There is something special about the time she spends calf deep in the murky waters of a basement flooded by burst pipes. She takes her time, methodically searching for the source of the damage. With the water turned off, it isn’t as easy to discern as one might think. Especially when everything is so thoroughly wet. She wears her grandmother’s fading waders to keep dry, but secretly wishes to wiggle her bare toes in it. She has before, but resists the impulse, as this is a house call, a favor, and if she would like to keep making money, she has to remain professional.
“Everything all right down there?” her temporary employer calls down to her.
She takes a moment to survey the damage. Turning a full 360, she sees collapsing cardboard boxes, floating papers with splotchy running ink, and a small island of towels doing its best to soak up some of the newfound sea. She responds, “Might take a few hours to get the water out before I can really say.”
An exaggerated sigh follows. “I was hoping to finish my laundry today.”
She rolls her eyes. “Not quite sure if that’s going to be possible.”
“Please do your best.”
She wishes she could scream, I’d do better if you’d shut your goddamn mouth and let me do my fucking job, but instead says, “Why don’t you get yourself some lunch or see a movie? I’ll take this from here.”
The widow upstairs, a friend of her uncle’s, slams the door without responding. Elle shakes her head and wraps a fist around the wrench at her hip. She’d love to take the wrench to the widow’s few surviving dry possessions, but she resists. She is sure to stomp some of the floating papers further into the depths, though the satisfaction it gives her no more than an empty gesture. No amount of time in the sun would have restored these documents to their original function. But no matter, she tells herself she had a brief hand in their demise.
She wades toward the stairs and climbs them, tracking grimy footprints on the steps behind her. She stops herself when she gets to the top and considers taking off her waders to walk barefoot through the widow’s home. “Mrs. G,” she calls out. “You here?” She takes the silence as permission and walks through the kitchen and out the front door to retrieve a Shop-Vac from her van. The destruction her waders leave is only temporary, she tells herself. She’ll have it cleaned up as soon as the water is out of the basement and dumped out in the flower bed in the backyard.
The back of Elle’s van is a treasure trove of power tools and toilet snakes. She has toys of all varying sizes to get a person’s shit to where it ought to be and out of their clogged pipes. This fills her with pride. Her kid brother may have his award-winning books and beautiful children, but she at least had the comfort of knowing hers was a trade that wouldn’t go out of style until humans figured out how to stop defecating. She’d never have to worry about her publishers shooting down her new idea, or her children growing up to hate her. She’d just have to keep taking her certifications once a year, and the cash flow would be steady.
Armed with her giant water vacuum, she returns to the widow’s temporary basement ocean to do her work.