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'Did you plant that yourself, or did it grow on its own?"
My husband finally noticed the vine I had sneaked by him during a fit of spousal rebelliousness two seasons ago. It had grown well past being mistaken for a weed, and was threatening to choke off the eavestroughs.
Mark was looking out the window at the offending greenery. His tone was conversational, not inquisitional. We'd had a peaceful morning. Getting into a scrap with him was not on my agenda.
"I planted it," I said after a moment's hesitation. To myself: "Truth, always go for the truth."
I left out the gorier details about how I'd driven to the garden centre in a huff and asked for the most aggressive climber. I was desperate to camouflage the ugly brick exterior wall that had been exposed when we demolished a rotting staircase to the second floor – a vestige of a time when our 19th-century house had a lot more people living in it.
The woman at the garden centre recommended the silver lace vine. She spoke such enticing words as "rapid growth" and "maximum coverage." In spite of a well-established embargo against vines, I bought it. Taking it home for planting was a wholly unauthorized, clandestine mission, the spadework done under cover of darkness while fending off bloodthirsty mosquitoes.
My husband has always hated vines for the insidious effects of their moisture on bricks and mortar. He has trained himself to think like a drop of water, imagining how it will seep into pores and holes and cracks, assaulting unsuspecting homes with rot and mould. A brick wall never had a better friend than my husband.
"Why do other people have vines if they're such a nuisance?" I have asked on many occasions, trying to shape him to my will. Mark's response has been maddeningly consistent, likening the corrosive effects of scrabbling shrubs on brickwork to the human tendency to ignore destructive acts in the present if the consequences won't come until far in the future.
"Most people don't think 20 or 30 years down the road," he said one day.
I didn't have the courage to tell him I was one of those people. He was descending his big ladder from the roof – the one place on our property where he can be sure I will not follow – trying to avoid me and my whingeing about vines.
With boots on the ground he turned and said: "Listen, are you going to be the one to repoint the bricks some day?"
On that argument I was stuck. I hated not having the last word, or any masonry skills, indeed anything that would have kept my case from being closed.
But now, with the truth of my flagrant act of non-co-operation on the loose, wandering around like a potentially destructive child, fingers coated with jam, I steadied myself against the kitchen table. The stage was set for a brawl.
The theatre in my mind went like this: Mark in a powdered wig hammering a gavel, shouting "Order, order!" and ready to sentence me for my willfully destructive act against our domicile; me in the witness box, corseted and sporting a wildly antiquated hairdo, while angry villagers lit torches and shouted: "Witch, heretic, home-wrecker!"
"It's grown a lot," Mark said, turning from the window, taking a sip of his tea. And then he sat down and read the paper calmly, quietly – eerily.
After a time, when I was sufficiently off-balance waiting for the accusation, he spoke: "The trouble is, when I build your screened-in porch, that vine is going to climb all over it. And down the road, when I need to repaint your porch, it'll be impossible to get at it."
He said this as though he couldn't care less.
The truth is I hadn't thought about any of that practical stuff. My department is decor and design, not maintenance and operations.
"You do still want your porch painted white, right?" he added coolly, rationally.
Hell yes, I want the porch painted white! Who wants a chemically-treated mess of wood hanging off a Victorian house like an architectural afterthought?
What to make of this non-confrontational line of questioning? Mark had turned into a handy version of John Lennon, not just giving peace a chance but rolling out the red carpet for it.
The clouds parted and I saw blue sky: I was being worked over, kneaded like a loaf of bread. "Oh my God," I thought to myself. "He's finally figured out how to do this!"
Mark had corralled me into consensus, ready to join him in his anti-vine crusade by emphasizing things to which I assign greater currency. Kudos to him as well for those crafty second-person-singular references to "your porch" – as if I were the only one wanting to enjoy the outdoors without the aforementioned mosquitoes eating me alive.
Yes, he was killing my silver lace vine. But he was doing it skillfully, tactfully … softly.
And you know what? I liked it! I really, really liked it!
After nearly 10 years of marriage, my husband has found the Promised Land, the nirvana that other great men through the ages have reached. He has learned to say the perfect combination of things to advance his own agenda while maintaining peace, possibly ensuring the likelihood of getting lucky.
And of all the seeds of spousal understanding I've tried to sow through the years, this is one I'm glad to say has grown up all on its own.
Michelle Hauser lives in Napanee, Ont.