Home > NaNoWriMo 2011 > Day One Hundred and Sixty-eight: The Proper Flow of Things

Day One Hundred and Sixty-eight: The Proper Flow of Things

The house was the center of chaos. It was a Saturday morning, and all at the same time, Ed could hear the following things:

  • A hyperkinetic cartoon screaming out from the TV, imploring children to beg their parents to buy toys.
  • His wife yelling at their daughter to put some pants on.
  • His daughter bawling that if she can’t find her green pants, then she won’t go out.
  • Their son yelling that he couldn’t find his skateboard gloves.
  • The phone ringing for what must have been the last five minutes.
  • The cat at the back door, yowling that she wanted to go out and she wanted to go out now.
  • The doorbell.

Ed put his headphones on and turned up the volume on the computer. He was in the middle of a huge quest in Storms of War and his guild would never forgive him if he tanked out now.

They were going up against the Shadow Dragon in the Stone Reach, one of the most formidable monsters the game featured, and Ed had just managed to buy a Xenon Sword for his 40th-level elven paladin. With that, and the assistance of his guildmates, he was reasonably sure they could bring down the dragon. Maybe not in one shot, but after a few tries, they’d certainly work out its weaknesses and be able to pinpoint the best strategy for taking it out. He grabbed a pen and some paper and started making notes for the post-battle post-mortem.

“No, Shawraw, we can’t just charge in there and kick him in the nads. Shadow Dragons don’t have nads.” Ed rolled his eyes and selected a new, higher-class armor from his inventory. “Grow up, will you?”

He yelped in shock as his headset was ripped off his head. Molly put on the sweetest voice she knew how, her customer-service voice, and said into the microphone, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but my husband has some important business to attend to. He’ll be looking forward to helping you out in future endeavors.” She slammed the headphones down on the desk, reached over his shoulder to turn off the monitor, and then bent down to speak directly into his ear. “Edward Oliver Spring, as God is my witness if you don’t get out of that chair and help me than I. Will. End. You.” She spun him around and stepped back with a smile. “Understand?”

What Ed wanted to say was, “Yes, of course, honey, but you must understand that I have made a commitment to my guild to help them complete this quest.” However, he had long ago learned that any argument predicated on”Yes, but” was an argument that he would lose. Sometimes catastrophically.

His wife was a lovely woman in many ways. They had been married for ten years now, and there were times when they still felt that spark of joy that had brought them together in the first place. Granted, that spark was a little harder to find these days, what with the kids, the mortgage, and the layoff, but, given enough effort, it could certainly be found. And when it was, there was no other person in the world he’d rather be with then Molly.

Then there were the times that she scared the hell out of him. And this was one of those times.

He smiled, but the way her face froze, it didn’t seem like that was a good idea either. So he just stood up, brushed toast crumbs off his pajamas and said those fateful words that men have been saying to their wives since the institution of marriage was invented: “Yes, dear.” He walked past her, not making eye contact, and yelled up to his son to check under his bed while he answered the phone.

Ed swore that things didn’t use to be like this. He vaguely remembered Saturdays as being relaxing times when the kids slept late and he and Molly could just take time off from work and enjoy the day together. Though, to be fair, that may have actually been before they had kids, and it was back before he got laid off from Qualis Entertainment. The gaming industry was a weird and uncertain place these days, and nobody counted on their job to be permanent anymore. But that had been six months ago, and he was surprised how things had changed in that time.

He needed to find another job, that was absolutely certain, and for a while, Molly was great about it. Losing his programming gig at Qualis wasn’t his fault, and they both knew that, so she kept the pressure low, let him work his way back into the job market at his pace.

But lately, she seemed to be growing less patient with his progress. Maybe it was hitting the six month mark, maybe it was his method of networking over online games – he wasn’t entirely sure. Either way, he was beginning to suspect that something wasn’t right in their house, and that if Molly had to tell him what it was, then there’d be hell to pay.

The salesman on the telephone was politely told that they didn’t need to change their banking services, and the religious gentlemen at the door were told that the only way they’d accept Jesus into their house would be if He would agree to do windows and light dusting. The cat was set free to go on one of her murderous rampages, and they somehow managed to get the kids out to Saturday camp. Cody found all his skateboarding gear and tossed it into the back of the SUV. Lena finally found her green pants, but wouldn’t leave without being allowed to take her stuffed kangaroo toy with her. She managed to win that argument, even though Molly warned her not to cry if she lost it at Saturday camp. Ed buckled his daughter in, and reached over to ruffle Cody’s hair. His son, who was more than ready to enter the rebellious throes of adolescence, flinched back with the exasperated cry of, “Daaaad!”

He stood in the garage and waved as his wife drove away, and then let out a deep breath when they went around the corner.

He knew what he wanted to do, and he forced himself not to look over at the computer. If he went back to it, then it would all be over. The future unspooled itself in front of him – before he knew it, Molly would be back home, and she’d let loose on him, hammer and tongs. And, to be fair, he’d deserve it. So, rather than actively take part in his own ruination, Ed went into the kitchen and looked at the To-Do list that Molly had stuck on the front of the refrigerator.

He could clean out the gutters, but it looked like it was going to rain, so that wasn’t going to happen. He was already a few days late on checking through the household budget for October, but he figured that the month was over, and it could probably wait another day or two. Couldn’t get the oil changed because Molly had the car. The dentist wasn’t open. He scanned down the list, looking for something that he felt he could reasonably accomplish.

For some reason, “Fix the downstairs toilet” caught his eye.

Part of his brain yelled at him, desperately trying to remind him that he wasn’t a plumber. That he knew about as much about plumbing as he did about quantum electrodynamics. That he would almost certainly make things worse, and that he’d be better off calling a professional to come in and do it for him.

That side of his brain, however, was going up against the last tattered remnants of his pride as a husband and a working man. It was a ragtag thing, the mental equivalent of that last band of rebels who tries to storm the Presidential palace and gets shot down by the dictator’s personal army of beautiful but deadly Swedish bodyguards, but by God it was still there, and it was insisting that this was something he could do.

Besides, it’s just a toilet. They had a snake and a wrench somewhere, and it was all just water and pipes. And people had been using toilets for hundreds of years, how hard could it really be?

By the time Molly came home an hour later, he was desperately shoving towels around the base of the toilet bowl to try and contain the water that was spilling all over the floor. To her credit, Molly didn’t say anything. She didn’t yell or lose her temper. Her shoulders slumped and she rubbed her eyes with her hand and said, “I’ll call a plumber.”

That plucky band of rebels in Ed’s heart lay bleeding and twitching on the cobblestones, and he dropped the wet towel he’d been holding and slumped into the corner.

Molly came back with the phone and a business card. “Hannah told me about this guy,” she said. “He’s supposed to be good and won’t cost too much.” She glanced at the toilet and her soaked husband before she turned to walk back into the kitchen. “I hope.”

It was a long, humiliating wait. Ed stayed in the bathroom on towel duty. He’d squeeze out the soaked ones into the sink and then replace them around the bowl. Despite this, the floor was covered in water. Molly filled some plastic shopping bags with cat litter and made a barrier at the bathroom door, which did a fair job of containing the flooding. An hour later, the doorbell rang and Molly went to get it. Ed didn’t listen to how she explained the problem. She probably wasn’t blaming him for screwing it up, even though he knew she did. One of those marital lessons they had learned was to keep arguments in-house whenever possible.

But he’d hear about it later, oh yes, he would.

The plumber wasn’t what he’d expected. Ed had spent most of his life watching TV and movies, and had a kind of Platonic Ideal in his head of what a plumber should look like: overweight, indiscriminately hairy, slightly disheveled, with problems keeping his beltline up above the waist when he bent over. This guy looked nothing like that. He was skinny, with his hair shaved down to a fine fuzz on his head. He wore jeans and a t-shirt, yes, but they were clean and neat, and looked like everything was going to stay where he had put it no matter how he bent over. It was hard to tell how old he was – anywhere from thirty to fifty, but when he looked into the bathroom, he smiled gently and nodded as if he knew exactly what was going on.

And then there was the robe.

Not a robe, really, as much as a sash, kind of a gray-blue length of fabric that he wore over his shoulders, accented with a thin yellow piece of embroidery that went around his neck. It came down over his shoulders, and before he stepped into the bathroom he carefully took it off, folded it up, and handed it to Molly, who didn’t seem quite sure what to do with it. Then he turned to Ed, put his toolcase down and said, “Good morning, Mister Spring. Looks like you have a bit of a problem.”

Ed looked to Molly, who shrugged and walked back into the kitchen. Her part in this, as far as she was concerned, was done. “Um, yeah,” he said, looking up at the plumber again. “Looks like I do. Think you might be able to give me a hand?”

The plumber nodded and stepped over Molly’s makeshift barrier. “I think I might be able to do that, yes,” he said. He stepped over to the toilet and squatted down beside Ed. “I’m Ken,” he said, putting out his hand. “Ken Wendel.” Ed shook his hand, still a little unsure what was going on. Ken looked over at the toilet and the ever-growing pile of towels. “Let’s see what we can do about this.”

He opened the cabinet under the sink and looked around, then reached in and twisted the water shutoff valve. “That’s a start,” he said. He pulled his head out and looked at the floor. “Quite a mess here,” he said.

“Surprised you noticed,” Ed said, and immediately regretted it. But Ken didn’t seem offended. Instead he laughed and started pulling wet towels away from the toilet.

“The first thing you need to do in life is to acknowledge the way things truly are,” Ken said, tossing towels into the sink. “Only then can you begin to approach them with honesty and purpose.”

Ed handed him another towel. “Um. Okay.”

“We can pretend this is a huge problem, the end of the world, if we want. Or we can see it for what it is.” He opened up his toolcase and pulled out a wrench. “A common problem with an easy solution.”

“Okay,” Ed said again. “If you say so.”

Ken looked at him, his face serious. “I do say so, Ed.” Standing there over him, wrench in hand, he looked like he was ready to beat the plumbing into submission. The expression on his face, however, was gentle, open and honest, and that really confused Ed.

“What kind of plumber are you?” he asked.

Ken seemed to think about the question for a moment. “The only kind that matters,” he said, gesturing towards the toilet. “I’m the kind that fixes things.” He gestured for Ed to move away from the toilet, which he did, and he leaned up against the sink while Ken worked. The man seemed to know what he was doing, insofar as Ed knew what he was doing, which he didn’t. At one point, Molly stuck her head in and raised her eyebrows in a silent request for a status update. Ken shrugged and gestured over to Ken, who was adjusting something in the toilet tank. Molly returned the shrug and went back out to whatever she was doing.

“I think I see your problem,” Ken said, standing up again.

Ed smiled. “Oh good,” he said. “I was worried that we’d have to give the house over to the dolphins.”

The plumber looked at him with a strange kind of half-smile. “If a problem has a solution, worrying is pointless.” He gestured over to the toilet. “In the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry.” He shrugged. “Because it can’t be solved. Either way, there’s no need to worry. Is there?”

There was a moment of silence. “Um. No?” Ed really wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say to something like that. He still thought that plumbers were supposed to overwhelm you with technical plumbing language that was meant to soften you up for the bill.

“Mister Spring,” Ken said, “I have often found that there is a similarity to plumbing and life.”

Oh. Okay. So this was how it was going to go.

“We don’t give it much thought until something goes wrong,” Ken went on. “And when it does, we’re more likely to make things worse than better, because we have too much pride to admit when we don’t know something.” He raised his eyebrows. “Am I right?”

Ed held up his hands. “Look, buddy, we already said no to Jesus once today, okay? So I’d appreciate it if you leave your philosophy out of this and just, y’know, fix the… the thing.”

Ken laughed again, and it was still good-natured. “No, no, Mister Spring. I’m not trying to convert you to anything or anything like that. I’m just sharing my philosophy with you. That’s all.” He stepped past Ed and bent underneath the sink again. “Perhaps it’s a danger of the profession, or maybe it’s just how I am. But I can’t help but see the parallels.” He came back out and stood next to Ed.

“We want our lives to flow like water through pipes, Mister Spring. Free, without blockages or disturbances. Right?” Ed nodded carefully. “And when that doesn’t happen – when the pipes are blocked or the parts don’t work and things start to overflow, we need to seek help. To remove those blocks, to fix what doesn’t work, and let our lives proceed again without impedance.” He walked over to the toilet and rested his finger on the handle. “And when you do?” He pressed down, and the toilet flushed. Ed watched it carefully, with some trepidation, but it flushed cleanly and without leaking or overflowing.

The plumber looked up at him and smiled that quiet, beatific smile again. “When you do, you find that you’re able to go on with your life again, properly thankful for the way things should be.”

The relief that Ed felt fought with confusion, but in the end, relief won. He smiled and shook Ken’s hand. “Look, thanks for this. I… I don’t really understand what it is you’re talking about, but I really appreciate your coming over.”

Ken shook his hand with a strong, firm grip. “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you don’t understand, well…” He shrugged. “Things are just as they are.”

Ed fixed his smile on his face. “Okay then,” he said. “Molly! Do you have this nice man’s… um.. things?”

Molly came in with Ken’s robe-and-or-sash, and he put it back on with a sense of dignity and purpose. He wrote out a bill for them, which turned out to be less than they’d expected, and thanked them for their call. Then he was out the door. Ed and Molly watched him pull out of the driveway and disappear down the road.

“That was… weird,” Ed said.

“Yeah,” Molly said. “He seemed odd. But he does good work and it didn’t cost much.” She looked at his card again. “Ken Wendell, Zen Plumber. I think I’ll hold on to this one.”

They went back inside and Ed mopped up the floor of the bathroom. He took the towels up to the washing machine and tossed them in, and thought about trying to wash them. But he stopped himself. Much like fixing the toilet, this was something he wasn’t certain he could do without making things worse. He made a mental note to ask Molly to show him how to use it sometime.

When we went back to the family room, he turned the computer monitor back on. There were messages all down the screen from his guildmates. Half of them were mocking him for letting his wife pull him away from the game, and the other half were furious at him for ducking out of the Shadow Dragon battle. He sat down and picked up his headset, but didn’t put it on.

Maybe the plumber was right, he thought. Maybe there are things that are blocking my way, and this is one of them. Maybe he had to clear some things away before life could flow smoothly again.

Part of him couldn’t believe he was actually thinking this, taking advice from Yoda with a pipe wrench. But still…

He logged off without answering any of the messages, and pulled up the resume he’d been planning to update for the last six months. His problem had a solution. That much he knew. So it was time to get on with solving it.

*****

Ken Wendel’s page on 30characters.com

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  1. November 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    Nice. I liked that very much. It kept me interested and made me smile.

  2. November 5, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    and i was very happy there was an ending!!!! :-D

  1. November 6, 2011 at 6:54 PM

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