Houseguests are great, but I’d enjoy them more if I were less Martha and more Mary. Even hosting family requires clean bedding and towels, night lights in the hall and bath, and a well-stocked refrigerator. Non-related guests require knowing food preferences and coordinating schedules as well as attempting rudimentary cleaning. I love Victorian novels where guests pay visits marked by months rather than days. Of course, Victorian mansions came equipped with a staff of servants to keep guests and hosts comfy for extended periods. And come to think of it, Mary couldn’t have been such a great listener if Martha hadn’t pulled kitchen duty.
My brother and sister-in-law have developed a foolproof technique for limiting house guests to one-night visits. Doogie and Kato moved into a smaller house last year and sold their guest bed. Guests are now bedded down on an inflatable mattress in their office. They beamed as they showed us their Costco trophy—a queen-size Aerobed. George and I failed to detect malice in their smiles and settled down for a good night’s rest. I dreamed I was being swallowed by a giant marshmallow. I awoke with a panic and found myself engulfed in a huge amorphous puff that pitched and rolled with every breath. I struggled to sit up and found George caught in the same nightmare. He finally rolled off the mattress and I hit the floor.
“The mattress is leaking,” I said. For some reason, George’s sleep-numbed brain tried to analyze the problem. “I think the air is condensing because it’s sitting on a cold basement floor.” For whatever reason, the Aerobed was no longer supporting our bodies. We flipped the switch and the pump roared into action with cyclonic sound and fury. With our bed restored to its original firmness, I fell asleep only to awaken a little later with my body twisted into a pretzel in the collapsing guest bed. Should I turn on the pump and awaken George or just continue to suffer? I stuffed my pillow under my back in an attempt to avoid permanent curvature of the spine and tried to fall asleep. I soon realized the mattress wasn’t through deflating. I risked being devoured by this Venus Fly-Trap masquerading as a bed if I didn’t act. I pulled my arm to the surface, reached back, flipped the switch— and George thanked me. He’d been suffering in silence, afraid to awaken me. We spent the rest of the night trying to doze between bouts of pumping the air mattress. Finally, dawn arrived. I rolled to the edge and the mattress dumped me on the floor. I got up and turned to George. “Make me a vow. We will never stay overnight here again.”
Kato does not have to worry about assuming a Martha role for houseguests. No one will ever again spend more than one night at their house.