3 - A Celebrity Sprain

Elena texted an Internet chat invite. Something about her parents going out of town: meaning, she could steal her way online without getting caught. I dragged my carcass to the kitchen, put the kettle on and fired up a laptop.

Turns out, her mother was there, after all. Despite the inevitable fallout, Elena went ahead with our chat. Our conversation was safe, ordinary, guarded. Neither of us spoke a word about my impetuous travel plans. Instead, I prattled on with various home renovation fails, decorating disasters and political assassinations. Elena countered with music, the Ukrainian revolution, Soviet film-makers and the stultifying nature of life in small-town Russia.

And then, something like, "Mama wants me meet someone. Wait!" Flashed across my chat window, followed by, "LENA has left the room."

Solarium placement detail of Meg Aitken's supersized bungalow photo elenameg.com

[Image 3-1] Meg's bungalow on steroids. View from the lower floor looking up through the future stairwell into the solarium.

Well, bollocks! It was still early and I hadn't even inhaled my customary gallon of coffee. I wandered into the solarium and peered up. The sky was painfully clear. Ice cold stars pierced indigo blue. A sliver of Earth's binary -- that's the moon, to you folks thinking it's just a satellite -- hung close to the horizon. I could've been on a spacecraft for how clear it was. One of those moments I will carry to the end of my sentient existence.

My astrotravel fantasy was cut short by Elena's return. My heart leaped. I skidded from the solarium down the hall. The chat window read, "LENA has entered the room," and under that, "She wants marry to me Arabian man!"

Before I could type a response, "Meg! Where are you!?!?!" flashed across my screen. Then, "Mama, want me to fly with friend to Dubai."

It's safe to say, nothing stays light and amusing in our relationship for long. I typed the typical, too-cool-for-words, Internet chat response: "?"

Nothing came back from my oh-so-cool query.

Crikey on a stick! Was she already on her way to The Kingdom? A Russian bride, bought and paid for. I was helpless, beside myself. I logged the laptop out of the chat room and logged back in with my Blackberry.

LENA: Meg?


Meg Aitken's kitchen covered in drop-sheets and ready for the wars photo elenameg.com

[Image 3-2] Meg's kitchen

Oops, her end of the chat room printed, "MEG has left the room," and then, if she had her speakers turned on, would have heard the sound of a wizard zotting something into oblivion, poof.

LENA: Meg? \< crying emoticon >

MEG: Sorry. Switched comp. My bad. I'm here. \< not guilty emoticon >

I wandered back to the solarium, thumb-typing useless, pithy platitudes that did more for me than anyone else.

Elena told me her parents wanted her out. Wanted her married and having children. Her mother was going to have her sacked and sent to a mental hospital for treatment if she didn't marry someone. It was Dima or the Sheik.

What in bloody hell does one say to that? I couldn't even begin to imagine what she was going through. I could, on the other hand, put text on a computer screen on the other side of the planet. Aye, that's effective.

LENA: Meg? R U there?

I had been thumb-typing then erasing like crazy. Nothing I saw on my miniscule display had enough merit to post. I responded, "Yes, I am here. Adding, "I wish there was something I could do."

And then, Elena was the quiet one.

I didn't push. Through glass panels, I gazed at the moon. Morning twilight was already chasing it across the sky.

Finally, "Meg, I can not bear to lose you."

I knew the right response was some kind of empty promise or delusional statement, like: I am here for you, blah, blah, blah. Instead, I simply picked up our chat. I described what I was seeing, the moon and some of the stars that hadn't been lost to the twilight.

As I thumb-typed purple prose on a Black-berry, Elena posted, "I do not know yet how shall I go to you. But I shall come to you in Ukraine. I will be for sure there."

I was at a loss for words. It wasn't a quick response kind of situation. I gazed at the sliver of moon and thumbed, "I wish you could see this." I wanted -- no, I needed -- with all my heart to share it with her. "The sky is just starting to lighten. The moon is bright and so clear."

LENA: I can see it! Thru window. Sun also. But moon is there. In blue sky.

I told her, "Because we are on opposite sides of the planet the moon is the only landscape we can both see at the same time!"

LENA: Of cause [sic]

MEG: It is like we are magically connected when we are looking at the moon at the same time.

After a while -- it took Elena almost as much time to type English on a Russian keyboard as it took me to thumb text on a bar-of-soap sized mobile device, "We soon see same all things. Soon together. Soon each other at Kyiv."

I was probably thumbing in travel plans when Elena posted: "You will wait for me, Meg?"

I frantically backspaced over all my blether to type, "YES."

Elena posted: "Wait me, we will meet, you and me in Kyiv, for sure."

MEG: Yes!

I got that three letter word posted then tried to add more. My thumbs flew across the teensy keypad like some crazy, micro sized game of Whac-A-Mole, when: "Meg, I love you!" and then, "LENA has left the room," flashed onto my screen.

☸ ☸ ☸

Restoration of a 100 year old window sash showing the tools and technique of removing layers of toxic paint photo elenameg.com

[Image 3-3] Like extracting a fossil from hard rock." Is how Meg describes restoring architectural details buried under a century of paint. This multi-pane window sash is at the reconstruction stage: labelled components assembled and clamped for gluing. She employed many of the same tools used by palaeontologists for fossil excavation.

"You can't leave it like this!" Bernadette waved at the renovation mayhem around her.

"No choice. No time!" I thrashed through the clutter in a kitchen drawer. "Bollocks! Sure you don't have a set?"

"Only the ones I gave back to you." She placed herself between me and the next drawer along. "Meg, give up! You'll find the keys before you go." Bernadette, someone I've known since uni, was no stranger to my preflight shenanigans. Shocking, but true -- I can be somewhat disorganised at times.

"Bloody hell! I go in a couple of days! If I haven't found them yet, it's a fair bet, I never will."

Bernadette rolled her eyes. "Fine, you'll leave me your keys when I take you to the airport."

My place was a certifiable disaster area. There should have been helicopters circling. Full-page adverts by questionable charities. Terrorist organisations claiming responsibility. The entire ground floor was unfinished. There was no interior staircase. The kitchen was only partially completed. Despite that, Bernadette was leaving her perfectly intact house to move into my place.

"I know what happened! The keys, they got sucked into a micro wormhole. You know, like that one in the dryer that devours socks." I wildly flipped cushions from an Ikea sofa that looked an awful lot like William's Stickley piece.

Bernadette caught one, inches from a gaping hole into a shaft that had once been a chimney. "Stop it! You're gone for how long? It's not like you'll need your keys over there."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever."

"Where is that breeze coming from?" Bernadette asked, probing the indoor air currents for its source. "It's freezing!"

"Cold front. Poxy, arctic outflow. Going way below the line tonight."

"I mean here, in your living room." She traced the breeze to a gaping void that had once been the fireplace. Sticking her head into the shaft and peering up at the sky, she wailed, "You have to do something about this!"

"I don't have time!"

"Make time, or I'm not staying here."

"Fine! I'll staple a tarpaulin to the roof. Deal with it when I get back."

gas range and cabinets await installation in a craftsman bungalow restoration elenameg.com

[Image 3-4] General kitchen mayhem was not unusual during Meg's opus magnum domacilium. This photo shows the kitchen island in an early stage of development.

"No way! You're gone one, maybe two months? Until you've gotten tired of living out of your suitcase." Bernadette turned her back on the hole, gestured over her shoulder with a thumb. "A tarpaulin is not going to last. You are, in the very least, closing up that hole in the roof! Then you can go and be Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider until the cows come home."

"Lara Croft," I arranged sofa cushions.

"I thought her name was Lenna, not Lara?"

Whumping down cushions, I explained, "You said, 'Tomb Raider,' that is Lara Croft, not Indiana--"

"You are so weird! What's Lara, or Lenna planning to do in Kyiv?"

"It's Elena." I enunciated: "El-ah-nah, or in Russian, Yeh-len-ah, or just plain Lenna for short. I suppose she's going to play it by ear. We'll do some exploring. Soak up some culture. Get into trouble."

"Right, trouble. You follow that camera of yours straight into trouble, looking for thrills. Then wonder why the ceiling is coming down on your head. Don't forget, it's not your revolution over there."

"I suppose, but it's not like I have an itinerary worked out. I really don't know what's going to happen over there." Subconsciously, or maybe not, I struck The Thinker's pose, right there on the Ikea sofa. "But, I have a feeling, Bernie, it's going to be one heck of an adventure!"

She playfully slapped my thigh, stood and turned to face me. At barely five feet, the only time she had a height advantage was when I was seated and she wasn't. "Then you had better do something about that hole, hadn't yeh?"

☸ ☸ ☸

Meg Aitken with hair blasted straight back and glasses completely fogged by overspray photo elenameg.com

[Image 3-5] Meg shows off the ramifications of over-spray on prescription eyewear.

Straight up the chimney shaft -- seemed like a good idea, at the time. Three or four bruising, sliver accumulating, freezing cold, death-defying ascents on a ladder that was crashing from one side of the shaft to the other, proved otherwise. On the plus side, I managed to nail down a sheet of wickedly sharp, aluminium flashing; frame it in place from the inside; and then, slather on copious gobs of caulking. I was scot-free until my final descent.

In a rather ungraceful and expletive peppered manoeuvre, I fell, festooned with every tool I could conceivably tie to my belt, down the shaft and onto a pile of bricks in the cellar. At first, it didn't seem too bad. I was still alive. I was conscious. I was no longer descending. I hadn't shot myself in the arse with the nail gun. Nothing seemed broken. And then, insidiously -- from a point of origin somewhere in my right ankle -- pain began a relentless crescendo. "Ouch, ouch, OUCH!!!."

Bernadette found me in the kitchen, flat on my back, using an open drawer to hold my ankle aloft. "What a mess! I rushed from work for this? I thought you were dead!"

"I'm afraid to look. This is bad, really, really bad." I was shaking, nauseous and cold from shock, and Bernadette was hacked off at me!?

"You got yourself out of the cellar, all the way around the house, up the stairs, through the front door, with enough strength left over to ring me at work!? Oo-la-laaaa, it can't be that bad."

"I crawled! I was literally dragging myself along by my lips! Have you no sympathy?"

"I hope, for your sake, you fell down the chimney after fixing the hole in the roof?"

"You get your wish. It's fixed." I moaned. "For my sake!? I'm just hoping this isn't bad enough to keep me from Ukraine."

As things turned out, it was bad. An absolute celebrity sprain. And I ended up on crutches.

stairwell for future grand staircase in a craftsman bungalow restoration elenameg.com

[Image 3-6] Watch that step! Bernadette ascends to the second floor via extension ladder.

[[ 2022-07-07 23:23 GMT ]]