I held up two fingers, like the victory sign. "Give me two minutes," I said, moving my car to make room for the gardener's crew.
"Take three, take five, take as many minutes as you need," my husband said.
I expected him to add "haste makes waste," but he didn't. Not that it mattered. I had a schedule to keep. My lady friends were picking me up at 12:30 for a luncheon, and afterward they were stopping by for dessert. The best incentive to a clean house is having friends over. Even the best of friends are suspect when it comes to good housekeeping.
Since I was guilty of waiting until the last minute to prepare for my guests, the priority list materialized. On this day, the first thing on my mental schedule was the newspaper and breakfast, together. Then, all hell broke loose on my printed one:
7 a.m. Prepare dessert, clean kitchen
9 a.m. Dust, vacuum, mop, pick up
10:15 a.m. Set the dining room table w/silver and linens
10:45 a.m. Decorate — arrange flowers, candles, etc.
11:45 a.m. Bathe and dress
I knew I should have started earlier, but I found solace in the fact the schedule was working until the doorbell rang. My gardener wanted to talk to me about the azalea bushes and to collect for the work he had completed. What could I say but "yes"? But every minute I was falling behind, forcing me into the game of playing catchup, rescheduling, counting every minute.
Fortunately by 12:28 p.m., the floors were mopped, the furniture dusted, flowers, candles, coffeepot, cups, saucers, silverware all displayed, and my famous Cassata Cake in the refrigerator. I raced through dressing, ready to be picked up for lunch.
With two minutes to spare, I noticed that my African violets needed watering. I reached for the small watering can I kept in the kitchen cabinet. As I looked up, I spotted cobwebs dangling from the copper planter suspended from the ceiling in the breakfast area.
Why waste time walking the 20 yards to the garage for the small stepladder when a chair was handy? I rolled the chair into the corner of the room and nudged it against the counter. I slipped off my shoes so as not to dirty the chair and clambered on. I angled back to reach the web when the chair rolled and swiveled at the same time.
On my seemingly slow-motion descent to the floor, the light fixture came into view along with the copper planter hanging on a chain, followed by the octagon-shaped glass tabletop, the other chairs and my cat Jerry, scurrying. I landed on the cold terrazzo floor amid the chairs and table legs like a swatted bug. Afraid to breathe, I slowly exhaled with great pain. There, across the floor from me, was Jerry gazing at the garage, not at me.
The next thing I remembered was my husband telling me not to move. What did he think I was going to do, run a marathon? I felt pain, so there was life; saw no pool of blood, no broken glass, my shoulders rotated, my fingers and toes wiggled. But my side, from shoulder to knee, ached worse than the time I slipped in snow.
"If you help me, I think I can sit up," I said, facing my bewildered husband, obviously torn between concern and more concern. How badly was I hurt, and why would I pull such a foolhardy stunt. "I was in a hurry so I used the chair."
"I saw Jerry at the window. He looked agitated, like he wanted outside. That's when I saw you," he said. "You can thank Jerry."
The trip to the emergency room was in silence. I'm not sure what he said to the doctor there, but she asked me how I managed to crack four ribs. I told her I was chasing two minutes. She shook her head, indicative of someone who's been there.
Jacquelyn Milan lives in Metairie, La., and enjoys writing and volunteering.