AIDA AUSTIN: And then there is an apocalyptic explosion in the bathroom

It is the second night we have spent in our new town house and my husband and I are lying side by side at midnight in bed, bathed in the soft glow of bedside-lamp light, enjoying the peace in our bones. I for one have not felt peace in my bones for half a year.

I am quite overwhelmed by the sensation.

“Nunnight everyone,” I call.

Shouts of “Night Mum” come from downstairs, where my sons and youngest daughter are relaxing on the sofa, and the upstairs bathroom, where my eldest daughter is having a bath.

“Nice bath?” I call.

“Lovely,” she shouts back, “sorry,where’s that jacuzzi-button thing again? The one Dad told me about?”

“Side of the bath,” my husband shouts.

I wriggle my toes with pleasure and turn to my husband.

“I mean,” I say, “if I was to paint a picture of what the inside of my head has looked like for the past six months, I would draw a demented-looking bird, locked inside a brain, with feathers all raggedy from flapping around, trying to get out.”

“Mmm,” my husband says.

“I’d paint it with whirling, misaligned pupils, so that you’d know that this bird was properly, properly deranged.”

“Everyone kept saying moving house is stressful,” he says, “but we’ve done it. And now I’m just going to lie here and enjoy the...”

“In other words, a beserk bird in a brain,” I say, “is the perfect depiction of what the inside of my head has looked like.”

“...peace and quiet.”

“Actually, two beserk birds would be a better...”

“So two beserk birds,” he says, “I think I’ve got it. Nunnight.”

“And now it feels like the birds have flown away,” I say, “ as if they have taken off, whoosh, just like that. No more flapping.”

And then there is an apocalyptic explosion in the bathroom, followed by the sound of water falling. After which, we are plunged into darkness and the fire-alarms go off.

I cannot see anything, what with the electrics having sparked out but stories can tell themselves perfectly well, I find, in the dark: The duvet is whisked sideways: my husband has left the bed.

Footsteps pound on the stairs. Some are pounding up. Some are pounding down.

Air gusts suddenly into the bedroom, carrying along with it many disembodied voices, all shouting.

“IT WASN’T MY FAULT. I JUST PRESSED THE BUTTON AND THERE WAS A HUGE NOISE AND THE BATHWATER JUST DISAPPEARED.”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN DISAPPEARED? DISAPPEARED WHERE?”

“DOWNSTAIRS. THROUGH THE CEILING. IT’S ALL OVER THE FLOOR DOWN HERE.”

“SOMEONE GET TOWELS.”

“MY HEAD HURTS. WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TURN THE FIRE ALARMS OFF.”

“I’LL NEED A SCREW DRIVER. WHERE’S MY TOOLBOX? TOOLBOX ANYONE?”

“DAD, IT’S FIVE KILOMETRES AWAY IN THE SHED ONSITE. SOMEONE GET TOWELS.”

“WILL SOMEONE GET THEIR FLASHLIGHT GOING ON THEIR MOBILE PHONE.”

“I’VE NO BATTERY.”

“SOMEONE MUST HAVE.”

“I CAN’T SEE.”

“TOWELS, I SAID. THEY’RE IN THE AIRING CUPBOARD.”

“WHERE? I CAN’T SEE.”

“I CAN’T SEE A FECKING THING.”

“WHERE THE FECK IS DAD GOING?”

“WHERE’S HE GONE?”

“WHAT’S HE DOING?”

“HE’S GONE NEXT DOOR.”

“THE NOISE IS KILLING ME.”

“WHY’S HE GOING NEXT DOOR?”

“TO GET A SCREW DRIVER.”

“HE’S STANDING OUTSIDE NEXT DOOR IN HIS FECKING UNDERPANTS.”

“THE NEW NEIGHBOURS ARE IN FOR A TREAT.”

“TOWELS. MORE TOWELS. USE A SHEET.”

“MY LAPTOP. SOMEONE MOVE THE LAPTOP.”

“WHOSE LAPTOP?”

“WHERE’S MY LAPTOP?”

“UNDER WATER.”

“YOU’LL ELECTROCUTE YOURSELF WITH THAT KNIFE.”

“CALL THE PLUMBER.”

“WHAT PLUMBER?”

“THERE MUST BE AN EMERGENCY NUMBER SOMEWHERE.”

“USE A TEA-TOWEL ROUND THE HANDLE.”

“CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TURN THE FIRE ALARMS OFF. MY HEAD IS EXPLODING.”

“MAKE YOURSELF USEFUL AND HELP MUM MOP FOR GOD’S SAKE, INSTEAD OF BANGING ON ABOUT THE FIRE ALARMS.”

“THE WATER’S SLOWING.”

“DEFINITELY SLOWING.”

“THAT NOISE IS KILLING ME.”

“I’VE GOT MY PHONE. WAIT. NEARLY THERE. YES. GOT THE FLASHLIGHT.”

But a story will tell itself better in flashlight:

My husband is on a chair, water splashing onto his head from the ceiling, his modesty badly compromised by a pair of sopping wet underpants. He is disabling the second fire alarm with a knife, its handle wrapped in a wet sock. My children all stare up at him with their hands clamped over their ears. All have wet hair and feet and I have never seen such looks of beseeching supplication.

“DONE!” my husband shouts. And the fire alarm stops screaming.

“Silence,” my husband says, “thank god.”

“Christ, that noise.”

“Silence. What a relief.”

And there isn’t a sound.

Unless you count the sound of two birds flapping. But only I can hear that.


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