Rust. Above the loose tailpipe, a crumpled corner of the plumber’s van is rusting. Margo worries from the attic window, if a man cannot maintain his vehicle, could he be a good plumber?
She told Robert to take care of this issue, claiming she had deadlines, backlogs, was already overburdened. Yet, here she is, chewing a hangnail, wondering if she should call Patrick’s Plumbing.
The front door slams and she peers over the windowsill. She is surprised the plumber is a woman. She pauses en route to her van, shakes down a cascade of copper-blonde hair, like some tawdry shampoo commercial, Margo thinks. The plumber neatly sweeps her locks into a chignon and tucks it back under her cap.
Ouch. Margo has drawn blood. She spits a brittle crisp of fingernail into the wastebasket.
Ping. Alex would like to chat.
Margo steps closer to the window to watch as Robert approaches the van. He leans upon it, casually chatting with the plumber. Margo cannot hear their conversation but she can see Robert’s smile. The plumber reappears, arching her back like a cat, thrusting her midriff toward Robert, her apple-round breasts straining at her overalls. She accepts a cup of coffee from Margo’s husband.
Ping. Alex is persistent.
Margo is profoundly annoyed. A vehement self-proclaimed feminist, she is irritated with herself for wondering what this pinup-cum-plumber knows about plumbing.
The front door opens and she hears a feminine voice, throaty, thick with coffee and maybe cigarettes too, a Lauren Bacall in her foyer. Then she hears Robert’s laugh. Earnest, not the cheap “ha” he employs at dinner parties or PTA meetings. Footfalls, two pairs, taking the basement steps.
Margo closes her laptop. She trundles down two flights of stairs. Standing at the top of the basement, she hears easy banter. Wine. Robert is talking about orange wine from Austria. Margo smirks; he’s trying to impress the help but then Lauren Bacall rattles off her three, three, favorite wineries in Austria. An oenophile centerfold plumber.
Margo goes to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and finds the pot empty. Fine, she thinks; I’ll have tea. She puts on the kettle. Ping. Her phone buzzes in her pocket. She is looking at the text from Alex and does not notice Robert enter the room. He clears his clears his throat. They stare awkwardly at each other.
“I’ve just come to make more coffee”, he says.
“Oh, I’ll just have tea”, Margo responds.
“Right. Well, Daphne wants another cup.”
Margo slides her phone into her pocket. Robert stands with two empty coffee cups. The blue cup, the one with a bold black M embossed on it, bears a heavy frost of red lipstick on the rim. Robert looks at his feet but does not take an inch toward the coffee maker.
Lauren Bacall huskily calls Robert’s name from the basement.
The spouses of nine and a half years lock eyes, briefly, briefly… like the last flash of a firefly. There is a multitude of grievances in this house –unperformed chores, broken dishes, unaired complaints, and vicious words that no amount of cleansing could purge from the fabric of their life.
“Right”, Margo says; “get on with it.”
I am grateful to Full House Literary for first publishing this work in January 2022. You can visit their site directly using the following link to hear me narrate this story. https://www.fullhouseliterary.com/prose/beyond-repair-by-fannie-h-gray