, though I know fine that debt collectors don’t have souls. Re-watching the video with curiosity, I was morbidly amused because as is known, crazy cat ladies don’t have feelings besides for their cats. I noticed with a tinge of self-envy not as much that I seemed happy, which I admittedly did, but rather that I was a bonnie lassie. Bonny and bony too. I don’t want the years back, but I could do with the figure. Devil? Anyone? Where do I sign?

The trip to the theatre, a Christmas gift experience for my mother, turned out to be more of a challenge when I discovered that the play was a dark divorce comedy. I had previously checked with the soon-to-be-divorced husband whether he was sure he wanted to attend, and he insisted. Now I insensitively concluded that the details of the programme didn’t need to be shared and decided to perform a psychosocial experiment instead. The things we do for science. You are free to hang me now and call me Doctor Mengele. Or not.

The husband enjoyed the play, as did my mother and I. In a strikingly good humour, he observed that the piece was about life and that the lead actress looked very good in her form-fitting costume. I grumbled in response to his about-life phrase, which is a cliché he uses ten times a day, but agreed that the actress certainly had a good ass. The grounds for divorce in the play was the wife’s coming out as gay, and now I’m sure that my soon-to-be-former husband thinks that’s what I am. Divorce is proving to be much more fun than its vilifying publicity suggests. Seriously.

Academic Emails: Dear Professors, You Are Funny

Academic Emails: Dear Professors, You Are Funny

The first email that I received in the New Year was by Professor Pfeiffer, one of the aldermen on the board designed to protect, provide for and punish the English Department’s doctoral students as required at a particular moment. In his email, Professor Pfeiffer confused New Year rituals with Christmas rituals and randomly decided to present the gift of a grant project participation to a set of selected students.

I know better than to take the professor seriously, as he is infamous for seeking to impose order on the natural chaos of the academic universe and unerringly failing pathetically in the attempt. Besides his ill repute as an organiser, Professor Pfeiffer has been apparently drinking heavily in celebration of the arrival of the New Year and the exam period, which showed in the curiously contorted language and style of his email:

Dear PhDs-to-be,

a successful New Year is wished to y’all! It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been picked to participate in a grant project that will dispatch you to two conferences abroad and PAY FOR IT. Yay! If you’re not interested, let me know ASAP. Otherwise send me until Saturday [sic!]:

  • details of the conferences relevant to your field that you want to attend
  • justification of the department’s subsidy of these pleasure trips
  • your CV (male students) and your measurements (female students)

Cheers *raises a slivovitz shot*
Mike

I may or may not be fabricating a little, it is however true that the email was written partly in Czech and partly in English, which presented a particular challenge in decoding the meaning. With little hopes in the seriousness of professor’s immodest proposal, I promptly emailed back, attaching my resume, my conferences and my nude photo. Joking distastefully. I chose a conference in Scotland as justified by the strong argument that I do Scottish Literature, and a conference in Finland, based on the explanation that I’ve never been to Scandinavia. I’ve never been to Canada either but I didn’t dare to be too demanding.

The professor didn’t confirm the receipt of my elaborate email because as a professor, he is aloof from the ordinary course of studentkind. I get it. If the academia ever becomes silly enough to award me a professorship, I will soar so high that Google will use me as a vantage point for their bird’s eye view maps.

ScotLit
ScotLit

While I heard nothing from Professor Pfeiffer, I received a bounty of two emails from the head of the department the next day. I was confounded to dumbfounded, wondering what the department’s head has to do with either the grant project, Professor Pfeiffer or me, besides her being the department’s head.

I was honoured by a personalised email first, which I cherish as a holy relic. It was a brief but affectionate note, which is striking, considering that the department’s head scares the head off me and that we are by no means on first name terms – not even on speaking terms for the matter because I’m afraid of her so much. She wrote with multiple typos that I took the liberty of clearing in this transcript:

Mara, sweetheart, fit your CV in enclosed template. Xoxo, Lena

A group email followed shortly, addressed to about a hundred people who have or had any affiliations with the department in the past ten years or so, including drop-out postgraduates, employees on maternity leave, IT helpdesk, cleaners, the janitor and the ghost of the department chair past. Lena, or Professor Vickerman, neither uses blind copy nor does she ever update her mailing list, and there’s no Unsubscribe link either. Thus she wrote to half of the small university town as follows:

Cheers, PhDs,

very nice conference requests you sent to me, very nice and very smart, but. But one of the conferences HAS TO TAKE PLACE IN 2016!! So, off to the darknet you go and don’t return until you have one conference for 2016.

Good luck. *evil laugh*
Professor Elena Vickerman
English Department Head-ress
University of Eastern Patagonia
Address, phone etc. etc. etc.

I was wondering who plans ScotLit conferences two years ahead. I’m not wondering anymore because I soon knew the answer. No one. There is one conference known to be in 2016 distantly related to the subject, which is the big-time big-deal all-around annual gathering of the European Society for the Study of English. I neither precisely study English, nor do I particularly want to go to a mass event of this scale, but. But I’ve never been to Galway, Ireland, so. I’ll keep you posted – in 2016!

The Dreaded D(ivorce)-Word: Hysterical and Hilarious

The Dreaded D(ivorce)-Word: Hysterical and Hilarious

“Hope is the thing with feathers.”

—Emily Dickinson

I like to cope with adversity by the means of hysterical humour. The blacker, the better, which goes both for coffee and for fun. I have been plotting to separate from my husband for years. At first I thought it was my duty to stay because that much I promised by the act of marriage. Then I discovered that guilt was overestimated and that I might not even have to live in eternal abjection when I divorce. It appears it is no more fashionable to pin the scarlet letter D to a divorcee’s chest to be worn until she dies in poverty and obscurity and gets what she deserves.

My soon-to-be-divorced husband is a moderately nice person, however, he may get aggressively angry when irritated. He is as unpredictable as poor dear me on PMS – which is a lot. I feared how he might react when I break the less than delightful news, and I anticipated he wouldn’t be too pleased. This is a severe understatement. At the beginning I was planning to pack my personal belongings while the husband leaves for work and have them moved before he returns. It would be very considerate of the neighbours because they love drama. I would also plant a hidden camera in the house and make the abandoned husband’s video viral.

Why, yes, I am a mean person, which is why I’m divorcing. Now listen to this. My scheme was blasted when I left one early morning under a mediocre pretext and inadvisably didn’t return until the next day. I texted the husband in the evening that I was staying overnight. I added ambiguously that we would have the big talk the next day. He texted back “OK”, very anticlimactically, and inquired where I was. I didn’t feel like getting into details and ignored the text. Crucify me now. Though I’d prefer being burnt at the stake because I like heat.

End of play time
End of play time

The next day I returned to a house which looked perfectly normal. The lock at the front door wasn’t changed and I could let myself in. There were no threatening notes left on my table and my books and clothes were undestroyed. Shocked by the lack of shock, I retired to the bathroom and ran a bath. As I was musing immersed in the steaming water, the husband returned from work early and attempted to storm the bathroom. I was locked in. I screamed, “Help!!” Joke. I shouted back, “Just a minute!” On which I bravely left the safe room and made me some coffee, while the enemy was sitting expectantly in the pretty red armchair that I picked with much trouble five years ago.

“You want to talk now?” I hissed unpleasantly because I’m an evil serpent. The answer was affirmative. “Well, there’s not much to talk about, really,” I said dismissively, “I decided I was moving out.” My victim burst into a mildly terrifying fit of hysterical laughter. “WFT?” I retorted. “WFT?” he retorted, choking with mirth. He didn’t see it coming and had a question or two. Or twenty. But before I even settled down to sip my coffee, he disappeared in the bathroom, crying. Well, that escalated quickly. Of course, I’m an emotionless person who doesn’t quite get all this sentimental stuff. I repaired to my corner of the home office and went on to surf real estate sites.

I expected for the husband to get over his initial disappointment shortly and start premeditating my murder, which would be more like him. Over the next few days, he was crying, sulking and looking devastated. It’s not like I’m divorcing him. Wait, I am actually divorcing him. Since then he had returned to his usual meanish demeanour. He still has occasional moments of weakness, such as when he proposed a modest but sensible divorce settlement. He hasn’t called off his promises so far. It could be really a distraction tactic, though, while he is realy plotting to put me down. Yet, I can’t help feeling inadvisably cheerful and hopeful about my undertaking.

Stuck on the Train in the Middle of Nowhere

Stuck on the Train in the Middle of Nowhere

But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
–Robert Frost

 

It had been raining all night. The ground was cooler than the air, and as the rain fell, it created a nice, thick layer of ice on all flat surfaces. A hint: the pavement and the road are flat surfaces. So are train rails, as I was soon to make sure of. It was Monday, the only weekday when the husband is off work and the only weekday when I’m off to work.

The husband woke up, casually prowling around, yawning and watching the weather through the windows. “Mara, it’s not like I’m saying anything, but you should reconsider your going to work today. Just saying,” he just said. As I won’t stand to be toyed with in the morning, I gave him a killer stare that melted the frozen chicken in the freezer. Comments like these deserve but deathly silence, I thought and remained silent.

It’s not like I choose when I go to work and when not, especially when my work consists in teaching once-a-week classes for a one-term-long course. How many classes can you skip when you have twelve or less without effectively abolishing the whole subject? Teachers’ problems. I was determined to get to the railway station for my commute even if I should skate. And get there I did, not skating but skidding.

Snowbound and stuck
Snowbound and stuck

Well pleased with the accomplishment illustrating my impeccable work morale, I perched in my favourite seat in the train and made myself comfy, anticipating a delay. Like each year, the railway and roadway employees were surprised by the frost and snow that annually occur in these parts. Each winter, tabloid headlines bring breaking news: “SHOCK! ROADWAY WORKERS SURPRISED BY WINTER”, “SNOW CALAMITY! WHERE ARE THE PLOWS?” and “FROST-BOUND! GRITTERS, ANYONE?”

I got immersed in the depths and apps of my phone and forgot the world. Half an hour later I realised it was half an hour later. A train arrived on the neighbouring track, and its locomotive stopped next to my window. I amused myself by observing the remarkable undertaking of the distressed engine driver. He yelled alternately in a phone, in a walkie-talkie and at someone unseen around. He repeatedly climbed on the roof of the engine like a chimpanzee or a suicide.

I was ready with my phone camera on stand-by in case he electrocutes himself. I would graciously make him go viral on YouTube in memoriam. After ages, during which time was running backwards as far as the Ice Age, the engineer braced himself and unbraced the machine. The pantograph on top of the locomotive woke up from the winter sleep, and thinking it was Hogmanay, it went sizzling and sparkling like when you fry small fish with their scales still on.

The itinerant firework show crawled on to the next town. Surprisingly, the locomotive didn’t explode. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. *evil laugh* Of course I was relieved, as such regrettable incident might have interfered with my train’s departure. I started to suspect I got on a wrong train though, because it should have left an hour ago. All clues however indicated that I was in the right machine – the most convincing was the absence of other trains in the station.

I was impressed when the train started to move shortly. I was wondering if we had a light show on top of the engine too, but I thought that leaning out of the window to see would be inadvisable. I almost regained faith in the capability of railway transport to actually transport people. And then I lost my hopes and nerves when the machine came to a standstill a few hundred metres from the station. It went back and forth a few times and got stuck on the rails like when you put your tongue on frozen metal. (Don’t try it at home.)

Half an hour later, a frightened female ticket collector emerged, stood in the middle of the carriage, murmured a verdict and ran very fast for her life. We were about to be towed back to the station and substitute buses weren’t coming. I hid under the seat, expecting a passenger uprising. My dying words would be when I called to work that I wasn’t coming. And after two hours spent productively sitting on the train, I arrived home to the husband’s dry remark: “I told you so.”

Finding a Flat: Frustration and Fun

Finding a Flat: Frustration and Fun

A new year is a convenient time for a new start. Bored with conventional New Year’s resolutions, this year I resolved to finally leave the place where I’m unhappy and set up a new home on my own. This decision is less dramatic than it looks and has been in preparation for a while now. So has been the new home hunt.

I’m looking for a bedsitter or a one-bedroom flat to rent in the town where I work. The offer is large – and bad. I’m a demanding renter. I refuse to sign up for a month’s rent higher than my month’s income. I want a fridge, a cooker and a washing machine because I don’t particularly incline to doing my laundry in the river. I don’t intend to live in an underground cellar flat or at the outskirts of the town – so outskirts that it is no more even the same town. Like I say, I’m inadvisably unreasonable.

I’ve grown fluent in real estates speak. I get it that original but well-preserved condition means that the place is a hundred years old, haunted and unkempt. Situated in a quiet area means that it’s in the middle of a poppy field with barely any electricity and no public transport within a day’s walk. Situated in a much-sought-for area translates to a rabbit hole in the heart of a block of flats, which indeed might give the impression of a desirable area when so many people are crammed in it.

The special requirements of some property owners puzzle me though. The demand NO smokers, NO domestic animals makes some sense on the surface, but the phrase domestic animals is ambiguous. Does it imply that if the renter is female, she mustn’t be a cow, and if the renter is male, he mustn’t be a pig? Or does it say that I can’t share the flat with my cat, who is my closest person? Damn you, cat haters.

From the country to the city
From the country to the city

Another one, the owner prefers a respectable renter with a car. Will the owner perform a background check for respectability and require that I have a security clearance? And what’s that with the respectability and a car? I had to dismiss this offer because I assume a divorcee-to-be who is left-leaning in public views and cat-cuddling in private views wouldn’t stand a chance. But maybe they meant with a CAT rather than with a CAR? People are so hard to get.

An outrage of hilariousness ensues when I talk to real estate agents on the phone. Embarrassingly, I sound like I’m thirteen, not thirtyish. Try as I may to make my voice sound adult, I have troubles convincing the agents I’m neither a kid kidding them, nor a student seeking a bed in a shared flat. So you’re gainfully employed, the agents ask with disbelief. I say, yes, though it’s nobody’s business as long as I have the money. Or is it?

The money I have though. Little, but enough for the move plus half a year’s rent. I have been saving for just in case, and the case is now. Decisions are made, plans laid, research done, and now I’m haunting the house I’m leaving and making mental lists of what to take and what leave behind. I’m taking only the nice things to my brave new flat, the old and useless baggage remains where it is. Here is to New Year’s beginnings!

On My Adopted Grandmother, Who Is a Hamster

On My Adopted Grandmother, Who Is a Hamster

My marriage replenished the staggering low number of my family members. Besides winning the smart and brave younger sister(-in-law) that I always wanted, I also got a silly younger brother(-in-law) and two complete sets of grandparents(-in-law) to replace those that I had lost to old age and death. I didn’t anticipate that I’d end up sharing one house with one of the pairs of grandparents, but now that it happened, I could very well use the opportunity for psychosociological research.

My husband’s and hence my adopted grandfather is easy-going, sociable and almost entirely deaf. He is too well-disposed to provide an interesting subject for analysis. A former caretaker, he makes it a point of pride to fix anything that breaks and improve anything that doesn’t. His upgrades admittedly work, but typically come with a health and/or life hazard due to things being different than fifty years ago, his increasing poor sight and decreasing fine motor skill.

The grandmother presents more of a puzzle in her complex combination of selflessness and self-centeredness, tolerance and judgmentalism, endurance and fragility. She bakes cakes to give away to family each week but demands to be praised for their exquisiteness to the skies. She ignores any fatal flaw in a family member but harshly criticises the neighbour for not mowing his lawn soon enough and good enough. She withstands physical ailment but breaks down at the smallest sign of family discord.

Grandmother's potatoes
Grandmother’s potatoes

The grandmother apparently doesn’t function as an individual person outside of her family circle. She serves as an extension of the house, garden and yard. When she doesn’t attend to any of these, she stares at the telly. She watches reality shows and turns other people’s business into her business. She watches crime news, gossip news and teleshopping and believes everything that they say on air. She is limited in education and experience, but why would she lack common sense?

She puzzles me. She lives by a set of idiosyncratic rules that have long become her habit. She doesn’t cook on Mondays because it’s the day for finishing leftovers from the weekend. She cleans the bedroom on Thursdays and the living room on Fridays. She bakes on Saturdays and spends most of the week eating her superfluous produce. She mops the floors every day after lunch. She uses a wet rag and wipes also the carpets with this. I don’t dare to suggest the vacuum cleaner for the task.

She has answers for all things. When you want something, pray to Virgin Mary. When you’re gay, you’re not normal. When it’s weekend, you bake cake. When you have a letter to pick up at the post office, you do it now because what would the post employees say? When it’s holiday, you wash the windows because what would the neighbours think? When the husband makes a mess, you clean it because it has always been like this.

The grandmother strikes me as both admirable and pitiable. It is certainly a triumph of will and stamina that she keeps on repeating her learned rituals no matter what. She doesn’t swerve from her schedule for illness or injury, and she went on even with her hand broken. Sometimes I’m thinking if she just shuts down or disappears when she is not cleaning or baking. She is a hamster running on a wheel forever until it kills itself by exhaustion.

All the Women in My Family, and Me

All the Women in My Family, and Me

The women in my family had it tough. As did and do most other women elsewhere. My female relatives led meagre lives during which they helped few and pleased none, least of all themselves. Generous people seek in their lives to be helpful, crooked people seek to be happy and ambitious people seek to leave something behind. I suspect my female family members fell outside these categories because they didn’t seem to seek anything. To compensate, and to fulfil my generously crooked ambitious self, I seek to help some, make most of all myself happy and leave much behind.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Rose, and this was the single most romantic thing about her life. Her life started and stopped when she was drafted in a labour camp in Nazi Germany during the war. She didn’t learn any German, besides the commands for lights off and take shelter used during air raids. After the war she had a brief glamorous stint of living and working in the country’s capital. When her sister died of pneumonia in her early twenties, leaving a widower and two small children behind, Rose was summoned home. She married the widower to supply a mother for the half-orphans, though neither of the new partners was overjoyed. The husband went on to hang himself, and the widow remarried.

My mother, Mary, was eighteen when the Soviet tanks came to Czechoslovakia in 1968. Hazardously, she went out in the fields to watch the occupants, not anticipating that they were to stay. Stay they did. Mother married the first man she met because there was no reason not to. So said my father’s family. Old photographs suggest that my father was not always bald, fat and bent; yet neither was he the tall handsome blue-eyed blonde as he liked to depict his young self. The couple first moved in with my father’s parents, who got however soon fed up with father’s budding alcoholism. The next stop was my mother’s parents. This was the terminal. My brother was born into a disrupted family, I was born into a broken one eleven years later. I was a lucky accident.

women (1)
This photo shows granny Rose and me; the header photo my brother, mother and the infant me.

My paternal grandmother, Dana, remains for me in the haze of the Alzheimer’s. Nobody bothered to tell me that her first only occasionally erratic behaviour was caused by a disease. It was my paternal grand-grandmother, Benedicta, who left a singularly deep trace in my memory. She was a miner’s widow and as tough as the black coal that was providing her living. She saw the death of her husband in a mining accident, the death of her grandson at thirty-two in military action and the decline and death of her only daughter. She lived on with wistful sadness. She broke her leg in her late seventies and lay on the floor in her flat for a day before help came. She walked again. She died at eighty-four, a little shrunk figure with yellowish face framed by a chequered headscarf lying in the coffin.

Out of these women, only my mother stills lives. She has a record of being an abused wife, a loving but failing mother and now a lonely divorcee with little to hope for. Interestingly, she appears to blame herself more for the death of her mother rather than the harm she unwittingly caused to her children. She left her job when grandmother Rose stopped being self-sufficient in order to attend to her. She could hardly stop her from dying though. I saw no gratefulness in my grandmother for her daughter’s care and no peace in my mother even after she has done her best. I view the lives of the women in my family as cautionary tales, if anything. If I could pray, I would pray that I do good to others only by doing good to myself first.