The house knows when you have been away.
It misses being the object of your attention, the cause of your late-night worries, the recipient of your every loose dollar. The house feels slighted, or maybe angry when you leave. And when you return, it gets even.
The other night, for instance, when I was back home after a short business trip, a storm window attacked me. I was closing the window when the top of the sash suddenly popped out of its channel and headed toward me. I fended it off, but not before the top of the sash caught me in the forehead with one of its sharp corners. It was only a surface wound, but it bled, and it hurt. I slapped the sash back into place and put a bandage on the cut.
There are several explanations why the window sash jumped out of its channel. One is that the house has settled since the window was installed. The settling action has pushed the window channels slightly out of line. And since the window sash is so heavy and so big, about 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall, its weight sometimes gets the better of the vinyl channels that are supposed to hold it in place.
I buy the "settling" explanation, sorta.
The way I see it, the house was honked off that for a few days I had not been worshiping at its foundations. It had the window slash me to "settle the score."
Then there were the burned-out light bulbs -- they were more signs that the house was in a pout.
Usually, light bulbs burn out at random, one at time. But for some reason, whenever I leave town the bulbs in my house burn out en masse.
When I returned home I found that the light bulbs in the vestibule, in the basement and in the upstairs bathroom had ceased to work. These light bulbs were not on the same circuit. They were not the same wattage. But they had two things in common. First, they were in hard-to-reach fixtures. And second, they waited to die until I was away. This was an obvious instance of a burned-out bulb conspiracy.
Why did all these hard-to-reach bulbs burn out at once? I say they wanted to get even with me. They wanted to make me lug a stepladder all the way up to the third floor.
As I replaced the burned-out bulbs I could almost hear the house talking to me.
"Thought you could get away with it, didn't you," the house said.
"You went out of town and forgot all about me. You forgot all about the worries of plumbing, heating and wiring. For a few glorious days all you thought about was your job, your happiness, and where you stashed your expense account receipts.
"Well, traveler, those happy days are over. Tote that ladder, lift those tools. Raise a little Cain and I'll make the hot water turn cool."
This tirade was still ringing in my head as I screwed in the last light bulb and put the ladder away.
The next morning, just to rub it in, another bulb burned out. This one was reachable without the ladder. That was a good sign. The house was still mad, but at least it was mellowing.
And so this weekend I plan to "make things right" between me and the house.
I will repair the screen door. The screen has pulled loose from the frame. This, too, happened when I was away. Since it is late in the screen-door season, I had thought of letting this job ride until next spring.
But after being attacked by the window and harassed by the burned-out bulbs, I have the feeling that fixing the door could repair relations with the house as well.
I also have to replace another broken window. This one was felled by a stray soccer ball.
That is how we tell the change of seasons in our family.
First, baseballs break windows, then soccer balls, then basketballs, then lacrosse balls, then back to baseballs. It is the cycle of shattered glass.
This particular piece of glass sits in a window that has been painted shut. To replace the glass, I have got to unstick the window.
From experience, I know freeing stuck windows is a tedious process requiring a utility knife to cut through the paint and a putty knife to "wiggle" between the sash and molding. It is an endeavor filled with much grunting and with the high probability of breaking even more glass.
Besides the window, there are rugs that have to be washed and grass that has to be cut. And several spots around the house could use some touch-up paint.
By Monday, my life will once again be dominated by the house. When it calls, I will come. When it creaks, I will jump. When it sags, I will worry.
Life will be back to normal.