SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
December 6, 2015

An Incredibly Annoying Carnival of Souls

 

On Thursday night, my landlord sent out a note informing me, Morgan, and the two other couples who live in the building that a leak, apparently from one of the bathrooms, caused some serious damage to the basement apartment.

            “Well, there’s a shocker,” I thought, having been flooded four times myself while living down there.

            He then went on to explain that a plumber would be here the next day to check things out, and we should make sure someone was home to let him into each place. It was no big deal for me, I was here all day anyway, so fine. Still, on Friday I found myself trying to go about my business, but only half-heartedly. I was too distracted, keeping an ear poised for a knock on the door. It never came. Although I heard him banging around in the apartment below mine, he apparently never saw reason to come up to the second floor. Although I was ready for him, it was still kind of a relief.

            But an hour or so after the plumber left (and after hearing one half of his intense and guttural cell phone conversation on the sidewalk out front), I received a note from the landlord, this one telling me the plumber would be returning at eight a.m. sharp Monday morning to do some serious damage to my downstairs neighbor’s apartment, and quite possibly to mine as well. There was apparently a major crack in the main pipe connecting all our bathrooms, but he wasn’t sure how far it reached. He was definitely going to have to tear up the walls and floor of the first floor bathroom, and, depending on the extent of the problem, might have to come up here and do some measure of the same thing. Whatever the case, we were promised the whole job would be done by two that afternoon, and a contractor would be there as soon as the plumber left to patch up any holes and repaint.

            For some reason, none of this concerned me much. Early Monday morning we’d simply have to clear a few scattered things out of the bathroom to give him unfettered room to work, and make sure the cats were easily corralable should the time come. With those things out of the way, if the plumber knocked I could just open the door and let him do what needed doing. It would be fine. So after Morgan headed out for work at about six-forty-five Monday, I set about doing what needed doing on my part in a moderately frantic manner. I went to the bathroom, showered, and brushed my teeth so I wouldn’t have to worry about any of those things for the rest of the day. Then I moved the toothbrushes and cups and soap and deodorant and whatever the hell else off a couple of shelves, dragged the towels into the next room, ran out to get the day’s beer, took out the trash, and half-corralled the cats, to make the final corralling that much easier down the line. Everything was in order and secure by quarter to eight and all was well. The plumber could show up a few minutes early, even, and there would be no worries and no fretting.

            Then a silence seemed to settle over the building.

            I went into the office and did a bit of work, then stepped into the hallway to see if I could hear any banging and smashing and drilling. Nope, not yet, so I went back to work for awhile. I wasn’t getting much done—just piddly crap and set ups, not wanting to get too involved in anything major knowing as soon as I did I’d have some burly fucker with a box of heavy tools and only a loose command of English at my door.

            Every half hour or so I stepped back out into the hall, but couldn’t hear any tell-tale signs of thoroughgoing destruction. Hmm. Then I’d shrug and return to the office.

            Around eleven, three hours after he was supposed to show up, I still wasn’t hearing anything. That’s when it struck me I wasn’t hearing anything at all out there. Normally I could hear my neighbors moving around, chatting, listening to music on the radio or playing the piano, slamming the door as they stepped out to run this or that errand. There was none of that. The entire old and creaky building was deathly quiet in a way I’d never heard it before.

            My initial thought was, given the impending noise and mess, maybe they simply vacated the premises for the day, leaving the door unlocked to let the workmen come and go as need be. They were an older couple (older than me anyway), and had done that sort of thing before. The day beforehand they’d kindly offered to let me use their bathroom if need be while he was working up here, but after I pointed out the work described would likely mean shutting off the water for the whole building, maybe they decided it would be better to get themselves someplace where they’d have easy access to a functioning bathroom. It wasn’t a bad idea.

            Waiting for plumbers, contractors, phone repairmen who don’t show is simply a standard form of recreation in New York, and having learned a thing or two these past five years about the reliability of my landlord’s claims about threatened repairs or improvements, I wasn’t going to fuss about it much. It was a huge pain in the ass—I’d pushed a bunch of things back a day for this, and the rest of the week was starting to look nutty as a result—but ranting about it would accomplish nothing. I’d just have to deal.

            By the time one o’clock came and went and I still hadn’t heard anything from either my neighbors or the quite possibly mythical plumber, another, more troubling thought crept into my head. Maybe my neighbors hadn’t snuck out for the day at all.

            I wasn’t thinking they were dead or anything, that maybe the plumber had indeed shown up on schedule and bludgeoned them to death with a pipe wrench for giving him shit about the mess. I guess that would’ve been the normal thing to think.

            No, as the depth of the impenetrable and foreign silence of the building began to creep into my consciousness I started to wonder if maybe something else was going on, like the situation faced by the young woman in Carnival of Souls. Maybe earlier that morning, as I was stepping across the street to get the day’s beer, I’d been hit by a car and killed instantly. Happens every other day in New York, after all, and the cars sure can whip down the street and through the intersection when they put their minds to it. With me being blind and these stupid hybrid cars getting quieter all the time, well, it wouldn’t be a big surprise. And now, being dead, I was doomed to wander around a silent apartment building forever, waiting for a plumber who was never going to show. For an instant I considered peeking out the front window to see if I was still splayed on the pavement in the middle of the intersection, surrounded by gawkers and hopeless EMTs, but I immediately remembered that would be pointless. Nope, this was just going to be it from here on in, century after century, wandering from room to room wondering if it was safe yet to start moving things back into the bathroom. Might as well get used to it. I never had any use for any belief in an afterlife, but if it did exist and this was the form it took, well I guess it made about as much sense as anything else.

            When the phone rang around two, and I realized if I really was dead it was unlikely anyone would be calling me, I gotta say I was a little disappointed.

            Plumber never did show though.

 

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