humour, Life

The domestic detective and the soggy ghost


Friday mornings are always interesting. Almost as soon as I park on the drive, I have an inkling of how the previous evening went… Thursdays, at my son’s, is lads’ night.

I, for obvious reasons, am not invited to attend such gatherings. Nevertheless, I do participate as I am the chef for these select soirées, spending much of every Thursday morning preparing such delicacies as will tempt the fickle palate of the male of the species. This will frequently involve quantities of garlic and/or chilli peppers, a fair amount of ingenuity to invent something from what just happens to be in the fridge at the time and a basic knowledge of the gastronomic preferences of the diners. This latter is not as onerous as it might seem as two of them are my sons and the others are friends of long standing.

More problematical is walking the diplomatic line between too many chillis and not enough. Not all of them have the asbestos palate of their host, a man who has been known to decide which type of chilli to use by eating them whole and raw. Without flinching.

My efforts this week had centred around an Italianate tagliatelle and meatballs, though I doubt the Italians would recognise the provenance of the provender provided. “How was dinner?” is usually one of the first of the  Friday questions, but before that, I must have someone awake enough to ask.

A good night usually hints at itself by means of the odd abandoned beer bottle perched in the garden. This week was no exception. The closed blinds of a man asleep far beyond his accustomed hour confirms my suspicions before I get as far as the door. It is therefore no surprise that my first sight of the kitchen I had left tidy just a few hours earlier is enough to induce palpitations in the hardiest maternal breast.

Mentally girding myself for the fray, I look around and begin tackling the devastation, piecing together, through long experience, the evidence of a good night with laughter…

The sink piled high… a perfectly good dishwasher ignored… and evidence of calorific indulgence. Half a dozen beer bottles strewn willynilly about the room and four wine glasses on the table… which would be why the dishes had been left out. It didn’t explain why the freezer had been left ajar, working overtime all night and bidding fair to compensate for the melting polar ice caps all on its own…

And a bag of vicious-looking fresh chillis… a knife beside them and a stalk… just the one. A milk-stained glass that fairly screamed desperation… That would be my younger son… not the one with the asbestos mouth…  There had been some mention of bravado. He’d done it then. There would undoubtedly be a video…

I had been right…it had been a good night. My son, when he had finally surfaced and disposed of the first coffee, couldn’t remember laughing so much in ages. But…

“It wasn’t funny,” said the host of the proceedings. He passed me the phone with the video. I’d been right about the milk too. “It didn’t seem right filming him while he was dying…” Apparently, it was none too funny forgetting the effect of chillied fingers either…

It was late afternoon when he called me… he’d developed a puddle. Right in front of where he sits… an isolated and very soggy puddle that appeared to have come from nowhere; a large quantity of liquid that made the carpet squelch and smelled vaguely of chemicals. It hadn’t been there in the morning or when he had gone out at lunchtime and no-one else was in the house. As the only other person with a key and access to the alarm system, did I have any explanation? I did not, having given in to the overwhelming urge for a siesta.  Nor did his guests of the previous evening, though one of them had called in and helped mop up the liquid. It was a mystery.

Mid evening, he called again. I got in the car and drove down to investigate. He was right, it was weird. About as weird as the sight I must have presented laid full length on the floor sniffing the carpet. “It’s okay,” said my son. “You’re not the first.”

We had already exhausted all possibilities by this point and were beginning to wonder if we should call the Ghostbusters… but I recognised the smell. I’d tried some quick-thaw spray on the overworked and over-iced freezer that had been left ajar. “I went in there to see if there was anything that might help stop the burning in my brother’s mouth…”

It was useless (but the hairdryer worked well…). I retrieved the bottle… which had not been in the living room, hadn’t been opened and only produced a fine spray anyway. It was definitely the same stuff… but only deepened the mystery. I’d had the freezer packed with towels to stop leakage… and it is yards away through the only solid wall in the house.

We found an explanation… it must have leaked anyway… and seeped behind the freezer, under the wall and concrete floor to emerge like a geyser in the middle of the living room. Without leaving a trail. Perfectly logical.

Mothers of grown sons everywhere will recognise the piquancy of the scenario, if not necessarily the details. It is moments such as these where we fully understand the resiliency of maternal sanity after surviving years of raising boys to be men. Only to find that the lunacy persists.

To the mothers of small boys yet to outgrow the proverbial leading strings… good luck! You’re going to need it…

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