Anxiety, panic and chaos take hold in Megan Dunn’s summer essay, The flood, the final in the Sunday Star-Times series.
When I came home on Mom’s birthday, the water was coming in through the door.
The door had turned into a fountain but that was alarming because it was supposed to be a door. The water was really raining, thick drops congealing and coming off quickly. It was gushing.
“Mom,” Fearne said.
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“Get out! Get out,” I sent her to sit on the doorstep as I rushed into the house, my stomach churning, my mind racing, rushing like water. Water is very fluid, so much more fluid than thought.
“It’s also on my doorstep,” said Fearne or something similar.
And she was right. Water was also flowing less abundantly through the wooden door frame of his room. That naughty water! Where did it come from?
The upstairs apartment – I assumed the quiet, self-sufficient couple who lived upstairs had left a tap up there or let their bathtub overflow? Scratch that. I know they don’t have a bath. Had they left the shower on? How inconsiderate. Maybe the dishwasher. I hate dishwashers!
I was literally freaking out – by which I mean I was yelling at Fearne and rushing into the living room, unable to think enough to find my phone.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Fearne said.
“YOU CAN NOT.”
The bathroom came through the door which was flowing like a river, a huge pool of water had formed on the floor below, and it wasn’t about to stop for anyone to pee.
I was afraid the ceiling would fall on our heads. I had suddenly been thrown into the role of Chicken Little.
I contacted my co-worker: “The water is coming through the door frames. I do not know what to do.
“I need a pee,” Fearne said.
“Go outside,” Chicken Little chimed in. “Go into the garden. In the dirt.
Fearne didn’t have that.
My companion contacted the owner. He texted! A text! When Chicken Little told the animals the sky was falling, he didn’t do it over text.
I wanted someone else to take control of the water – because it was my mother’s birthday, she was dead and I didn’t want anything nasty to happen that day- there to remind me of the unpleasant way she died in the hospital, her body slowly but surely shut down and I had seen that death was not peaceful for her or for me and it was definitely not like going to sleep .
Now, two years later, on December 16, the flood. I took a video as proof.
The owner was out of town at a work function. “I’m sorry,” I said, when I called, “it’s an emergency.” He was sorry too.
I wondered if my message was getting through. “It’s an emergency. An emergency.” How to stop the water?
The water was thick and obvious and it shouldn’t come out of the doorframe like that. I had the plumber’s phone number, but he was still an hour away. Is there someone else I can call? I blurted out, incredulous. Chicken Little seemed to have no one to call who wanted to drop everything.
During this time, I had also managed to text and email the neighbor upstairs, and my partner had managed to reach Sarah, the tenant in the back apartment. Three apartments, all contained in a large villa, and water flowing through each of them. Sarah’s bedroom ceiling was saturated, her bed wet with water, water.
“Can I call another plumber?” »
“There’s no plumber coming here in an hour,” he said calmly, rationally. “That’s what insurance is for,” he reassured me.
I had no insurance, but I appreciated how lucid and carefree he seemed in the face of the deluge. I guess that’s why he’s a plumber.
How to turn off the water? I didn’t know the answer to one of life’s great riddles.
I knew I looked hysterical – I felt hysterical – huge hanging drops that kept falling, and I had only been out for an hour or two and it was Fearne’s first day home for school holidays and I would have preferred water to STOP NOW so I could take stock.
I couldn’t make the point.
The plumber started telling me about a Toby. It was on the street, and I could turn it on and turn off the water. The toby was round, and I knew I would never find it alone, but there was construction on our street and so Fearne and I flew down the road towards the start of the Hankey Street hump and into a ditch rectangular I found two young men in their twenties in high visibility. I had a hunch they might be able to find the Toby.
Chicken Little had grown into a deranged middle-aged woman: “I’m sorry, I know it’s not your job but there’s a flood in my house and it’s coming through the door frames, and I need help.”
They came. No one refuses a wife and child. Except by text. In person, it is much more difficult.
“That’s not what you want to see,” a builder said lucidly, inspecting the water dripping through the door frame. I agreed. He had cold blue eyes and looked very pleasant to me. I was happy to have the presence of a builder. Two builders!
But it was difficult to locate the Toby. Then it was hard to turn it off. I ran inside to check the water in the kitchen sink. I turned on the tap and water still comes out. We tried another Toby several driveways back to the curve of the cul-de-sac.
“I don’t think that’s it,” one said.
I ran around like a headless chicken, followed by Fearne who I intermittently barked at out of fear, worry and poor parenting. My panic didn’t stop. Nor the water. We went back to the first Toby. The one that was hard to turn and tried again.
“Where are the pipes?” someone said.
“Can we turn them off? I asked hopefully.
“I don’t know,” said the blue-eyed builder. “I am a concreter.”
I realized the situation was ridiculous and I co-opted them into my spell as MEN and probably sexually stereotyping them as builders too but I didn’t care because I only had one goal and you know what it is. Two black levers on the side of the house were turned off. The water has slowed down. He had finally stopped.
But it produced a sudden intensity on the ceiling of Sarah’s bedroom, the neighbor in the back apartment, as the water thickened and accelerated the bombardment. Later, some of the bacon from his soggy ceiling fell off, like a scab that peeled off the skin.
The back neighbor and the landlady arrived and finally the plumber. The culprit was a tiny dux pipe with a slit about two centimeters long in its black tube. The dux pipe is apparently notorious for this kind of bad behavior. Since mom’s birthday, all sorts of things have happened. I met the guy from Chemdry and I hear the hum of the XPower X-3400 air purifier in the background as I write. Part of our living room roof was removed only to find a suspicious substance that might (or might not) be asbestos, so the builders sent the sample back to find out. Until then, we wait. And the air purifier cleans the air. The ceiling cannot be removed to dry out the house and prevent the potential spread of black mold until we find out what is going on with the substance in the ceiling.
The day the flooding stopped, we spent a night at the hotel when we had no electricity. Then the next day when the builders started work on the ceiling, me and Fearne went to Raumati and stayed a night with my dad. Yet I feel like the flood is still going on because we are in the aftermath and the way forward is unclear. I just have this horrible problem in my intuition (is this the same place where my hysteria is?) that our rented house from the last decade is falling apart. What is the next step ? What is the next step ? The sky looks like it’s in the right place when I look out the window, but I didn’t take a sample. Mom left. My birthday is also in December, the week before hers. The last birthday card she sent me was a joke. The outside of the card featured a photograph of a cake with candles and these words inscribed on it: MAKE A WISH. Inside the card reads: NOT THIS ONE. Took me a while to figure out the joke, but now I get it.
Not this one.