Essay: The doorway had turned into a fountain

When I came home on Mum’s birthday the water was coming through the doorway.

The doorway had turned into a fountain but it was alarming because it was meant to be a doorway. The water really pelted down, thick drops congealing and letting go quickly. It was gushing.

“Mummy,” Fearne said.

“Get out! Outside,” I sent her to sit on the doorstep as I rushed around the house my stomach flipping, my mind rushing, rushing like the water. Water is very fluid. So much more fluid than thought.

“It’s in my doorway too,” Fearne said or something similar.

And she was right. The water was also dripping less fulsomely through the wooden doorframe to her bedroom. That naughty water! Where was it coming from?

The flat upstairs – I assumed the quiet self-contained couple who lived upstairs had left a tap on up there or let their bath overflow? Scratch that. I know they don’t have a bath. Had they left the shower on? How inconsiderate. Perhaps the dishwasher. I hate dishwashers!

I was literally panicking – by this I mean I was shouting at Fearne and rushing back and forth across the lounge unable to think straight enough to find my phone.

“I need to go to the toilet,” Fearne said.

“YOU CAN’T.”

The bathroom was through the doorway that was running like a river, a huge pool of water had formed on the floorboards beneath it, and it was not about to stop for anyone to go for a wee.

I was worried that the ceiling might fall on our heads. I had been suddenly thrust into the role of Chicken Little.

I contacted my partner at work: “Water is coming through the doorframes. I don’t know what to do.”

“I need a wee,” Fearne said.

“Go outside,” Chicken Little snapped. “Go in the garden. In the dirt.”

Fearne wasn’t having that.

My partner contacted the landlord. He sent a text! A text! When Chicken Little told the animals the sky was falling in he didn’t f…… do it by text.

I wanted someone else to take control of the water – because it was my Mum’s birthday, and she was dead and I didn’t want something nasty to happen on this day to remind me of the nasty way she died in hospital her body slowly but surely shutting down and I had seen that death wasn’t peaceful for her or for me and it certainly was not like going to sleep.

Now two years later, on December 16th, the flood. I took a video of it as evidence.

The landlord was out of town at a work function. “I’m sorry,” I said, when I called, “this is an emergency.” He was sorry too.

I wondered if my message was getting through. “This is an emergency. An EMERGENCY.” How do you make water stop?

The water was thick and obvious and it shouldn’t be coming out of the doorframe like that. I had the phone number for the plumber, but he was still an hour away. Is there someone else I can call? I blurted, incredulous. Chicken Little seemed to have no one to call who wanted to drop everything.

In this time I had also managed to text and email the upstairs neighbor, and my partner had got through to Sarah the tenant in the back flat. Three flats, all contained within one big villa, and water flowing wetly through all of them. Sarah’s bedroom ceiling was saturated, her bed wet, water, water.

“Can I call another plumber?”

“There’s no plumber that will get here in an hour,” he said, calmly, rationally. “This is what insurance is for,” he reassured me.

I didn’t have insurance, but I appreciated how lucid and unworried he seemed by the flood. I guess that’s why he is a plumber.

How do I turn the water off? I didn’t know the answer to one of life’s great puzzles.

I knew I seemed hysterical – I felt hysterical – huge dangling drips falling wantonly non-stop, and I’d only been out for an hour or two and it was Fearne’s first day home for the school holidays and I would have preferred the water to STOP RIGHT NOW so that I could take stock.

I couldn’t take stock.

The plumber started telling me about a Toby. It was on the street, and I could jimmy it open and then turn the water off. The toby was round, and I knew I’d never find it alone, but there were building works on our street and so Fearne and I flew down the road towards the start of the Hankey Street hump and in a rectangular ditch I found two young men in their twenties in high vis. I intuited that they would be able to find the Toby.

Megan Dunn is the author of Tinderbox and Things I Learned At Art School.
MARK TANTRUM/SUPPLIED
Megan Dunn is the author of Tinderbox and Things I Learned At Art School.

Chicken Little had turned into a deranged middle-aged woman: “I’m sorry, I know this is not your job but there’s a flood in my house and it’s coming through the doorframes, and I need some help.”

They came. No one refuses a woman and a child. Unless by text. In person it is much harder.

“That’s not what you want to see,” one builder said lucidly as he inspected the water flowing through the doorframe. I agreed. He had cool blue eyes and looked very pleasant to me. I was glad to have the presence of a builder. Two builders!

But it was hard to locate the Toby. Then it was tough to turn it off. I ran back inside to check the water in the kitchen sink. I turned on the tap and water still burst out of it. We tried another Toby several driveways back at the curve of the cul-de-sac.

“I don’t think this is it,” said one.

I was running about like a headless chicken, followed by Fearne who I intermittently barked at out of fear and alarm and terrible parenting. My panic has not stopped. Neither had the water. We went back to the first Toby. The one that was hard to turn and tried again.

“Where are the mains?” someone said.

“Can we turn them off?” I asked hopefully.

“I don’t know,” the builder with nice blue eyes said. “I’m a concreter.”

I realised the situation was ridiculous and I had co-opted them into my plight as MEN and that I was probably sexually stereotyping them as builders too, but I didn’t care because I had only one goal and you know what it is. Two black levers along the side of the house were turned off. The water slowed. It had finally stopped.

But this produced a sudden intensity on the Sarah’s bedroom ceiling, the neighbour in the back flat, as the water thickened and sped up pelting pelting down. Later part of the gib on her soggy ceiling fell off, like a scab flaking away from the skin.

The back neighbour and the landlady arrived and finally the plumber. The culprit was a tiny little dux pipe with a split about two centimetres long in its black tubing. The dux pipe is apparently notorious for this kind of bad behaviour. In the days since Mum’s birthday all sorts of things have happened. I have met the guy from Chemdry and can hear the whirr of the XPower X-3400 air scrubber in the background as I write. Part of our lounge roof was removed only to find a suspicious substance that might (or might not be asbestos) so the builders have sent away the sample to find out. Until then we wait. And the air scrubber scrubs the air. The ceiling can’t be removed to dry the house out and prevent the potential spread of black mould until we know what’s what with the substance in the ceiling.

The day the flood stopped we stayed for a night in a hotel while we had no electricity. Then the next day when the builders started the work on the ceiling me and Fearne went out to Raumati and stayed for a night with my father. Yet I feel as though the flood is still happening because we are in its aftermath and the way forward isn’t clear. I just have this horrid niggle in my intuition (is that the same place my hysteria is located?) that our rented home of the past decade is falling down. Where to next? Where to next? The sky looks as though it is in the right place when I look out the window, but I have not taken a sample. Mum is gone. My birthday is also in December, the week before hers. The last birthday card she sent me was a joke. The outside of the card featured a photograph of a cake with candles and these words inscribed on it: MAKE A WISH. Inside the card read: NOT THAT ONE. It took me a while to get the joke, but now I get it.

Not that one.

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