When Tom brings his toolbox into the house, it means war. He sets it down in the middle of the kitchen floor and glares at the cluttered breakfast bar. I stand behind him, trying to block the rest of the kitchen from his view, but he has acquired his target.
Before taking action, he warns the enemy. “Adam, Kate, you have two minutes to get your stuff off the counter or it’s going in the trash.”
Adam runs in and holds out the bottom of his t-shirt, sweeping cars and Legos into the convenient sack it forms. Kate saunters over and drapes her purse and sweatshirt over her shoulder, picks up her math and science books and drops them all on the dining room table on her way upstairs.
Tom is already busy with the tools. Kneeling under the counter, he puts a bit into the drill and starts removing screws from the pedestal that supports the end of the counter. The carrots I’ve been peeling are waiting, but I must defend my kitchen from that dangerous drill.
Setting the screws in a line on the floor, Tom picks up a hacksaw. I watch in horror as he saws three inches off the top of the pedestal. The end of the counter drops with a thump when he slides out his prize chunk of wood. He stands and revels in his handiwork. The breakfast bar has pulled away from the wall, leaning down toward the floor. It would make a perfect slide for Kate’s dolls, if she still played with dolls.
“That’s one flat surface the kids won’t be able to clutter with their stuff anymore.” But his satisfaction is fleeting. He looks past me to the kitchen counters, but his gaze continues to my mother’s heirloom table in the dining room beyond. “That’s next. Kate, come get your stuff or it’s going in the trash.”
Not on my watch. I march past him into the dining room and climb on the table, sitting cross-legged in the middle. I cross my arms and glare at him. Kate stares at me while she collects her things, but shrugs and carries them upstairs.
“You take that toolbox back to the garage or you’re not getting any supper. Ever.”
His eyes meet mine and I can see him calculating. We stare at each other like soldiers across a minefield, and he finally looks away. He closes the toolbox and picks it up, but he heads for the living room. I jump off the table and run after him.
“Not my coffee table. Stop or I’ll pour motor oil on your table saw.”
He looks over his shoulder, but keeps walking. I turn back to the garage door, but before I’m through it, he capitulates.
“Stay out of the garage. We’ll see if this does any good before I do anything else.” He pats the slanted breakfast bar on his way past me to put the toolbox away.
When I come downstairs in the morning, Adam is sliding cars down the breakfast bar; they leave little dents in the vinyl floor when they hit. His backpack and jacket and one shoe are on the dining room table next to Kate’s books and purse and hairbrush. She has taken a bowl of cereal into the living room to watch TV, a forbidden morning activity.
“There’s no place to eat,” she says, without taking her eyes off the screen. I turn it off and return to the kitchen to make lunches, tripping over a traffic jam of little cars.
“No flat surfaces,” I mutter. “No clutter,” I mutter.
I formulate a battle plan as I work my way through the house picking up little cars and hair bands and dirty socks. In the garage I find several blocks of wood and the chunk from the breakfast bar. I take them to my bedroom where I’ve made sure the bedspread is Army smooth. I heave up my side of the bed and slide the boards under the feet. Then I put the chunk in the middle of Tom’s side. The ragged sawed edge keeps it from sliding to the floor.
Supper is on the table when he gets home, but I’m in the bedroom with the toolbox, waiting.
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