2018, High School, Prose
The water is dripping from the ceiling.
It’s leaving rusty trails on my kitchen walls, peeling away the dreadful dandelion backsplash above the sink. It’s landing in dirty cups. It’s slicking my customized tile floors.
The windows were taken out months ago, when the flood began, and replaced with stiff metal and sealant, with imitation sunlight beaming from vanity bulbs above. Not a drop of water gets in, not a drop of air gets out; that’s what we relied on the ceiling for, circulation.
And now, water is dripping from the ceiling.
I’m sitting tight-lipped at our dining room table with a cold TV dinner and a cold mug of coffee, my eyes boring a hole back into where the dining room window used to be as I listen to the water coming in. It’s a kind of rain, if you segmented each stream and paid attention to only one, like you would conversations at a cocktail party. I tap my mug along to it with a single ice-white finger. The floor creaks beneath my foot, a ship about to capsize, signaling that the only other occupant of our little submerged house is approaching.
I prepare impatiently for her, as one prepares for an incoming train that’s a few minutes late, with many huffs and watch-checkings and gatherings of things.
Jillian, my wife, appears in the living room behind me, with her usual air of absolute frenzy. She’s had a case of cabin fever ever since we sealed up the doors. It’s like watching an insomniac or someone with a nervous disposition. She’s rarely sleeping, always moving. As she stands there, hair wild and eyes darting between furniture as if she’s looking for something to attack, she twitches her fingers and jerks her shoulders up and down, up and down, shrugging. Her chin juts out from her neck and her eyes are swollen, rockfish membranes. “What now,” she asks in a weary monotone, eyes finally landing on me. Must she beg to be upset every morning?
I dab at a nonexistent spot on my mouth with my napkin, preparing for her overreaction. “The ceiling,” I say slowly, “is dripping.”
She screams. She grabs a vase and hurls it at the opposite wall, every muscle in her arm tensing as she does so; no sun made us both sallow, made our skins translucent, and she looks like she’s just stomped into a methadone clinic. The vase shatters spectacularly. I don’t blink. She stands panting, fists clenched, eyes dark. The living room light flickers above her, encouraging me to point at it and remark, “but the generator still works.”
Jillian wails once more and throws herself down on the mildewed couch, smacking her fists petulantly into the cushions on either side of her like a child. “God! God! It won’t win, it won’t! I won’t let it! This– thing!” She gestures ambiguously to the walls and floors, too proud to call it what it is. “I’ve fought too long and too hard and gave up too many nights and lived too long a life to be beaten into submission by this– this–! Force! Animal! I won’t acknowledge it.”
In a brief moment of breath-catching, one of the sagging corners of the ceiling in the kitchen gives way. The drip turns into a delicate stream of water. Jillian shrieks. Her eyes shoot open, wide, and her body lurches forward from a sitting position to a fighting stance. When she stands, she’s hunched, hands out. It doesn’t look anything less than marsupial. She stalks into the kitchen and thrusts a bucket beneath the growing stream. “Arrogant urination!” she accuses bitterly, pointing at the rising water line. It pays little heed to her. She kicks the bucket, then spins around on her heel and marches over to me. She fists her fingers in the lapels of my shirt. I smile emotionlessly and look up in a feigned, rapt attention.
“Upheaved my life! Ruined me! Stuck us adrift in this hell, this sick, sick– they said hell would be fire, not–!” She’s pulling me closer to her and I can see that the whites of her eyes are turning red. It’s as though her skin and her sclera have swapped, her bones jutting out of milky white and her pupils peering on from a pinkened plane. “It had better stop!” Jillian steps back suddenly, a possessed puppet show, and jerks her chin up towards the sky. “You’d better stop!” She stabs a finger upwards. “You hear me?”
I stand up and adjust my work tie, a silk number that fits unfortunately tighter around my neck than it used to. I push in the dining room chair, careful not to scrape the legs over the tiled floor, and exhale a long, worn-down sigh. “Jillian, darling,” I begin, and I know I’m being condescending. She drops her gaze to me and a new kind of anger, a more lucid one, falls over her normally distant face. “Jill, baby,” I try, and rest my hands on her shoulders, “you’ve got to admit that it exists. If you’d just acknowledge the ocean–”
“– you would be so much better at adjusting to our current situation.”
She bats at my hands, babbling, “no, no, no, no, no, Erika, no!” and squirms as if she has nowhere to retreat.
I step back dutifully, hands open in front of me, twin moons of peaceful intent, and tip my eyes towards the ceiling. The stream of water in the kitchen is quieter now, having filled the bucket and run over. Crystal tadpoles have collected above me and splash, once or twice, on my shoulders and Jillian’s obtrusive cheekbones. My nice leather shoes are going to get soaked, I think absently. “All I’m saying,” and I reach for my coffee, “all I’m saying is that I’m doing perfectly well. I’m in an excellent mood. I’m having a fantastic morning.” My free hand smooths down my tie. I feel a drop of water on my collar. I take a calming sip of icy coffee.
Jillian spins away and the ceiling breaks a little bit more. “You’re always trying to FIX my problems!” Her voice has hit a new octave in order to speak over what is becoming a sizable waterfall in the kitchen. My socks are starting to get wet, the nylon no longer a secure comfort around my shins and more a constricting chain. I hum thoughtfully, nodding, and pull out a chair for her. “That’s what I do. I’m a fixer.” I look down at my feet. The water has risen up to the middle of my shinbone. “I fix problems,” I tell her earnestly.
Mock rain is gathering on my skull and dripping down my neck.
“I’m under a lot of stress! I just want to vent! Our lives are falling apart!” Jillian collapses into the chair with her knees apart and her back rigid and her palms turned up in absolute exasperation. I know that, no matter how this argument goes, we’re not going to resolve her early morning meltdowns anytime soon. It’s simply implausible.
Certainly, I consider with some reluctance, there were things that we could have done in the past, but what is there to be done now? It’s something to live with and nothing more. I smile at her and pat her shoulder, ever nodding.
“I understand,” I lie, and sit down diagonally from her. My rear hits water. The chair, just now bobbing, sinks back down under my weight. I pat Jillian’s hand on the table as she takes slow, careful breaths, until the water line reaches our elbows and we’re struggling to remain where we sit, and I can barely see her manic face through the heavy drops of water that continue to fall.
I notice around this time that I can’t breathe very well. I hook a finger around my collar and feel how tight my silk tie has become against my skin. It’s a shame, it was one of my favorite ties. Nothing to be done now, though. I untie the knot with a lot of picking and grunting and panting. My nails seem too short – kill the manicurist – and the sound around is an almost unbearably loud drumming. I hear Jillian call out, “Erika?!” and promptly ignore it. I’ve had enough of her breakdowns this morning; I don’t need another as I deal with this wardrobe malfunction. Once I have the tie loose, I set it in the water beside my shoulder and watch it drift away.
The light in the living room flickers again. I only hear the sound, the zap and hum of its discontent. I can’t see a thing anymore. Jillian is, to my knowledge, in another room. She frequently seeks out quiet. I dog paddle to the kitchen, thinking that I might do my own dishes before I go to work; I’ve been waiting for my ride to work for some days now, and it seems likely that I’ll have the time for it. As I try to locate the sink in the ever-darkening, ever-rising waters below me, I hear the phone ring. I ignore it, since Jillian likes talking to people on the phone, and drop my mug into the water. It floats back up. I kick it, submerge it, and it stays down this time.
The phone rings twice more, and I’m close to it, and Jill’s probably in a sullen mood. I sigh heavily and pick it up. The plastic cord draws my drifting body closer to the wall.
“Hello?” I say. The water levels are almost intolerable now. I have to support myself with one hand curled underneath the cabinets just to stay on my feet, and even then, I’m holding my chin and the phone only barely above the surface.
“A survey? Why, sure, I’d love to help out. Let me get my wife– yes,” something heavy in the water bumps my ankle, “I’m married. Well, yes, I– oh? Ocean awareness, hm? Yes, I’m very aware of the ocean. Well, thank you for calling. Mmhm. Yes. Definitely. Thanks.”
This work is an absurdist way of looking at two archetypes in the field of environmental activism. There is Jillian, who cannot acknowledge the problem without turmoil and thus makes a global issue her own issue; and Erica, who is aware of the problem but believes that nothing can be done, or that nothing should be done. I've experienced both of these traits in myself when coming to terms with injustice, leading me to understand the importance of overcoming them. When someone learns how to care about something, they become a better person. This isn't intended to be a pessimistic story in the sense that it ends with neither of them evolving; it's meant to be thought-provoking. I didn't want my readers to come away with a sense of resolution because environmental problems are currently nowhere near resolution. We need people to be concerned, we need introspection, we need direct action. This is a cautionary tale of sorts.