AIDA AUSTIN: "He reads with a bunched-up mouth: his bank-statement face"

IT’S 6.30pm, Thursday, and my husband and I are yawning at each other across the kitchen table.

We are tired as flats; never mind the general upheaval, the sale of a house is a very socially-engaging business, what with all the experts involved.

We’ve been receiving visitors from auctioneers, engineers, inspectors and mappers since June.

Services have been offered, rendered and paid for, all in good cheer, and all on time: right now, we are just waiting for something to go wrong.

The timing couldn’t be better for it.

At this very moment, my husband is opening an envelope, inside which is our septic tank report.

“He reads with a bunched-up mouth and gimlet eyes: his bank-statement face.

The signs are not good.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

He sighs.

My worries grow big as the moon.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” I say, but he just closes his eyes and looks suddenly, quietly, gravely appalled.

I knew the timing couldn’t be better for it.

“Give me that report,” I say, reaching across the table.

“I had you there,” my husband says, whisking the septic tank report away from my grasp.

He jumps up and down, fist-pumping the air.

“All in perfect working order,” he says, smiling broadly.

“Thank god. I mean imagine the hassle of having to replace our tank.”

“I have been,” I whimper, holding up a wrist. “Feel my pulse.” I bring my head slowly to rest upon the table.

“Wow, I really had you there,” he says with satisfaction. “God, I can’t think of anything worse than digging up the septic tank. Can you?”

“B*****d,” I whisper to the table-top.

It’s now 7pm. I have recovered from my imaginings when Paul, the owner of a furniture emporium in town called, ‘Secondhand Furniture and other Auld Shite’, arrives to value items of furniture which our prospective house-purchaser has expressed an interest in buying.

Services are offered: “Where’s this fecking furniture then?” he says, entering the conservatory.

Goosey Gander wanders upstairs and downstairs and in and out of various chambers, hissing prices at me.

I follow in his wake with paper and pen, scribbling down prices without a murmur and at great speed — so that he might not take me by the left leg and throw me down the stairs.

After having exercised himself in this fashion, he sits down and rolls a fag. I point firmly at the door.

“WHAT?” he says, lighting up on the sofa, “So now you want me to stand outside and smoke in the fecking rain?”

I watch his smoke waft straight up into a silk-flower lantern which hangs low, directly above the top of his head and – never mind my left leg — I point at it.

“WHAT now?” he says, looking up.

“Get out from underneath my chandelier, I won’t be able to sell it if smells of smoke.” He inhales deeply. “How much,” he says, exhaling more deeply, “do you sell those bloody things for anyway?”

“That one is three hundred euro,” I say.

“WHAT?” he says, “for a fecking ornament?” and stares at me with a look of profound outrage, which might be a small bit frightening if he wasn’t positioned directly underneath the lantern and looking for all the world like he was wearing an enormous, flowery hat.

Thus are services rendered.

Services are paid for. “I have a suggestion,” he says, inhaling: I am to sand, restore and paint five old mirrors for Paul.

“FIVE?” I say, “for drinking my percolator dry and smoke-damaging my lantern?”

“FIVE,” he says.

“I’ll tell you what,” I say.

“WHAT?” he says, “Christ, would you ever stop TALKING?” “I’d rather dig up the septic tank.” “Four,” Paul says.

“Three,” I say, bringing my face to rest in a cushion.

“FOUR,” he says, ”and that’s it.” “B*****d,” I whisper to the cushion.


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