My neck cracked in contempt as I impatiently shifted my body weight on the couch. A long but elegant piece of perfectly proportioned furniture, covered in a reluctantly brownish-grey upholstery that poorly hid the fact that it was at one time a delicate cream color, it should have been long enough for a human body. That is except for the unfortunate ninety-degree curve in the center of it that crippled the otherwise rigid structure. While this frame found similarity in the placement of an elbow in the region of a human arm, it was by no means as effective in its day to day functionality. Visibly one of its best features, as agreed upon by all in the household, the elbow curve was also an unfortunate reminder of its intended use: sitting, exactly what I had not been doing on it all night. Though I must admit it had foiled my efforts of sleep as much as I had frustrated its plans to be a respectable piece of day-time lounge furniture. However, when your options are to share a bed with the fussy older guest from Dar Es Salaam or take the couch, and you are no longer of an age when it is acceptable to make public proclamations about body odor, however rightfully deserved, you accept the couch with grudging gratitude.
I pulled the too short purple plaid Maasai blanket over my head in anticipation of the wake up call that was sure to come in just a few minutes in the horrid form of three children bursting into the room at 6:30 AM. (A task not so challenging when the room is uninhibited by a door of any kind.) This entrance saluted no purpose except that children are for some devilish reason made to glean extraneous energy from the very same things that the rest of us find draining: sweets, promise of actual things to do, and surprises. All of which there are plenty of in the days leading up to Christmas. And rather more immediately, there was a mosquito I was sure would fly into my auditory cavity if I did not take immediate precaution.
The sound of the night guard scraping the dusty ground with a bamboo rake just on the other side of the slat windows had also worried my ears and I knew from experience, now that I had received the sound, it would not depart from my consciousness easily. Burrowing my hand up close to my face I compromised my makeshift blanket fortress, freeing my nose and mouth in order to take in fresher air, only slightly seasoned with the daintily distilled smell of Frankie, the Jack-Russell Terrier(ish) terror, emanating from the cantankerous couch. Frankie being the beast who held court on the couch until I unceremoniously cast him off of his citadel perch and out of his slumber last night. I, asserting an arrogant claim to the tattered battlement on no better grounds than assumption of human priority and sheer size, cast out the furry fallen Lord from his manor. As I hungrily took in the compromised but fresher morning air, I resignedly hoped the mosquito and the children would not discern the breach in my woolen security so perilously close to my nostrils- therefore allowing me to eke out a few more moments of unsettled unity with the cushions.
Yet if I were to get up. I could make the coffee. My host told me a horrific story of her father, the Good Reverend, who once got up at four AM every morning for three months while she and her husband were staying with him. He had concluded that the path of least resistance regarding “the coffee issue” was to simply be the earliest to rise and therefore make the coffee to his apparently rather specific standards. This story left me puzzled each time I recalled it, as I was sure that his issue was the apparent overwhelming strength of the coffee, a rather confusing (and seeming) conspiracy having consumed more than should be humanly permissible of the rather vulgar bean water that sputtered out of the misused coffee maker each morning in this harried household. (To which my hostess still added milk, always with the same explanation that her husband made it too strong.) While I had no such qualms about avoiding a Coffee Confrontation with my poorly palated hostess like the Good Preacher feared, the issue of the bean water persisted.
The mosquito, having given up on the assault of my face orifices, discovered the shamelessly bare skin of the feet I was unable to cover at the same time as my face. It made quick and stealthy work of the flesh down there which I did not notice until I was left with the angry red aftermath.
In the dregs of my memory of the evening before I recalled that those of us who remained beyond the witching hour, partaking of those things befitting witches and demons, mainly wrapping presents and drinking warmed cider of course, we had also left the dining room in dreadful disaster. I could rise now to clear away the lasting remembrances of the night now gone, or become more firmly planted in my palisade of cushions knowing that all there was awaiting me beyond the beckon of an elated morning light were chores to accompany the accommodating yet altogether belligerent bean water.
Of course, there was the German Chocolate cake. The other bit of sin we had engaged in. Rising now may also be rewarded with a sneaky chocolatey morning treat. A rather sloppily constructed confection completed with only the one mishap of fusing half of the cake batter to the bottom of the oven. And requiring a chisel to remove the transmogrified sludge that suspiciously resembled the George Washington section of the great Mount Rushmore (had it fallen off of the mountain in some hand-of-God cleansing of the scraped and defiled sacred mountains). The confection was indeed baked, with just enough help from a few too many Aunties giving Talmudic advice on “the best way” and “the secret to” and “if you just add,” to make it a mountingly monstrous affair. Our hostess’s husband, who stood at the helm of this endeavor of confectionary perfection for the simple reason of irritating the irreverent spirits amongst us, concluded the baking by perilously piecing together with icing and deals with divine and devilish figures, two layers of something we were assured was edible… well perhaps not poisonous?
In the end I am not sure if it was in fact the offending mosquito, the quest to redeem the coffee, or the promise of a cheeky course of confiture that finally drew me down from my torpid turret. But I was at final tally defeated by that formidable foe Frankie the Jack-Russell Terrier(ish) beast of wide renown and repugnant repute. For upon the dining table where we had made merry and laid plans for Christmas cheer was plopped a should-be-white furry bottom next to an overturned mug, a bearded, gray face partially visible amid the center of the precariously plastered together German Chocolate cake!
He spared barely a blink for me as he opened his mouth for another bite.
*This is Dedicated to Mr. Giroir, who first taught me to savor the quiet moments and who was also known to have one or two little dogs on hand at any one time. Your presence still rings in the quiet places in our hearts.