There is a new rule in the House of Gusto: no one is allowed to eat or drink within 10 metres of our car. There is a very good, very expensive and extremely revolting reason for this.
Two weeks ago we bought Garnet a new sippy cup. One week ago we went away for the long weekend and when it was time to come home, we thought we would outwit our children and wait until bedtime before leaving the farm to drive home. This would, we theorised, mean that we could feed them dinner, bathe them and put them in their pjs, strap them into the car, hand Garnet his bedtime milk in his new cup, then get on the road and they would fall asleep. When they were sleeping we could listen to a few episodes of Serial, which is a bit too murder-based to comfortably listen to with the kids awake. Once home, we would transfer their deeply sleeping little selves into their beds, tuck them in warmly, and retreat to watch a hundred episodes of Suits on Netflix.
Things did not go exactly to plan. Garnet stayed up the whole way home, so we listened to the Shawn the Sheep Christmas Remix. I was having murder-based roasting fantasies about that wretched beast after ten minutes. May Blossom obediently fell asleep five minutes into the journey, but woke with a start half an hour before home. ‘Shhh, back to sleep,’ we soothed her, hopefully. ‘No,’ she said. ‘If I fall asleep you’ll carry me upstairs and put me to bed and I’ll miss out on having my books read. I’m staying awake.’ Fuck. Foiled.
So by the time we pulled into our driveway we had two wide awake kids, who were somehow hungry again, no food in the house, the prospect of reading three chapters of Mary Poppins, and much parental grumpiness. We eventually got them to sleep, with the aid of Garnet’s old sippy cup, because the new one was in the car and we couldn’t be arsed going back out to get it.
By the next morning I had forgotten there ever was a new sippy cup, and that is how it came to spend a week lying forgotten under the front passenger seat, slowly leaking rotting milk into the carpet.
By Thursday the car was smelling a bit iffy. By Friday we were avoiding it and enthusiastically taking the bus. On Sunday H overrode my suggestion of putting a rock on the accelerator and zooming the stinkmobile into a canyon, and instead we bit the bullet and cleaned out the interior. Apart from the offending cup of milk, which had populated the underseat area with heretofore undiscovered strains of antibiotics, we found 11 small socks (none matching), several smashed craft projects from May Blossom’s pre-school, three or four library books, assorted jumpers and hats, and 2.3 kg of bread crusts and crumbs, and numerous now-activated nuts. We filled an entire vacuum cleaner bag. We had a go at cleaning under the seat with bicarb soda, which was about as effective as treating the bubonic plague with a backrub.
But we finally declared the car clean, and all got in for a good sniff. Now it smelled distinctly like a dead animal. That couldn’t be the spilled milk, we thought. Something – or someone – had died in that car, and the smell had merely been masked by the spilled milk and rotten sandwiches and fast-accruing library fines. There was no other explanation.
On Monday, I took the car to the mechanic and explained the problem. Where, I wanted to know, could a small creature – like a mouse, rat or gremlin – have become trapped and died in my car? The mechanic was retching as I talked. ‘Thank God you told me before I sat in it,’ he said. ‘I have a very weak stomach and I would have thrown up in the car.’ ‘That would have been an improvement,’ I replied.
The car spent the day there, but they couldn’t find anything. It was very disappointing. The culprit, they reckoned, was mould from the milk spill. They suggested we have the carpets and upholstery shampooed.
I struggle to shampoo my kids’ hair. Shampooing the interior of a car is clearly beyond my capabilities. My dad suggested we call one of the companies that cleans crime scenes, which I thought was unkind. Instead I summoned a man called Mr Sparkle, who turned up in a disappointingly matte uniform armed with chemicals and machines and other implements of odour destruction, and in less than two hours the bad smell was gone. Now the car smells like industrial deodoriser, and it gives me a headache.
I feel like now we just need everyone to get head lice, followed by both kids throwing up on a plane, and we’ll win Gross Parenting Bingo.