With a fresh start to lighten her spirits Kristine reveals a shiny, bright personality over the next few days. A natural cheeriness even the Apocalypse won’t defeat. Obstacles I find insurmountable, she works around, or busts through. Neatness, cleanliness, healthy eating and healthy living are favourite catchphrases.
She depletes a large supply of cleaning products that fill laundry cupboards. My nose burns with ammonia and chlorine fumes. I’m banned from using any toilet I please. Only my bedrooms’ toilet is available to me, and I’m asked to flush if it’s not overly inconvenient.
I resist getting snotty about these changes. The rules put in place to instruct and improve me are easily undermined. Since she cooks, washes dishes and clothes, makes beds and tidies around me, it would be bad form to pretend my obligations in this partnership are excessive.
The disordered supplies are now stacked neatly into three rooms. Kristine sorts and cleans. Occasionally I’m sweet-talked into lugging boxes under her constant direction and supervision like a human forklift. Food goes into empty kitchen cupboards. Tools and guns are no longer tolerated as dining table accessories. Bags of loose, assorted ammunition is boxed and shelved.
A stack of long-life cartons come to light. We have milk in our coffee again.
The vacuum cleaner becomes my enemy. To save regrettable confrontations I divert the displeasure I feel, rightly belonging to the operator, to the appliance. I hate its roar with tooth-grinding intensity. It’s always on. I only have to drop a few chips or nuts and the bloody thing’s instantly bumping into my feet. Each mid-morning and mid-afternoon siesta is interrupted by its howl. Some new knick-knack has a speck on it. An ant turd here. A dust mote there.
I think Kristine has an obsessive/compulsive disorder, or is over compensating for some other failing. I’d have to find her a self help book so she could learn to control it.
A mop removes the blackened tackiness from the kitchen floor tiles. It becomes a death trap for the balance-challenged. I argue the value of the banished gummy layers’ non-slip properties, to no avail.
I find ways to help that don’t over exert me, like supplying compliments to lift Kristine’s morale when she shows signs of flagging. I reserve shows of friendliness for peace keeping exercises and to distract her from the latest mess I’ve made. I’m careful to restrict our conversations so there’s never time for confidences to slip out or deep fears and secrets to be shared.
Her tears still melt me. In a moment of reminiscence she mentions watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with her girlfriend. The glistening in her eyes before she hides them from me show the memory is both sad and pleasant. I spend hours digging through the ‘entertainment room’. A sea of books, magazines, computer games, CDs and DVDs. I know it’s here somewhere. A boxed set, still sealed in its wrapper. I present it to her offhandedly.
Her happy reaction leaves me smiling for the rest of the day. She must really go off at Christmas. I generously delude myself this small act of kindness balances the scales for poor behaviour.
She watches the Buffy episodes in carefully rationed doses during ‘leisure’ blocks of her rigid weekly schedule. The routine keeps her mind occupied. Disruptions to it bring out her grouchy side.
I am a constant source of those disruptions.
I watch TV whenever I feel like it, eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I pass out and generally behave like an animal.
As I’m hardly ever in a fit state to help, guilt builds while she sweats and strains. I protest that she’s doing too much. Instead of slowing down she modifies the roster. I’m landed with all the heavy labour. This isn’t what I had in mind. Another protest is lodged.
Upon closer inspection of the tasks I detect loopholes. Knocking pipes are fixed by jamming a rag between them. Leaking taps are shut off so tight, Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be able to turn them on.
In this way I reduce my portion of labour to lip service and bodges that hold up long enough to be crossed off the list. Kristine queries my haphazard workmanship and lack of progress at a ‘conflict resolution meeting’. She holds the meeting in a brief period of sobriety between binges to ensure my participation.
I say the worker doesn't see what’s so urgent about counting water bottles or painting walls. She says management has to have a deadline to bring order out of chaos in a timely fashion, and that the worker has failed to embrace that concept. The worker appeals for a longer timeframe to consider the argument but could achieve his potential if the reward involved naked pole dancing. Management is unwilling to meet the demands. Meeting closes.
I’m tempted to defend myself, and impress Kristine, by pointing out how I ran this place in the past. My storage methods still show in rooms downstairs. Neat arrays of goods stacked on pallets await their time of usefulness.
I don't though. She might want to see them and I’m too afraid to leave these rooms. A quick check of the alcohol stocks shows that an excursion to resupply won’t need to happen for weeks.
Plenty of time to get over this ominous, nameless fear.