What Can You Do

James Guthrie

Help me with my math:

The police seal on the door downstairs said 6/23/15 15:23. My landlord came by my apartment around four. Allowing an hour or two for the pertinent photographs and all the forensic what-have-you, how long did the landlord wait, after identifying the body, to call the plumber to come fix my sink?

Assuming of course he was the one who identified the body. I mean I don’t know who else they would have gotten. He would’ve been there already, presumably, to unlock the door.

When he came by that afternoon I honestly didn’t know anything about the unfortunate business downstairs. (There was a cruiser parked out front but when wasn’t there a cruiser parked out front.) The landlord just said something about the super not being available, hence the plumber. I thought sure, whatever, as long we get this bastard drip to desist, I’ve no qualms about who tightens what valve or whatever.

When I left for work the next morning, I saw the sympathy cards.

“RIP our super Adam (sic),” and so on.

I laughed when I saw that. No joke. If they watch the security footage, they’ll see me laugh. I honest to goodness thought it was a snarky ‘I quit’ kind of joke. Like RIP the ‘super’ part, not the ‘Adam’ part.

Then I saw the seal on the door.

“So what did he say?”

“See I don’t know now. I wasn’t listening. I think he just said he wasn’t available.”

“He wasn’t ‘available’?”

“He damn skippy didn’t say he was dead.”

How long should one wait, after the death of an employee/tenant, before business as usual? I could understand if my tap was gushing: the risk of water damage, etc. I could understand if he’d made an appointment with the plumber earlier in the week and forgot to cancel amidst the hubbub. But the super had been by the night before to take a look at “this drip,” as he called it. After about thirty seconds under the sink, he reared up and said he’d have to come back in the morning. There wasn’t a relief valve, so they’d have to turn the water off in the whole building.           

“Nothing is ever easy,” he said, though I wasn’t listening really.

When the landlord brought the plumber by the next day, I figured either Super Adam was out of his depth with the plumbing complications or he’d finally been fired for his perpetual malingering. Whether it was a leaking faucet, a broken light, or an ice-cold radiator, it was like pulling teeth to get it fixed. You’d call him at five in the afternoon and if he actually answered his phone, he’d sound like he’d just woken up. Or you’d knock on his door. No answer. You could hear him scratching around in there, so you’d knock again. Silence. If he did answer the door, he wouldn’t even poke his head out. He’d open the door a crack and just peer at you, his eyes squinty, puffy from sleep.

I used to curse him frequently, which I feel bad about now. Never to his face, of course. I was always more or less polite to his face. I can take some consolation in that, at least.

The truly frustrating part wasn’t the waiting: it was the back-and-forth you would get into with the landlord concerning the repairs. Since most of the time Adam wouldn’t answer his phone, the landlord would call you to check if Adam had come by to fix the problem yet. The answer was no, most of the time, so the landlord would ask if you could go check the parking lot to see if his car was there since he wasn’t answering the landlord’s calls either. So you’d poke your head outside and sure enough his beater would be parked back there, so you’d relay this to the landlord and he’d ask you if you could go knock on his door because, again, he wasn’t answering his phone and this was a bit troubling, so you’d trudge down to the basement and knock on his door, and surprise, surprise, nothing. Not even the sound of breathing.

So the landlord would come to the building himself and knock and knock on his door, and Adam would open up eventually (until the day he didn’t), and they’d have a word, and the landlord would come up to your apartment to look at the problem himself, apologizing for Adam. He was going through some things, apparently. He would get it straightened out, and so on.

Thinking back on that evening, when the plumber was doing his thing, my landlord did seem a bit off. He wasn’t quite as gossipy, seemed a little perturbed. At the time I attributed his perturbation to having to field complaints from a sudsy, mid-shower tenant who berated him for turning the water off yet again without providing anything close to the legally required 24-hour notice. That kind of abuse would get anyone down, I imagined. (That was first time I met this particular towel-clad neighbor, actually. Our building, while small, is not at all friendly. We pass each other in the halls with little more than a nod.)

When I saw my landlord a week later, he seemed back to normal. He asked how the faucet was. (It was fine, thank you.) He mentioned the new super would be moving in shortly. He’d be posting his number in the lobby, shortly. (The sympathy cards had been removed a few days earlier.) I didn’t pry.

I did snoop a little, on my way to the laundry room. The police seal had been torn off, leaving gunk on the door like a big price tag. (I looked closer and saw the gunk was crosshatched like the adhesive on those paper identity bracelets they give you in hospitals). I could hear people in the apartment, banging around, emptying it out. From my living room window I could see the reams of old furniture they put out on the curb. There were stains on the couch, stains on the mattress. In every stain I read a different method.

Were those his last spoken words, the “nothing is ever easy” thing, and I’d just smirked and nodded like “hey, what can you do?” And what had he done.

When the garbage truck drove up, I made myself think about the appropriate what ifs, like what if I’d asked him to sit for a minute and had a beer with him or something, and I thought what if we just sat there in uncomfortable silence and he went home and did it however he did it anyhow, like an enormous condemnation of my social skills right there. And I figured that would have felt a lot worse than the pretty much nothing I felt watching his furniture get chewed into splinters by enormous columns of rotating metal teeth.

I tried to feel something, though, as the truck pulled away, but I heard a drip in the sink just then, a single drip, then silence.           

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James Guthrie’s work has appeared in the After Happy Hour Review, Molotov Cocktail, and Red Savina Review and is forthcoming in (Parenthetical), Apocrypha and Abstractions, and Hart House Review. He lives in Toronto with his wife and three chinchillas.