Hold the Ice, Please

I’ve stopped icing my drinks on cold days—advice from a health lecture I once attended. Or was it hot days when we’re supposed to avoid ice cubes? Anyway, in the name of good health, I rarely touch them anymore.

Last September, I opened the freezer door, pretending to check my frozen pea supply, and I just couldn’t help giving in to the joy of holding the ice tray. There were no witnesses, except a housepainter who spoke to his quiet son in a language nobody else could understand.

He painted our walls carefully, and I slid on his floor coverings. We said very little to each other, and when I slipped, he rarely offered a hand.  Neutrality ceased when he started boasting about his work in a well-known cardiologist’s mega-chateau. He ranted about their endless closets and obvious misery. Although I missed some of his words, he persuaded me that these wealthy Americans could never buy the happiness that he and his vast family enjoyed.

Yes, he was the proud pater familias of a very happy family – well, except for his 16 year old son who showed little interest in unlidding the paint tins and steadying the ladders — enabling his happy father to paint our walls without falling. I could see that each new wall seemed to make his American son bristle.

Forget the ice cube gazing; what I did next was wrong, perhaps. I’m still not sure.

I talked to the painter’s assistant when his father left to get a new brush from his truck.  His son’s English was very good — he understood a lot more than how to serve his father’s needs.  Then later, when his father stepped outside for some fresh air, where the gnats held court, I asked him if he’d signed up for the SAT yet. He smiled. By the time his father returned, we’d mentioned the word college twice.

Yes, his father heard the word, too, and began calculating the number of walls he’d have to paint to absorb this new bill – let alone the manpower loss  he’d sustain if his son left him. His rage bellowed as he stirred the new paint.   Our English dropped out of reach.

I apologized privately to our painter for intruding. But while his son began setting up the ladder so they could paint the kitchen ceiling, I raced upstairs to pass on one of my son’s SAT prep books to him — feeling like a liberator with shaking knees.

Strained relations with the Divo collapsed at the sight of my offering, which I’d placed beside his son’s jacket. I knew that the next house owner would hear about me — the mom who thought she was a career counselor, the horrid meddler. The exaggerated efforts of avoiding each other at each crossing made me wonder who really belonged in the house.

Later in the week, I left our almost-fully painted quarters to the crew for about two hours, and when I returned, the mood had lightened. A little birthday cheer taming our differences?  I filled a glass of water from the sink, and for a forbidden birthday treat, I plunged into the freezer deeply, and then discovered my 15 year old observing quietly.

And then before I could explain — we both saw them.  Six of them.

Half a dozen gnats submerged in nearly frozen water.  Only an entomologist on holiday or an indignant insider could have assembled such a perfect arrangement.

I’ll never know for sure – but I’m guessing that love wasn’t in the air or my freezer. And the SAT book – well, it was left on the porch, near where the gnats always swarm.