"Tell me," I asked my son after looking at the note the housemaid had left for me, "do you know what anti-calc is?"
"No," he replied, shrugging his shoulders.
What in blazes is anti-calc? If I knew what calc was, I might be able to figure out the anti. What does it look like? Is it a bag, a tube, or am I totally wrong and it's on the food shelves? After all, our once-a-week housemaid has also started to cook for the children, who have been going hungry since their mother was neutralized. Her list also includes cake-baking products. "Those poor kids," she said last time, "I'll make them a cake."
I had some serious shopping to do, and not only because of the maid's list. At first I thought the neighborhood grocery store and a little help from above would spare me the trip to the supermarket. But we ran out of everything, and even items I never imagined could ever be run out of started to disappear from the house. Suddenly not only is there no coffee in the box above the kitchen workspace, there is none in the cupboards, either. Suddenly I discover that laundry detergent is not an everlasting product. Naturally, the softener ran out even before, but I told myself that it was an unnecessary item and that if worse came to worst we would wear our clothes unsoftened, no big deal. The peak came in the morning when my daughter shouted from the bathroom that there was no toilet paper and I sent her brother to check if there was anything in the car and he said, "We already took the tissues from the car yesterday."
True, I used to go to the grocery store every once in a while, and once a week I also visited the butcher and the greengrocer - but I can't remember the last time I was in the supermarket. At first I tried to prepare an orderly list - I checked the cupboards and the freezer - but gave up quickly because I realized that after months of pregnancy bed rest, the pantry was empty.
"Listen," I told my son when we entered the supermarket with a shopping cart, "we will walk slowly between the shelves, and every time you see something that Mom used to buy or that you saw at home, point to it. Okay?"
"Okay," he replied. "I know what Mom buys, I always come here with her." After five minutes of a slow trek among the food shelves, I realized that there was no way my wife bought only chocolates, vitamin syrup in all kinds of flavors and a huge quantity of dry cereals with pictures of Kung Fu Panda. "Tell me," I said, grabbing the little maniac who was strutting along with a smile on his face and putting another chocolate bar into the cart, "what's going on here?"
"I swear to you, Mom always bought this."
"She doesn't even let you and your sister eat chocolate," I shouted at him, and a few customers sent the wretched child looks of compassion. "And since when do you eat colored dry cereal?"
"But my friends in kindergarten buy it, and there are Panda cards inside," he said and started to whine.
"All right, all right," I said. "We'll leave the cards, but you're not touching that poison at home, understand?"
"Okay, I just want the cards," he replied, calming down.
No longer able to rely on the kid, I bought everything that I remembered was missing. I scurried from one row to the next and then back again, because I had no idea where things were. And nowhere could I find the anti-calc, may its name be obliterated. The cart was brimming over and I was about to collapse from the hunt for the anti-calc. I know our housemaid, and she threatened that if I didn't buy the items she wanted, there was no point in her coming at all.
"Dad," my son said, tugging at my shirt as I started to sweat and develop an anti of my own. I tell you, it's going to kill me, this thing, the pressure is too much for me. All the time seeing to food for the kids and making sure they're clean and that the house is tidy and they have food to eat every day. I am going to have a breakdown, and there is still a long way to go, and now this cruddy anti-calc. Where is it? What is it?
"Dad," my son tried again, writhing next to the cart. "I need to pee."
"Now?" I shouted at him.
"Yes," he said. "I didn't go to the toilet all day."
"You're telling me?" I retorted. "For an hour I asked you to go before we left for the supermarket and you said you didn't have to - remember?"
"But what will I do, Dad?" He started to cry again, and I threatened to return all the Kung Fu Panda cards if he didn't calm down. "I swear to you," I told him, gritting my teeth, as I've been doing a lot lately, "if you don't hold it in I don't know what I'll do to you."
"But Dad," he cried and gave me a hug just as my phone rang.
"Monsieur Kashua?" a woman asked in a French accent. "I am speaking to you from the French Embassy. We are very proud to inform you that the title of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters is being conferred on you. The ceremony will be held in June at the ambassador's residence and we will send you a proper invitation. Congratulations, monsieur. Do you have any questions?"
"Yes, mademoiselle," I replied, and signaled the boy to be quiet for a second. "Do you have any idea what anti-calc is?"
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