This House Is Home 8
With the door ajar, the noise intensifies, and I notice droplets of moisture on every surface revealed by the yawning opening. Neither the toilet nor the sink, along the wall, appear to be implicated. I look down to my left, where I discover a fierce jet of water rockting out of a hole it has carved in the sheetrock just above the floor and splattering against the side of the washer, which doesn't seem to care.
Even in the midst of this miniature disaster -- unsurprising given the struggles I have had with keeping the pipes in the ill-insulated and shoddily plumbed back room -- I can't help but appreciate the comedy in my own nonplused response. Water is shooting improbably out of a finger diameter hole in the wall at an astonishing rate (wasn't this pipe just frozen; how did it suddenly develop this capacity for flow?), drumming against the metal flank of my fancy new washer, and here's me, in robe and slippers, staring dumbfounded at the event as I might watch the breach of a beaver damn on a nature show, with passive fascination. Only with a moment's regard does it occur to me that this problem is entirely mine. No one will do anything about this but me. And time is passing all too quickly, the gallons adding up with the prospect of damages going and coming, the expense of unused water of course paling by comparison to the potential expense of extensive water damage. (The plumbing repair, though sure to be more expensive than either, has yet to enter my mind.)
Finally, I break the spell, leaving the room, closing the door behind me. I head for the basement stairs, and once on its concrete floor move into its back section toward the crawlspace where the offended plumbing originates, creeping dread competing with urgency to slow my step detectably. At the back wall, the awful sound of water falling; I turn on the light. The damage, in fact, is minimal as yet, though the loose dirt inside the crawlspace is now pasty mud, and is sliding into the basement a smooth carpet of brown. Most of the water, however, appears to be ending up in the washroom. Over the water heater, just a few feet from the crawlspace, a tangle of pipes and shut-off valves momentarily overloads my slept-in fuzziness, and I realize I have no idea what I'm looking at, not yet, not like this, the sound of water continuing with the implication of far more water overhead, my slippers tacky in mud.
Realizing that I have no capacity for subtlety I move quickly to the front of the house, where the main water line enters from the street. There, above the floor ad before the meter, a knob promises silence. I have a sudden premonition that it won't work, and I try to recall quickly whether my home inspector actually ever checked to ensure that it was operating properly. No matter. I turn it. A cold surprise of droplets burst out around the knob as it turns, and then silence in the line, and after a moment a welcome surcease of the dripping in back. Upstairs, I confirm what I already know: that the bleeding is stanched. I have tracked mud onto the floors.
Content with the gross gesture of shutting down the entire system, I fetch a mop and open the back room to sop up the worst of the standing water. Cleaning is pointless; I already recognize that this room will be dirtier once the plumber has come and gone. And there will be a plumber, of course.
Once the water is mostly dealt with, I call the roommate, who must have missed the event by no more than five minutes, to warn him that the house is currently without water and may be for some time. He's left some vacuum sealed meat on the stove to thaw, and the sink is full of last night's dishes; it seems only fair to let him know as soon as possible.
Upstairs I don more appropriate clothing -- jeans, a sweatshirt, and workboots worn without socks -- and return to the basement for a closer examination. After studying the plumbing that enters the crawlspace more calmly, careful to avoid standing in the mud nearby, I realize that shut-off valves are available for the back room, valves I failed to understand in the press of an incipient flood. I shut the cold water valve, belatedly realizing that the water emerging from the wall had not steamed at all, and return to the front of the house, where I cautiously open the main valve. Nothing sounds askance. Upstairs there is silence, the wall no longer bleeds icy water, some of the tension in my shoulders releases.
This morning, I called the plumber, whom I already expected this morning to prepare an estimate to run the lines and prepare an opening for the dishwasher I plan to purchase soon. He came. He saw. He spoke with me of cabinetry and soft copper and various ways to combine the work (the pipe breach and the proposed dishwasher opening are on opposite sides of the same wall) And now he's estimating, so help me.
My checkbook groans audibly on the desk to my right, striated with stretchmarks from its serial expansions and contractions, the joy of property stewardship.
* * *
Just above my head here in the corner of my bedroom, the insistent growling of a pigeon who has defied the bundled chickenwire contraption devised by my neighbor long before I moved here to prevent just this sort of roosting, sounds anything but dovelike. It sounds like something dying, or at least carping about potentially lethal conditions that it alone is equipped -- if barely -- to endure.
Occasionally a thumping flutter of flapping, the birds' grooming and shifting and vying for position drowning out the more sedate sound of my cat cleaning her forehead and nose, over on the bed. I cannot decide whether my reticence about opening the window and doing what I can to roust the fowl arises from my combined concern for sticking my head out in the arctic chill and making this corner more uncomfortably cold than it already is (not to mention inviting a flapping confrontation, which can only end badly for both of us), or whether it derives more from my instinct to forgive the bird its intrusion, given the circumstances.