A Sort of Honeymoon
The silver neck of Analee’s kitchen faucet craned and stretched with a dull wrenching of metal one morning while the old woman sat at her table, hands wrapped around a mug of green tea. At first startled, then wide-eyed and wondering, Analee imagined for a moment that the faucet, maybe the pipes beneath, strained for a better view from the window above the sink.
She set her mug down and uttered one syllable. “Oh.”
One does not usually see a kitchen faucet look out a window.
After a few moments, the metal stopped groaning, and Analee dialed the plumber. She didn’t know what else to do.
“Could you send someone over? My kitchen sink seems to have some sort of trouble.”
The neighborhood had spent its golden years. From her kitchen window, Analee could see the lonely playground of a closed school. Echoes of laugher faded years ago, and the rusted swing set only flinched even in the stoutest wind. A playground, she thought, should never be without children. She brushed one hand over the front of her blouse and laid the phone in its cradle.
In the center of the playground, a jungle gym waited with chipped paint, worn where children’s hands had polished the metal to a high shine. Nothing more than a collection of pipes welded together, such playground equipment, deemed dangerous by various safety committees and consultants, was never built anymore.
Analee could see the playground from her kitchen window and entertained the thought, for a moment, that the faucet had been trying for the same view.
· · ·
“It’s an old place, ma’am.” The plumber scratched his stubbled chin. “The pipes could go any time. It’s the hard water.”
Analee nodded. “The pipes?”
“We might have to replace the whole system.”
“Oh,” she uttered again.
· · ·
Susan wasn’t happy about her mother’s plans.
“We’ve lived here since I was a little girl.”
Analee closed her eyes. “I’ve lived here. You’re married . . . have your own family.”
The younger woman crossed her arms. “Right.” A pause. “But the house. I have so many memories here.”
With a slow, sweeping motion, Analee’s eyes worked around the kitchen. She thought of the time Susan cut her finger while chopping cucumbers at the counter. She remembered the tears in the girl’s eyes after she caught her first boyfriend making out with Janie Hawkins at the eighth grade formal. She could hear the clatter of dishes in the cabinet when Reggie slammed the kitchen door for the last time.
“Yes, I know.”
A wrenching moan sounded from the walls.
Susan started, pushing away from the table. “Mom—what was that?”
Analee laid her hands in front of her and studied them, noting where arthritis had bent her knuckles, and tracing the blue paths of veins. After a moment, she said, “The pipes, dear. They seem to have a mind of their own.”
· · ·
Mortgages were crumbling and the market wasn’t favorable, but she decided to leave. Analee had no use for three bedrooms; her own seemed too much anymore. The house, if not actively protesting her presence, seemed ready to move on. With Susan’s help, she packed her possessions in neat cardboard boxes before the open house, leaving only a few things: a change of clothes, the teapot and her favorite mug. She would move to the new apartment in the morning.
The open house was on a Sunday afternoon, and Analee used the opportunity for a final walk around the neighborhood while strangers came into her home. She strolled through the quiet streets, past the worn houses. Analee had noticed the broken windows, graying paint, and cracked driveways before. She had noticed the rude weeds stretching onto the sidewalk and an abandoned car next to the curb on Washington. She hadn’t noticed the carpenter’s trucks and young couples mowing and clearing old clutter from their lawns.
The neighborhood needs a little love, that’s all. The houses need a little care. She was too tired, too old and worn herself to give her house the care it needed. She had spent her golden years in the house, through children and near-children, divorce and loss, and it was time to go, time to nestle deep in a small apartment the right size for Analee’s love.
The market wasn’t favorable, but the price was reasonable.
“I’m sure you’ll have some offers,” the realtor said.
“We might have to make some concessions, though.”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Yeah . . . we heard some noises. Seems like this old place could use a little plumbing work.” He smiled. “It will all come out in the inspection.”
· · ·
Analee didn’t sleep that night, her last night before the move. She lay awake, studying the shadows in her bedroom and listening to the groans of the house. Another noise seemed to join the protests of impatient plumbing. Did ghosts walk there or just memories?
· · ·
The moving van growled away from the curb; in the driveway, Susan waited in the driver’s seat of Analee’s car. Her mother paused on the stoop, sharing a final moment with the structure in which she spent the heart of her life.
As Analee locked her front door, the house howled one final time as a house, lurched from its foundation, and stretched from its moorings. Tired of waiting, the thing that lived there rose through the roof on its skeleton of pipes, shattering ceiling joists and scattering shingles. It regarded the frail woman for a moment, stooping low so its empty u-joint eyes could meet Analee’s own, tear-filled brown orbs. A clanking hand of copper tubes reached out and touched the old woman’s before the thing spun and crashed across the alley toward the playground.
Across the street, in view of the school, the pipe-creature wrapped the jungle gym in its metal hands, wrenched it from the ground, and embraced it as a lover. What had been Analee’s plumbing lifted the other tangle of pipes and carried it south, past the new subdivisions, toward the salvage yard on the edge of town.
A sort of honeymoon, maybe.
The old woman wiped her damp eyes on a sleeve, and shuffled slowly to her car.
When Aaron Polson isn’t arguing about the definition of irony with his English students, he can be found chipping away at a twisted tale in his basement dungeon. He currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a tattooed rabbit, enjoying every mood swing in the Midwest weather.