How to go to war

You agree to let your housemate move her sister into the flat you share. You’ve never met the sister, but you like your housemate, so why not? You hardly ever see your housemate because she’s an exotic dancer by night and by day she’s interviewing exotic dancers for a documentary about the trade. You presume, of course, that the sister will be similarly cool and interesting, that she will have an active social life, and when she is at home, which won’t be often, she’ll be enjoyable, like her sister, who you always wish you saw a bit more often, and this is the right amount and kind of disappointment to have in a housemate.

After the sister moves in, you realize she is a 4’8” foot stomping tyrant, who constantly nags her sister about not being home enough. Your housemate fires back, calling her a shrieking shrew, which makes the sister shriek. You also realize that not only do you hate the sister but that your housemate hates her, and always has hated her. Actually, everyone in the world hates her and so, or course, she never leaves the house, because she has no friends, and no interests, other than buying things cheaply, due to her willingness to argue the price, and by researching sales and clipping coupons, which she does for half the day on Sundays when she commandeers the paper and spreads it out over the entire kitchen table.

A few months pass in this fashion and you decide that the only way to get her to leave is to drive her out, which unfortunately will also mean the loss of the housemate, who is bound to her sister by a hate-filled loyalty. You ponder the best way to accomplish your ends, deciding, of course, that you must go to war.

Declaring war is no small matter and, once declared, there is no turning back. You contemplate this fact and decide to wait, allowing the hate to build into a fury that you contain in the darkest part of your heart and behind your furthest molar that you clench and grind whenever you hear the sister’s shrewish voice. The hate blooms and blossoms into a hateful creativity. A battle plan reveals itself in one tactical maneuver after another, ever onward to the eradication of the enemy, leaving you the victor on the competitive battlefield of the San Francisco rental market.

You are in the kitchen on the day you go to battle, the kitchen where the sister has used most of the household dishes, sloppily half-washed and left them piled precariously in the drainer, as she does several times a week. You have just returned home from market and want to whip up a quick stir-fry, starving as you are, but before you can begin, you must dislodge the cutting board, the knife, and the pan from the pile. Like a childhood game of Jenga!, your attempt to remove one item begins to topple the lot. You grind the hatred into your tooth and, as usual, begin the dismantling process of drying and putting away all of the dishes to get to the ones you need, which must be re-washed.

In a rage-fueled moment of inspiration, pick up the cleaver, turn it to the blunt side and smash it onto the pile of her rings she has left by the sink, as she always does, like a dog lifting its leg to leave traces of its ownership behind. Administer three quick blows and the rings are dented and scattered. Gather them up, pocketing one and returning the rest to the spot by the now-empty dish drainer. You put this act of violence out of your mind, like a strategic white board wiped clean, your face is blank, your conscience is clear and you return to your intended task, that of a quick lunch. Sit in the blessedly empty flat, absorbing sunshine and silence at the kitchen table with your lunch and a novel you bought for 99 cents at the used bookstore on 24th Street near Church.

Later, you are in your room above the kitchen. The sister comes home and stomps through the house to the kitchen to, you suppose, take all of the dishes out of the cupboard. You listen to the quiet moment as she puts down her bags of slightly wilted vegetables and turns to the sink. You hear her tone of outrage, her rings! The battle cry has sounded and hatred spills over to the bile in your guts and you plot your next move.

The days go by and you begin to gather evidence of war’s justification. In the bathroom, the sister creates little nests with her hair. She leaves the coiled dark strands in the soap dish, on the windowsill, plastered onto the wet shower walls where you are forced to confront or pointedly ignore them. Today, you gather them into a handful of hair that you put it into a paper bag and hide on the highest shelf in the closet, tucking it behind your pants.

In the hallway between your bedroom and hers, she piles fashion magazines on the floor. She is the least fashionable person you know with her penchant to purchase whatever will fit her small box-shaped frame and is on sale for at least 60% off. She wears the same shoes every day. They would be cool on anyone else, but on her are reduced to an outdated stereotype–black utilitarian 1950’s style spinster shoes with chunky modern heels. Despite her frugality, on magazines she spends with abandon, and then is reluctant to throw them away. The stack grows with its perfume samples wedged between piles of pages, requiring that your door remain closed against the olfactory assault. Tie the magazines into a plastic garbage bag that you wedge behind a box under your bed.

On the day before the full moon, you find yourself in front of La Sirena Botanica, a small store on the J-Church line that you’ve rumbled past for years. You go in to inspect the candles that line an entire wall from floor to ceiling. You pass the ones in glass, the ones with saints and pictures on the label, preferring the ones that are most fearsome, the images made out of wax. There are black cats, naked men and women of varying sizes and colors, waxen dollar signs, a cloven-hoofed man with horns, and most disturbing, a full-sized replica of a human skull that’s black on the outside, but once lit reveals a blood red interior and is exactly the type of thing you were looking for. Purchase it, along with a small cast iron 3-legged cauldron, and head back to your flat to prepare for battle.

Once there, dust off the water-stained end table that the neighbors left outside with a “free” sign. On it carefully arrange your purchases. Retrieve the magazines, the hair, and the ring from their hiding spots. Wad up a few pages and pile them into the cauldron. Place a pile of the hair in front of the candles, weaving some through the ring. Twist a nail into the third eye of the skull and hang the hair-knotted ring on it. Put the rest of the hair and the magazines under the table, making certain it is all visible from the doorway across the room. Leave your door ajar and leave the house for dinner with friends at Zante’s Indian food and pizza joint a few blocks away. Enjoy your last feast before battle.

Returning home, slightly high from a large bottle of Taj Mahal beer, Indian spices, and witty repartee, pause in the foyer. Listen for movement and sense the mood of the household. Feeling the crackle of tension in the air, rest assured the altar has been seen, examined closely, and has begun its work. Pause in the hallway and slowly turn your head toward the sister’s room. For once, her door is closed, but you can see the shadow of her feet on the floor inside. Leave your door open the tiniest crack and set the cauldron ablaze. Light the candles, as you will do for the next seven days. Now wait. Prepare for the day you return from work to find an empty flat and for the month you’ll be stuck paying the full rent. Craft your “housemate wanted” advertisement; imagine the dinner table conversations, the new furniture, and the addition to your circle of friends. Plan to savor the spoils of your victory.

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