6.11 / September 2011

After Me Comes the Flood

It started with a drop. From ceiling vent to bathroom floor. Drops so sporadic, neither of them noticed. When Will went to take a piss, he thought the puddle by the blue bathmat was a wet footprint that one of them had left getting out of the shower.

Only when a drop tapped the crown of his head did he look up to find a yellowish patch spreading across the ceiling like a sweat stain. He set the trashcan squarely beneath the spot and went to tell Caroline.

She was on the sofa, long legs curled beneath her, flipping through Bukowski’s Women, a book he’d bought for two dollars, back when he thought he’d be a writer, back before he’d come to his senses and applied to law school.

“That’s his worst one,” Will said, forgetting for a moment what he’d come to tell her.

She shrugged and said she didn’t care; she was just tired of job hunting. “Grab me a beer while you’re up, will you?” she said, waving a hand in the direction of the fridge.

He glanced over at the clock on the wall, but did not say anything.  He took the last bottle, leaving the cardboard carrier on the shelf. Then, as if struck by late-breaking guilt, he reached for a pint glass and poured in the beer.

“Fancy,” Caroline said, barely lifting her gaze.

It was then they heard the sound: as if an invisible hand had reached into the shower and cranked the faucet.

In the bathroom the drops fell hard and fast. Will emptied out the trashcan. He found a beach towel to spread across the floor.

Meanwhile, Caroline kept squinting up at the ceiling as she twisted a lock of hair around her index finger. “It must be from all that rain,” she said, which made little sense since theirs was a basement apartment.

He waited for her to offer to grab another trashcan, to help him come up with a plan.

She peered up at the ceiling one last time. “It’ll have to stop soon enough,” she said.

She left the bathroom to resume her place on the sofa, and he stared after her, too exasperated to speak.

By mid-afternoon, pots and serving bowls and plastic containers weighed down the towel, as if their bathroom had decided to throw a garage sale. The water that pooled was rust-colored, like diluted blood. The upstairs neighbors appeared to have gone away for the weekend, and maintenance wouldn’t return Will’s calls.

Every hour or so, he emptied out the containers in the tub. Outside, the rain continued to fall—sometimes a thin, grey drizzle, sometimes in blinding sheets, but never letting up, so much so that Will began to believe that Caroline was right, that the sky was somehow raining into their bathroom.

He settled beside her on the sofa and tried to read this week’s case, even underlining important phrases to help him focus. But the leak in the bathroom kept time with the rain outside and the rhythmic drumming filled his brain. He pictured the ceiling opening up, water pouring down like the waterfall they’d swum beneath in Puerto Rico last spring. Before she’d been fired from her coat-check job for fleecing customers for two bucks apiece. Before she dropped out of art school. Before she spent most of her time in her pajamas, working her way through six-pack after six-pack as if someone was paying her.

The sounds in the bathroom thickened and morphed, but Will didn’t notice with the real rain pounding down outside. When he opened the door, the sight silenced him. Sewage poured from the toilet—shit clogged with paper and candy wrappers and other objects too warped to decipher. It spewed up through the drain and into the tub, rising at an alarming rate. It inched across the tiles beneath his bare feet. It filled the air with an annihilating stink. He clamped his hand over his nose and took a step back and then another, imagining killer bacteria seeping through his skin.

“Caroline,” he cried finally. “Goddamn it, Caroline. Get off your ass and come help me.”

Later, they would discover that a sewage pipe had backed up, forcing its contents into their home, that every house on their street had been hit. Later, they would move out, and she would leave him, and he would curse himself for not leaving her first.

But that afternoon, they stood together in the doorway, watching their bathroom fill up with shit—shit that spilled down the hallway and pooled in the kitchen and seeped through the wood floors and living room rug, leaving them with nowhere else to go.

Kirstin Chen is a 2011-2012 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University. She has also won awards from the Sewanee Writers' Conference and Emerson College. Her stories have appeared in The Good Men Project, Hobart, Juked, and others. She is completing her first novel, Soy Sauce for Beginners, set in her homeland of Singapore.
6.11 / September 2011