How to Laugh Over Spilt Milk
The afternoon heat is waltzing around the house. Living room and kitchen. The dining area and I sandwiched in between. It’s blistering. My laptop’s devolving into one of those old Cathode Ray Tube computers – you know, the ones with big old clunky monitors running Windows 95. And it’s not the only one; I feel like I’m going apeshit too; like my neurons have soaked up all the humidity, tangling themselves in the process.
I need a break from work. So, I decide I need coffee, and maybe I need to “lose myself to dance” like Pharrell and the Punks prescribe.
And yeah, orange juice, lemonade and all would’ve been more apt in this oven of a day. Coffee dehydrates, blasé blasé. But c’mon, you’re talking about a caffeine-head, “fein” is literally in the word. That’s just what we do. I was thirsting for coffee, even though I knew it would make me feel bloated and drowsy.
Here’s the thing, it’s now a habit. A ritual of mine; to blare music through the earphones and brew my coffee. Indulge in some dance therapy. Y’know, stand, swerve, slide, spin and all that, depending on excitement levels. Depending on how whimsy I feel.
So, I get busy.
The black metal grate of the stove was perhaps too big for the pot of milk I set to boil. I could’ve used that metal frame appendage to make it steadier. But optimism was running high, feelings were glowing good. It was all gonna be fine.
Thought vs Action – a 10-minute piece of electronica, a minimalist techno song brought to you by the one who goes by the moniker – The Field. The chopped-up 4-by-floor beat and a woman’s voice humming, being made to stutter and skip blared through the earphones.
I start bobbing and weaving. The Aurovillean ceramic cup is ready on the counter, with the coffee powder and sugar. The milk is on a slow hike to the crescendo. So, I keep the water in the electric kettle on standby. For it is part of my ritual that the water reaches boiling point roughly half a minute before the milk.
The soundscape I’ve trapped myself in, the staccato is getting smoother and smoother. The song is progressing, the texture is becoming more ornamental, fuller and fleshier. Mind you, it’s a repetitive bunch of bars, and the repetition gets you in a trance. The richer it gets the more you dance. And that’s what I love about the ritual, it’s the process, the journey as they say. The anticipation of tasting the brew, and all the things you do. Before you actually sit down and start sipping. The thoughts on the way, the tangents, the imagination all shooting from the hip. It’s like a small pocket of time, you can just while away.
So, I’m grooving. There’s nobody else around, so I’m spinning, jiving and all that stuff. But I got my eye on the milk, and pulse on the time, waiting to flick the electric kettle’s switch still. The circumference of the milk in the pot begins to growl, foaming on the edges; I put the kettle on.
Amidst my jingling and jangling, I tell myself that the milk won’t boil over and spill like yesterday. Or the day before. I literally pause and make a mental note. It felt like I was racking up a streak in the past two days. But it wasn’t gonna happen this time.
Guess what happens.
The electric kettle is on the counter adjacent; perpendicular to the counter with the stove. Volcanic amount of steam erupting from its mouth. I dance my way towards it to check whether it’s done boiling. The beacon with the red light on, facing towards the wall, told me it still had a bit to go. Turning back to the counter with the stove:
I see red.
I mean white. White having crept out of the rim. A puddle on the stove, all offensive and taunting. The flame, still going, hissed at the interference from the spilt milk.
I snap the stove shut. At this point, I’m just amused. I guess I had gotten used to it. I could keep cool. No problem. I automatically reach for the sponge, douse it in water, and mop up the puddle. The milk pot is moved to one of the other grates of the stove. Mechanically, I began to wipe the stove in and around where I could. It was quite hot.
I smile to myself. Deliberately. To keep my cool.
The metal grate is detachable. I pick it up with the wet sponge, to put it in the sink. I drop it there instead. For the grate was way too hot. The tab spits out the water on the grate. And I go back to wiping the stove. There’s an ominous feeling creeping up on me. Just a feeling. That something else is up. Then I see the floor; the floor flooding with water.
The drain pipe from the sink had come detached when I dropped the grate on it.
I don’t smile. Now I sigh. But one thing at a time, I turn my attention back to cleaning the stove. Now, some djinn must have had my number. Because of some inexplicable reason, the pot that I had placed on one of the other grates of the stove was tilted somehow. More milk spilt on the stove counter.
My earphones were still on.
That part, that ecstatic high that The Field was building up with smoothening staccato, the deepening groove, it’s passed me by. I have been so focused on my series of unfortunate events. The song has made its switch to its abrasive second part; no more tranquil chanting of gibberish, instead there’s a pitch synthetic organ-esque scream going back and forth, and the beat is now starting to sound taunting. It’s repetitive, and it’s neurotic.
Breezy “thoughts” vs arduous “action”. That’s what The Field was going for, wasn’t he?
My feelings are complex now. I’m stressing. I’m tripping. My brain has fractalized into different voices; one telling me to keep cool, keep calm and carry on, another wanting to get the hammer from the storeroom and start indiscriminately smacking shit, one telling me to just drop everything and go curl up in the fetal position.
And to top it all off, a pretentious voice in the deep recesses is waxing philosophical about “How life goes? Moments like these…huh?”, and other such bullshit. My head was a jukebox hijacked by interfering radio stations.
And that repetitive organ beat, I swear, it’s egging me on and on. Looping and repetitive, like everything else.
I storm out to the back porch to get the mop. The music telling me no more dog-paddling in thoughts of nice things and relaxing feelings, only dry decisive action. The tenor-shrill of the organ-esque tune oscillating to-and-fro. The production textures itself, but in reverse, getting rougher and more jagged. The beat is deconstructing itself.
The mop hits the floor, and the water on the floor is now just spread over a larger surface area. The mop is gnashing against the floor. I’m expending more energy than I need to, and it’s coming from deep within my bones. I can’t help it. Buried in action, the voices in my head are still debating. There’s a lone voice, trying to light a cigarette and smile, and tell me “Aye, it is what it is”—asking me to see the absurd humour in all this.
But like a friend once posed the question:
‘How many “it is what it is”es before your mental breakdown?’
The floor and the counter are mopped. I put the second soiled grate in the sink. I check under it to see if the pipe has been fixed to the basin properly. I held the joint to check it held firm. Perhaps I held it too hard, with the bubbling rage coursing through my veins, for it detached again. Residual water from the basin fell splat on the floor.
The floor. Wet. Again.
The voices in my head synchronized into a choir. To scream. Rage. But outwardly, I simply walked over to the back porch and picked up the mop again.
Meanwhile, the song in between my ears had changed. Some generic electronica courtesy Spotify shuffle. I could not recognize it, or find my bearings in it. It was all garbled sounds. And it may well have been. Even if it were Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, it would all have been the same distorted confused static in my brain given my fragile psychic state.
So, I mop once more. Furious.
‘Engaged in your domestic duties I see’, my friend’s soft low voice cut through the music. He shuts the front door behind him.
The human ear is remarkable in picking out what it wants to hear. Idk how, did my brain imagine the sounds from watching his lip-sync? But I know what I heard. The music stopped. I pulled off the earphones. And smiled; from the heart.
‘No bro…’ I get the vague feeling of anecdotal amusement appearing in my gut, as visceral as the rage before.
I drop the mop and approach my guy for a handshake.
‘I’ll tell you.’, I say taking a tragicomic tone, ‘I’ve been working all day, right.’
‘Mhmm…’, his eyes start glinting with expectations of being amused.
‘So, I thought, I’ll make myself a nice cup of coffee and chill. Listen to some music and all. I go the milk boiling, and then it spilt.’
He chuckles, ‘ Ohoh! Ya! I can smell the burnt milk.’
‘That’s not all. So, I’m cleaning it, right…’
Another chuckle punctuates the air.
‘I take the grate and put it in the sink for washing, but it’s hot so I drop it. And when I start the tap, I notice that the water is pouring out the floor. The drop detached the pipe below. But wait…’
Because all good stories build suspense.
‘I turn around and see that the milk pot I kept on this other stove, it somehow titled again and milk spilt all over again.’
‘mhmmehehehehe…Murphy’s Law bro’
My friend remarks conclusively on the unexpected dose of slapstick served.
‘Gospel bro’, I said.
The smile was contagious in the air.
‘Anyway…take the keys. Now the car is mostly fine, it may creak a bit here and there. Also, I’ll text you the insurance papers just in case.’
‘Sure. I mean it’s only half an hour but you never know. I’ll bring it back by 6:30 or about.’
‘Thanks again, dah.’
The departure left the house filled with good humour. With levity. Finally, the laughter had broken through the belligerence of my mind. I snappily finished the mopping interrupted. I looked to boil the milk again on one of the two remaining outlets on the stove. The electric kettle is on stand-by once more. I shuffled through the phone, for a song, more pop this time.
It’s a ritual after all.