When my bathroom sink clogged, I approached it as I do most life crises. I doused the thing in Drano and hoped for the best. When the now-fluorescent waters remained several hours later, I knew I was in for a ride.
I’ve never had much luck with water pressure. (Or men.) (And wouldn’t that be a great first line to a novel?) I grew up on a farm. We were fed our water from a spring across the road. I spent many a summer day padding barefoot through the dark, musty springhouse and feeling girlishly apprehensive about the silt settled at the bottom of our water tanks. I spent many a summer night standing impatiently under a dribbling shower waiting for enough precipitation to clean my dusty feet.
My nervousness about country water was only furthered by what happened many years ago, while I was away at summer camp. I was told all this later, but it’s never left my consciousness and serves both to prove our family’s rurality and my father’s age. One year — I imagine in early June, when the grass was still cool in the mornings and the snakes hadn’t yet come down the mountains — my mother noticed that our water tasted funny. She mentioned it to my father, who flagrantly brushed aside this comment, along with others like ‘We should get a lock for the front door’ and ‘I’m not sure spinach quiche is supposed to have mandarin oranges in it.’
A few weeks later, she found the water tasted more strongly. Not bad, exactly, just off. Maybe a little metallic? Maybe it was cloudier than usual? Again, a pooh-pooh from the peanut gallery. A few weeks more, and my father comes into the living room and asks my mother if the water seems funny. They investigated and found a large (dead, bloated, rotting) salamander stuck in the water pipe. My parents had been drinking dead-amphibian water for nearly two months. They had, literally, lizard in their gizzards.
This is what runs through my head as I stand over my white sink in Queens, willing the drain to suck. I pray for the underwater tornado to appear. I fret, I wring my hands, I read the back of the Drano bottle obsessively.
Eventually, I call my mother.
“Hey, sugar, how are things in the big city?”
“Don’t worry. You’re a tough country girl, you can fight off whatever’s bothering you.”
“It’s more of an unseen enemy.”
“Well there’s always MeeMaw’s old cure-all.”
“Give it a good slug of bleach. That’ll fix anything.”
And that’s exactly what I did. I poured half a bottle of bleach into the bright green ooze in my porcelain sink and closed the door so the cat couldn’t get anywhere near the muck. Two hours later, I donned goggles (to help my eyes with the burn) and a swim cap (can’t hurt to put another layer around my brain, I figured) and entered the chlorine sauna.
Lo and behold, the water was gone. I’d eliminated yet another problem and filled in the gap with a small sense of loneliness. I found myself quieted again — just a city girl, standing in a bathroom.