Saturday, October 3, 2015

Water

All I'd had to eat that day was fried clam strips, lots of them, so as I climbed the stairs to my apartment that hot August evening, the churning I felt in my stomach was not the usual "why am I 25 and college educated and working as a waitress at a crappy seafood place and living in an unairconditioned apartment in the middle of a central Florida summer."

No, the feeling I had in my gut on this day was much simpler and much more urgent. I unlocked the door and ran straight to the bathroom. The windowless room was explosively hot; airless and close like a panic. I felt nauseous. The clam strips could wait half a second while I splashed my face in the sink, and that's when I realized there was no water.

I looked around desperately, the pressure building in my stomach. There was no way I could do what I was about to do in a toilet that wouldn't flush and leave it there for my roommate Susan to find when she came home. Our cat sauntered in and scratched leisurely in its litter box. "Live it up, asshole," I hissed at it. A sharp cramp knifed my stomach and I knew I was out of time. I scrabbled at the zipper on my waitressing pants, and scuttled quickly into the kitchen.

Sometime later I had changed into the coolest garment I could find, a diaphanous white nightgown given to me by my grandmother. I hovered in our oven of an apartment like a parched ghost, my head pounding dully. I could feel a day's worth of seafood grease coagulating in my pores, could feel the grit of the clam strips in my teeth as I clenched my jaw. I was so thirsty. There was nothing in the refrigerator except for a half-jar of olives. I'll make some Kool-Aide, I thought, even though I hate Kool-Aide, and poured a packet full of lemony dust into a stained plastic pitcher. Went to the sink and flipped the handle and...oh yeah, no water.

NE 7th Ave, where it all went down.
I walked down the stairs in my nightgown, holding the pitcher in one hand and the tightly-tied, triple-layered Kroger bag that held the evidence of my shame in the other. I'd go outside and find a place to leave the bag -- somebody who could afford garbage service and would never even know -- and then I'd find some water for the Kool-Aide. When I reached the ground floor of the house, my neighbor, Kerri, stepped out of the apartment on the left.

Kerri, the women's studies major, the vegan, hated me and my roommate Susan. She hated our impromptu Wednesday night parties, hated the Russian expatriates who stomped on the ceiling of her bedroom while shouting the Internationale; hated the adjunct English professors who threw up in the azalea bush in front of her living room window. She hated Fugazi at 10 on a Sunday morning, hated the way her boyfriend would kind of half-wave at us as we sat on the roof smoking cigarettes. Kerri had an office job, Kerri had a window unit air conditioner, Kerri had special dietary needs. Kerri was serious, and concerned, and we? We were not.

She stood in her open doorway. Behind her, boxes were pushed against the wall. A beaded Pottery Barn lamp and a worn-looking care bear peeked out of one. Her air-conditioner hummed. She looked at me, standing there in my nightgown holding a pitcher of dry Kool-Aide and a bag of my own feces, and hated me.

"Kerri, the water's been turned off." As the renter of the biggest apartment, Kerri was responsible for paying the water bill for the entire house each month.

"I know," her mouth worked itself into something like a smile. "I'm moving, so I had it shut off."

"But what about the other people in the house? There are three other apartments besides yours."

"I guess that's your problem now." she pushed past me and walked outside and around the corner of the house.

I walked barefooted down the sidewalk, looking for a house with a trashcan out front. The evening lay on me like a fever, heavy and hot. It was still in the 90s, only slightly cooler than indoors. After a block I spied a small bungalow with a full can on the corner. Lights were on inside, and as my eyes adjusted to the gloom underneath the yard's live oaks, I thought I could make out a spigot on the side of the house.

With bag and pitcher still in hand, I skulked across the yard and, when I reached the corner of the house, dropped to my knees. I shuffled underneath the closed windows until I came to what was indeed a spigot. I crouched there and turned the metal wheel ever so slightly, exhaling as a trickle of water streamed into the pitcher. While I waited for it to fill, I poked my head up a bit and found that I was looking directly into a brightly lit dining room. Worse, there were people in this room. A small family, a mother, father, and little boy, sitting at the table. They were eating, and talking, and laughing. I watched them as they talked and chewed and passed dishes back and forth, the bridge of my nose resting against the sill. They didn't see me and I knew it wasn't luck on my part or distraction on theirs. They didn't see me, I knew, because I was invisible, un-seeable, to people in this kind of world. The kind of world where you come home from work and your four-year-old hugs you and you cook in a small kitchen with your husband and talk about your day. The kind of world where you eat more than one thing at dinner, and you eat it on a plate, at a table, with your family. The kind of world where, when you're thirsty, your mother refills your glass from the carafe of ice water on the table, her fingers leaving small islands in the silvery condensation.

I pulled away from the window and sat underneath it with my back against the house. I would never live in a world like this. I was only 25 and I knew this fact about myself already. I took a long drink of the warm Kool-Aide, located my plastic bag, and walked away from the house towards the sidewalk.

When I got back to my house, Kerri's door was still open, but she was nowhere to be found. I stepped inside her apartment and nestled the bag in the box between the lamp and the care bear. Then I went upstairs, put the pitcher in the refrigerator, and crawled out onto the roof. I sat by myself in the dark in my nightgown. I smoked a cigarette, and prayed for rain.

1 comment:

  1. What a horrible, inconsiderate person this Kerri person must have been! You're a better person than I am. I would quite likely have torn a hole in the bag, carefully placed so that when it shifted, the contents would leak!

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