The weekend started off badly for me when Donna, my wife, announced she had purchased a couple of inflatable boats to take with us to the cottage. These were to help amuse two friends of Ted, our middle child, that we were bringing with us from Friday night through Sunday.
I hate rafts. They are the work of the devil. You’re always hearing about someone getting swept out to sea in one of these contraptions and drowning. Plus they spring leaks and need plastic patches. Once inflated, they are a devil − that word again − to lug around.
In my opinion, they are worse than BB guns that will put your eye out. In fact, I wish I had a BB gun so I could shoot holes in the floaty boats and deep six them.
I already knew this was going to be a difficult several days for my writing. I’d smacked into a bit of a dry spell. I couldn’t think of anything to write. I kept telling myself there was a story right under my nose, but I couldn’t seem to set it free.
On the drive north, we always pass a homeowner on the outskirts of Barrie who has two rearing plaster horses by the road on either side of the driveway entrance. These faux stallions must be eight feet tall. They’re lawn ornaments that have been super-sized.
I’ve come to admire these beasts and now we do homage to them every time we motor on by. All the occupants of the car are required to raise up their arms in a copycat gesture of defiance and high spirits and we neigh as loud as we can.
Ted taught his friends what to do in the back of the van and we all did our utmost, having a good laugh in the process. We’ve named the horses Pegasus and Trigger. It’s a mixture of the classical and the western.
Still, no story ideas were bubbling up and the drive north usually gets my creative juices percolating. Nor did I have any sense of foreboding about how strange the next day was going to be. It began with the toilet not working.
The toilet’s shortcomings included a bad leak combined with a failure to flush. Getting a plumber on a Saturday in cottage country in the summer is a daunting experience. However, we had six children in the house, including two visiting cousins, and there was really no option but to try my hardest.
The tenth attempt by phone hit pay dirt. I located a firm in Midland that was willing to send a man around. When he arrived, he looked about sixteen years old. But he was sure competent. In fact, he was far more competent than I proved to be.
After the work was completed, I was told the plumbing company would not accept a credit card and I would have to come up with a cheque or cash. Unprepared for such a turn of events, I was in a quandary – actually a panic – about what to do.
Then I vaguely recalled the newly-renovated local variety store might have installed an ATM machine. So off the two of us went, not exactly buddies, but short-term chattering companions, to try to get cash out of the machine if it was up and operating.
There were a few anxious moments, first finding the machine, which was at the far back of the store, and then learning it would only dispense a limited amount of money at a time. I had to keep feeding my card through. Each occasion begged the question, “Would this be the moment when my request for more money would be rejected?”
I was on my own with the plumber because, earlier, the circus had come to town back at the cottage. That was when the eight of us had blown up −a pair of words I like in this context − the two floaty boats. Then Donna and the kids negotiated them, in all their pudgy awkwardness, out the front door, down the steps and along the path to the beach.
Much later, all I heard from everyone − neighbours, adult friends and relatives and children alike −was what a success Donna’s rafts had been and how much fun everyone had pulling and pushing, bobbing and bumping along in the water. In the meantime, I’d been dealing with a toilet that had crapped out, so to speak.
Once I was back at the cottage from the store, with the plumber paid and on his way, I was standing in splendid isolation looking out the front window, turning my thoughts to a fitting subject for composition. I could feel inspiration about to strike. More than that, I could sense something out of the corner of my eye. The germ of an idea? No, it was a bat.
Bats serve a great purpose, eating mosquitoes, but they are unpleasant-looking creatures when they fly at your face. This one was swooping in erratic circles around the only open space within the confines of our mostly tree-filled property and that was the front yard.
Bats spend the daylight hours in a dark safe location and then come out in swarms at twilight. But if one gets dislodged from its hiding spot, it has no idea what to do and its direction-finding system goes into overload. This one was terrorizing the place.
Pretty much every hour for the rest of the day, the bat came out for a ten-minute flying jag that included buzzing the windows and swooping down at anyone who approached. Where it went at the end of those ten-minute segments or why it didn’t stay there, I have no idea, but out it would come again at regular intervals.
The rest of my day was spent warning people away from the front yard, which eventually made it even harder to get the floaty boats, now christened and hardened by sea battles, back into dry dock. I slowly realized this was not going to be a day for writing.
On Sunday, the weather turned even nicer and the whole family, me included, spent the day on the beach. I had a good time regardless of being disappointed about my failure to accomplish much. However, when the time came for us to drive back to the city, I was still in a bit of a funk.
We passed the two plaster horses going in the other direction and neighed as per usual, but I couldn’t generate my usual enthusiasm. On the plus side, the kids were happy, Donna was happy − and feeling smugly justified − and even Pegasus and Trigger seemed pleased with themselves, or at least locked in a state of perpetual over-excitement.
Not me. I had an empty sensation. To my way of thinking and from a story-telling perspective, the weekend had been a write-off.
Maximum pleasure will come next from Death of a Mattress. Nothing symbolizes the start of summer in our neck of cottage country more than a mattress… and no, it’s not due to the strange alchemy and hormonal urges that meld dangerously when sand, sun and teenagers mix.