All of her drains were clogged. She tried for the “green” label, “earth-friendly” in bold print stuff off the shelf. No dice. Chemicals freaked her out. She googled home remedies. No such luck. If anything, she succeeded in making matters worse. She borrowed a plunger from her married friends to no avail. Something was lodged in there and was lacking the will to budge. She fretted over it for days. She gave the sink pouty looks. She moodily eyed the drain in the shower as the water pooled about her ankles. She gave the bathroom sink the bird.
She started having dreams about rising water. She felt awake, but couldn’t move—a pre-death rigor mortis of sorts. And as she focused every iota of energy on moving just a single muscle the water would begin to rise, rise, rise and drown her every so slowly like a cool lullaby. She would wake up damp with sweat, half-moon circles of red on the soft pads of her palms lingering long after dreams from clenched fists.
She decided it was time to call the landlord. There was something intrusive about having the owner of a building she resided in, her home, infiltrate it and demonstrate their ownership. She felt that he would probably look through her things, criticize the art that hung on her walls, wordlessly peruse the books on her shelves with a grim look on his face. She imagined him a surveyor, an archeologist of sorts, cataloguing all the material things that made her up and making assumptions about her in a vacuum. She didn’t care for it a bit. This would also mean the deep cleaning of things. Not just surfacing cleaning. A white glove test kind of clean. An inhuman and sterile kind of clean. She felt that she lived in a Petri-dish just thinking about it.
The funny thing was she had never met her landlord. She had applied for the apartment over craigslist after seeing pictures, the owner had left the door unlocked between certain hours for prospective tenants to check the place out, she faxed her lease in, and paid her rent to a P.O. Box. The rainy day she had moved in he had left her a voicemail telling her he left the key above the air conditioning unit outside and he had turned the heat on for her to feel comfortable and at home. It was starting to alarm her that she had no idea who this “Bob” was and that he would be rifling through her things while she was at work. But it couldn’t be helped. The plumbing had to be fixed and she was at a loss on how to do it herself.
She left him a voicemail detailing her dilemma of rising water. He left her a voicemail in turn. A tedious game of phone-tag ensued until she finally consented to giving Bob permission to enter her apartment while she was at work, as their schedules seemed to clash horribly.
She couldn’t concentrate at work when the agreed upon day arrived. She imagined a faceless phantom waifing about her apartment, tapping on things, tinkering pipes with a wrench, opening cupboards, and peering down the drains. She began pacing about the office, biting her lip and twisting her hair. 5 O’clock came in excruciatingly slow ticks of time—tiiick, tiiick, tiiiiick. The seconds hand slightly caught each third tick, as if time was sticking its tongue out at her. She came home to a hand sprawled note that read:
I really just scoped the situation out. I will be conferring with my plumber, a real top-notch guy, a real wiz with the ole pipes, on the matter. I like what you have done with the place. I will be back tomorrow, if it is all the same to you.
It was rare to receive a hand-written note, whatever the reason, and she folded it up and put it in a little box with other keepsakes.
The next day was much the same. She felt a gnawing pain in her stomach thinking about this elusive character in her home. Again she came home to a hand-written note. Her apartment felt different, like someone else was living in it; like she didn’t live alone anymore. She could tell someone had dusted the pictures of friends and family on the walls. Her “good-luck” bamboo looked greener, brighter, and stood a bit taller like someone had been watering it because she more often than not forgot. The milk in the fridge looked a cup low. Her couch seemed to have a new butt-divot in it, right next to her own. The note read:
This one is tricky. She is an elusive bird, this one. Hope all is well. Same time tomorrow.
She decided to leave work early to try to catch Bob, meet the man who was in her house three days now, and had been so thoughtful as to write a note each day. She even parked her car on the street and tiptoed up, like she was trying to catch him in the act. Catch him in the act of what, she did not know. She felt the brassy warmth of the doorknob, as if his hand had just been on it. She turned the key in the lock, breathless. No one was there. Again, a note in his scratchy thin black lines was left on the dining table:
Be back Monday. Working on an angle with my plumber friend, you remember—Rick? What a top-notch guy, I tell you. Puzzling night and day over this one. I have no doubts we will remedy the problem soon enough. Get out and have a little fun this weekend, why don’t ya? I hear there is a French Film Festival and I am seriously thinking about going. Perhaps I will see you.
Her bed looked like someone had napped in it. She could feel his warmth rising like mist off water, could just make out the outline of his body on her comforter, in the feathery down of her pillow. She noticed Shakespeare’s sonnets on the nightstand, dog-eared on sonnet LXXXVII:
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou knowst thy estimate.
The Charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st is, else mistaking,
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter:
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
She held the book close to her heart and read the words again and again. Seven times of reading through before she had each word encapsulated in memory. That night she took the other side of the bed, tentatively laid her arm where the fading outline of Bob had been, the book of sonnets clasped tight between her other arm and chest. That night she did not have any nightmares.
The next morning the house felt lonely, like it was missing something vital to its happiness. She sat about doing crosswords and drinking coffee, her usual Saturday routine, but it didn’t feel right. Her “good-luck” bamboo looked a paler shade of green, the dust was beginning to gather like school-children about the edges of the framed pictures on the wall, the milk sat un-drank. She decided she would go to that film festival. She felt like a school-girl getting ready. Little birds of anxiety flitted about her insides like first date jitters. She took special care with her make-up, her hair. She read and re-read all of Bob’s notes, who now called the little book of Shakespeare sonnets their home, nestled between pages of beautiful words.
At the festival she glowed. Men smiled at her, nodded at her radiance and beauty, but her gray eyes kept searching, kept looking beyond them to the next face—searching for Bob. It is funny that she didn’t even think about the fact she had no clue what he looked like—she had conjured an image of him in her head so life-like that she was certain that is what he must look like; Hair as soft and rich as mahogany, piercing blue eyes that permeated souls with casual glances, a wry smile, and laugh-lines that betrayed his good nature about the eyes. After waiting outside the theatre, a little too long, she decided he must be running late and she should save him a seat. She hurried inside and set her purse on the seat beside her to wordlessly tell people, “Off limits. I am waiting for someone.” She sat there for hours, hopeful, but he never came to take his place beside her.
The rest of the weekend she read Jane Austen and cried, casting scornful glances at the book of sonnets that lay quietly on the other side of the bed. It took all of her strength to get ready for work on Monday. But she did it anyway. Somehow going through the motions was easier than not moving at all and by 5 O’clock she was feeling quite herself again. She came home to a note sprawled on soft pink paper:
All done! That Rick, that Rick! What did I tell you? A real wiz with the pipes! It is like that clog was never there! You take care now…
And as quickly as it began, it was over, flushed like memory and time down the drain into tomorrow.