Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blood on the family doorpost

Tuesday. I step through the front door after work and Wife is at the sink straining spaghetti, looking like she's ready to strangle someone with noodles. She's screaming; at daughter one to get her butt up from the basement and clean the mess left on the kitchen counter, at daughter two to get off the computer and vacuum her room, at daughter three to cease reading Archie comics and finish her math homework, and before I can ask, in my most honey-dipped voice how her day was, she's commanding me to take daughter four to the bathroom before she pees in her pants. For the record, this is not my average welcome after a day's work. The household is thickly redolent with anxiety and resentment. More than usual. The children are ducking for cover, hiding in the basement, seeking safehaven behind bedroom doors. You never know when the next explosion might occur, a kitchen cupboard boobytrap, a livingroom sofa ambush. Best to stay away, steer clear of confrontation, navigate around danger. It's the week of double-work, night and day, of being under the ruler's merciless thumb, the taskmaster's cracking whip, the days of slavery, of waiting to be liberated, of aspiration and inevitable failure. It's not exactly Egypt. It's our house. And it's the week before Passover.

Back at the sink, her fingers are tangled in knots of drippy semolina, the dregs of a box dug out of the back of the cupboard from last summer, consumed now or else wasted in the name of religion. Wife has that pitiless look in her eye, tinged the red of fatigue. I know what she's thinking as she glares into the steam rising from the porcelain sink. I hate you. For making me do this. It'll never get done. The shopping. The cleaning. The dishes. It can't all get done on time. Again. And you're to blame. I hate you. Now I'm thinking back, sarcastically, what would getting ready for Passover be without a little slavery. And she's thinking back at me. Shut the hell up. Come down from your sanctimonious mountain you holier-than-thou, lazy-ass sonofabitch. The work all falls on my shoulders, not yours. I'm the slave here, not you. I'm the one who'll be dragging the three year old down the aisles of the IGA, dodging near-sighted bubbies, stacking the cart up with egg-matzoh boxes, macaroon cans, cellophane packets of gefilte fish and jars of horseradish, and picking through the shelves of condiments and spices looking for the "Kosher for Passover" seal of approval. I'm the one who'll be emptying the kitchen drawers and washing them out. Scrubbing under the fridge. Behind the stove. Inside the grates. I'm the slave here and I hate you for it! We say nothing to each other. But we know. This is the week of telepathic conversations with burning bushes; remove your shoes, step carefully, don't get too close or you might get scorched. I slip quietly into the next room, out of range. She's right. It's the same every year. And again I wonder how we're going to survive the journey intact. How we're going to get all the chometz out, the yeast, the ferment. We know we're going to try again. And we know we're going to fail again. But, somehow, we also know it's a journey through the wilderness we'll survive.

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