A drop of water

The dripping faucet is driving Sylvia crazy.

“Marshall,” she says to her husband who is flipping channels on the TV with the remote.  “The faucet is dripping.  Can’t you fix it?”  He nods his head, but does nothing.  It is the kitchen faucet, so she hears it all day, but it seems to her that she also hears it at night: a constant thrum in her head, like a ticking clock. It disturbs her sleep, and she tosses in their bed, heating up, winding the sheet around her legs, sticking her toes out and turning the pillow over so the cool side is against her cheek.

The next evening, she says again, “Marshall, please fix the faucet.” He gets up from the sagging sofa, and she thinks he will get his toolbox, but he is only going to the fruit bowl. She feels her heart hammering in something that reminds her of rage, but she can’t yet acknowledge her anger at him; it is too unfair, she thinks, so she says nothing.

Instead, she complains to her sister Lillian, who nods sagely.  “Think of what it’s like for him.”

So, Sylvia waits.  And she notices things.  She notices that there is a leak from a corner of the roof, and it has stained the ceiling tiles with a big brown water- mark.  She notices that the front door sticks when she closes it; she has to pull it especially hard in order to get it to close properly.  It seems to have swelled in the rain.  Water is her nemesis.

“Marshall, please,” she says.  “Do something.”  She doesn’t specifically mention his out of work status, but the knowledge hangs in the air.

It is true that she could fix the faucet herself.  She knows how to unscrew the head of the faucet and replace the washer.  She used to fix things.  But she is tired now.  She does everything.  She works at an insurance company, cleans the house, cooks, drives their son Kevin to soccer and basketball.  And there is something more.  She feels that Marshall has an obligation to do something: a moral obligation.  She says as much.

“Where’s your gumption, Marshall? What kind of example are you setting for Kevin? Are you just giving up?”

The bills are piling up.  Marshall isn’t doing them anymore.  He isn’t doing anything.  He sits on the sofa with the TV on, switches channels with the remote, but doesn’t watch anything. He is pale and doesn’t smile or go to his Wednesday night poker game.  Each day she asks him if he’s sent out his resume, made any telephone calls.  He has taken to reading the real estate ads.

“We may have to sell the house,” he says.

Their house on Manor Street is huge, much bigger than they needed.  Much bigger than she wanted.  It was Marshall who wanted it.  He liked to look good.

The faucet continues to drip. “Do something, Marshall,” she shouts one morning.  “We can’t sell the house with leaks and drips.  Do I have to do everything? Get off your ass and do something.”

Marshall gets up and goes to the car.  She doesn’t regret a word.  It is the first time in weeks he’s gone outside even though it is still raining.

Sylvia goes to work.  She feels a little niggling guilt. She picks up lamb chops on sale at the supermarket, knowing how Marshall loves lamb chops.  She thinks she will bake a cake when she gets home.

She is listening to the news in the car when she hears the announcer speak about a man who fell to his death into the river from the bridge that goes out of town.  Someone tried to help him because after he climbed over the rail he was hanging there, clinging, changing his mind.  But it was impossible to hold him.  The Good Samaritan was distraught, the announcer said, giving more airtime to him than to the jumper–as if the story was about him and his despair at having the suicide’s hands slip from his.

Sylvia’s heart is hammering.  She drives slowly up Manor street, parks the car, can hardly breathe.  She says a mantra, a prayer.  She puts her key into the lock pushing against the swollen doorjamb.  A drip of water falls from the portico onto her head.  Calling his name, she goes into the house.  No one is at home.  A note on the table says: Went out.

Sylvia sits down to wait.



By Florence Reiss Kraut