The Great Masonry Mystery of 2023

Have you ever noticed something so subtle you weren’t sure whether or not it had been there all along? My husband and I recently returned home from a decadent Italian lunch date, flipped on the foyer light, and noticed such a thing on our terracotta floors. It was an almost imperceptible lacy pattern, barely visible in just the right light. I was intrigued; had this lovely accent been there all along and I was just too busy to notice?

The pattern was quite remarkable, fine and delicate like handstitched Burano lace. Thin lines fanned outward like paintbrush strokes, connecting frilled checkerboard edging, which turned in graceful arches like the fine tips of a peacock’s plumage. I ran my fingers over the floor and detected only the smallest variation between glossy and matte. How have I never noticed this before? I wondered, before getting distracted by some passing need.

It wasn’t until my husband asked, “What’s up with the floor?” that I remembered the masonry mystery.

“I have no idea,” I replied. Then I noticed something strange; the lacy pattern extended from the foyer into the living room and hall, but not onto the upper levels, kitchen and dining room, where I currently stood.

Then, it dawned on me.

A few years ago, we bought one of those robotic vacuums that wander around the house, ostensibly cleaning the floors.

“It’s vacuum tracks,” I deduced (marveling at how something so mundane could craft such a beautiful design).

“Tracks of what?” my husband asked.

Good question. The vacuum hadn’t left tracks before and surely the house wasn’t that dusty…

“You know what?” I said. “I bet one of the kids came in with wet shoes.” That made sense, right? It had been rainy, and our son had just taken the dog out earlier that morning. It was all coming together now.

Sure enough, just around the corner beside the living room door was the remnant of a little muddy patch where our errant child had likely stood before realizing his shoes were dripping on the terracotta floor.

Now, if you’re reading this story, you’re likely thinking one of two things. Either, “Ah yes, mystery solved,” as I was -or- like my husband, “Oh no, I think I saw this online.”

“I’m not so sure,” my husband said. “If it was mud, there would be footprints between here and the door.”

He paused. “I think it’s dog poop.”

“No way,” I assured him. “We’d have smelled it right when we walked in the door – especially tracked all over the house like this.”

He looked skeptical.

I knelt down on the floor and sniffed the now-dry patch of mud. “Nope, just mud,” I confirmed. “Thank goodness. Can you imagine?”

My husband walked over to the vacuum charging station, bent down and picked up the small white bot. At least, it was still white on top. The underside wasn’t white at all – not anymore. 

Dark chocolate brown, dry and hardened, completely coated the space-age disc’s underside from its checkerboard wheels to its circular brushes. “That,” my husband pronounced, “is poop.”

“We can smell it when the dog poops outside the house,” I emphasized. “Trust me – this isn’t that. If it was, we would be gagging on it.”

I glanced at the dog who was peering innocently at us from the couch, his head still encompassed in the giant white cone he’d been forced to wear since the vet removed that weird thing on his chin.

My stomach turned. “You don’t think … could the antibiotics have killed the smell?”

And then we knew.

We both knew.

It wasn’t mud that I’d sniffed. And mud hadn’t composed that delicate lace pattern on our terracotta floor. A catastrophe of epic proportions had played out in our home while my husband and I dined on spaghetti al ragu and eggplant parmigiana.

The dog had pooped on the floor.

Noticing this filthy desecration, our loyal robo-vac leapt into action. It had spent years training for this – its personal Everest, its moment – neigh, its destiny. The pile was high but robo-vac was not deterred.

I think I can, I think I can, it buzzed, mounting its attack.

Again and again, it assaulted the deposit. Over and over, until the mighty pile was reduced to a liquified puddle – but still, the floor was not clean. Robo-vac pressed on. Back and forth, around and around it went, a delicate ballroom dance of destiny, until all trace of the former filth had fled – all but the slightest hint, now transformed from treacherous waste into a triumph of beauty traced daintily across the terracotta floor. It was alchemy.

Then robo-vac returned to its base, depleted yet satisfied by a deep and abiding sense of accomplishment. The door opened and the masters of the house returned. They knew not what the vacuum had achieved in their absence. However, robo-vac wasn’t in it for the glory, but for the greater good of home, family, and in some small way, the world.

Later discussions revealed that our son had taken the dog outside that morning as instructed, but he’d left the door cracked and the cat had escaped. While he was madly trying to reclaim the elusive feline, the dog (who hates being outside in the rain) had slipped back into the house, unnoticed and his duty incomplete – at least temporarily. 

After two hours of bleach, soaking and scrubbing, the terracotta floor was again pristine, the beautiful lace obliterated. And my husband and I got a second date that day, this time sitting on the kitchen floor, methodically chipping dry feces out of the many cracks and crevices of our valiant robo-vac.

Published by Andrea

Writer and avid explorer of all things.

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