Get caught up:
The noises persist. Tim sinks deeper into his lie as Charlotte becomes more distant. The source of the noise is finally revealed.
“So do you think we should call a plumber?” Charlotte asked, taking a bite from her toast. An extra toasty piece of crust crumbled from the edge as she held the bread and clattered to her plate
“No, we should most definitely not call a plumber,” Tim said, holding his head and staring into his cup of black coffee. He looked like a man experiencing a raging hangover. Charlotte thought about asking why not, it was generally what you did when you had plumbing issues, call the person who can fix it, but she could tell Tim was not in the best mood that morning and decided not to press him.
“Are you feeling okay, honey? She asked. He glanced up at her briefly. His eyes were glowing red and he had deep purple bags under each of his eyes.
“I’m fine,” Tim replied, returning to studying the depths of his coffee cup. “Just tired.” Charlotte sighed, and turned to gaze around the room. She figured by giving him a minute, he might decide to talk to her about what was bothering him. It definitely wasn’t just the plumbing that was making him look like that, and she knew Tim could go off of a two-hour sleep and look like he just stepped out of a QG magazine.
The kitchen was a glow with morning sunlight, the main source of which came pouring in through the wide sliding doors, as well as the double window above the sink. Outside, Charlotte could see the sun high in the sky, and the field that stretched out into the horizon from behind their house.
This is the perfect house, she thought, staring out the window. Her gaze then returned to Tim and thoughts of the mystery noises coming from the basement returned with it.
I think we should call the plumber, Charlotte thought. She didn’t dare say though. With the mood Tim was in, her thoughts were more apt to start a massive fight than solve any problems. She would just have to deal with it for a while, until Tim got a chance to look at it and realize it was something he couldn’t fix; or until the pipe burst and flooded the entire basement. Charlotte sighed again, doing so through her nose as to not alert Tim. He was good at picking thoughts out of her long, drawn out breaths. Finishing her toast, Charlotte stood up and took her dishes to the sink, leaving Tim to stare into his coffee.
He was thinking about Stacy. He didn’t know why, and he didn’t even want to be doing it, but his mind felt the need nevertheless. Settling into bed after the unsettling experience in the basement, he was thinking about her. Staring into his black coffee, willing himself not to yell at Charlotte, unsure why he felt the need to yell at Charlotte in the first place, he was thinking about her. Her long legs beneath those short skirts she always wore.
Now, in the basement once again, the first Saturday after hearing the noise, Tim stood staring at the toilet, thinking about Stacy. It was getting a little ridiculous that he couldn’t go an hour without thinking about her. These thoughts were starting to worry him because this is exactly what happened the first time, and Tim knew just where that train had ended up.
He ripped open the toilet lid. Throwing it back against the porcelain tank with a smash that echoed around the empty basement. Tim didn’t care though, Charlotte was out getting groceries so he knew there was nobody around to alarm.
The noise was there; the sloshing, the groaning. Listening, his one ear cocked toward the bowl, Tim thought it sounded like some mini earthquake was happening down there. First shaking the contents of whatever tank was buried beneath their house, the tremors then flowing up the pipes, causing that metallic groan. Tim could practically feel the vibrations beneath his feet.
Or is that just my imagination?
He didn’t know, or care, and he lifted the toilet plunger from the floor where it had been standing beside his left leg. A crooked smile had spread across his face.
“A plumber,” Tim scoffed, speaking to nobody but the hollow walls of the basement, and the noise coming from the toilet. “Who needs a plumber.” He paused, staring into the cyclopean eye of the toilet. “You want something done right, you do it yourself.” He placed the plunger into the bowl, which was as dry as bone, and started to work. He did it slowly at first, cocking his ear even further to the side hoping to hear some change in that noise. There wasn’t any, it continued the constant groan and slosh even as Tim sped up his motions. Sweat stood out on his forehead and a tree of sweat was starting to bloom from his lower back.
“I’ll fix it,” he gasped, “don’t worry.” He moved in a flurry, his arms pumped, the muscles and veins bulging, gleaming with sweat. With each repetition the plunger made a dry, sucking sound, like a shoe pulling from a mud puddle that has had a couple days to dry in the sun. Tim’s smile widened as he picked up the pace, sweat now standing out on his face in droplets.
The basement around him was still. Afternoon sunshine was darting through the windows set high near the ceiling in rays, splashing on the unfinished concrete floor. Upstairs, the rest of the house was quiet, with exception of a noise coming from the upstairs bathroom.
If Tim had been upstairs to hear it, it would have sounded like a very indecisive person, trying to choose whether to use the toilet or not. The lid, opening a little, then falling back down, popping up an inch, then dropping back down. Each time the porcelain gave a loud clonk! in protest.
Tim heard nothing though, not even the litany of fix it, fix it, fix it, fix it, that came from his own mouth with each push into the toilet bowl.
He was still thinking about Stacy.
His left hand slipped off the wooden handle, sending him stumbling forward.
“Son of a bitch,” he gasped. He wanted to yell, but didn’t have enough air in his lungs to do so.
He leaned forward on his knees and tried to regain his breath. He could feel the tears close and fought them back. What was he going to do? He wasn’t thinking about the toilet.
I can’t tell Charlotte, he thought to himself. I can’t, it will tear her apart.
Of course it will, that contradictory voice spoke up in the back of his head. You sleep with another woman and you think your wife is going to be all sunshine and roses about it. She’s going to leave you.
Tim knew this was probably the most likely outcome. Charlotte was timid, and shy, but she wasn’t dependant. She would more than likely leave, and the mortgage would fall into his lap like a medicine ball.
“I’m not going to tell her,” Tim said to the empty basement. “I can’t.”
Okay, then what about Stacy? That voice asked. Your thoughts are going in a dangerous direction again Timmy-boy. Tim shook his head.
“No,” he said, “no, I won’t do it again.”
Good, but you should probably stop talking to yourself because Charlotte will be back soon. Tim nodded.
As he stood up, he caught movement from the corner of his eye. His stomach froze and the air in his lungs turned to fire. He jumped and turned to watch the toilet plunger lift up from the toilet ball, and clatter to the ground; the handle, slapping against the concrete like a fallen broomstick.
Tim tried to breathe, but his lungs wouldn’t allow it. He tried to take a step away from the toilet from where he was leaning against the wall, but his body wouldn’t allow that either.
Just relax, he told himself, the bottom of the toilet isn’t necessarily flat is it? The damn thing just fell over, keep your pants on.
It lifted though! A voice screamed in his head. You saw it, it lifted then fell over.
“No,” Tim said, shaking his head. He pushed off the wall and took the giant step back to the front of the toilet. His hands were curled into claws. Again, the toilet bowl was empty, except…
Tim bent down, his hands slowly relaxing. There was something in the bottom of the bowl. He bent closer, his back protesting being lent forward too far. Tim thought he must have pulled something while plunging. When his face hovered directly over the bowl, he could see a black substance, lining the lower most part of the bowl, the bottom of the porcelain curve that takes the toilet water down to the pipes.
Was that there before? He asked himself. He studied it longer, trying to remember, but he couldn’t do it. It could have been there all along and he just didn’t notice, or it could be something he pulled up the pipes during his manic plunging. Either way, he wasn’t getting any closer to it.
He turned away, moving to pick up the plunger from the floor, and he froze again. When the plunger had hit the floor, the rubber top had rolled a little along the concrete. It left behind solid arcs, like the lines made by a very thick Sharpie marker, on the concrete. He straightened quickly, as if it were a mouse or something he had just seen scurry out from behind the toilet.
Well, you didn’t fix the pipes Tim, but you managed to pull up some age-old shit, congratulations!
He studied the substance on his basement floor, and decided it probably wasn’t feces. It didn’t look like feces and it definitely didn’t stink like feces. Tim knew that if it were years old crap he’d managed to pull up from the pipes, he probably wouldn’t have been able to have his head buried in the bowl without gagging at the very least.
There was no smell though. Regardless of that, Tim wasn’t getting any closer to inspect the mystery goo. It was probably just some sort of plumbing liquid they put in the pipes anyway.
He picked up the plunger, avoiding the head, which was covered in the black goop, and moved to the stairs.
On the upper floors, the toilet tank, which had been asking it’s empty questions to the rest of the house during Tim’s episode in the basement. Clonk? Clonk? Clonk? Gave one final burp, the lid opening almost to the halfway point, before slamming back down and falling silent.
Tim reached the main floor, and heard nothing.
The noises continued during the night. The low groaning sounds, like the walls were trying to push themselves from their struts, trying to get away from those vibrating pipes, which ran through their interior like veins. Charlotte and Tim had essentially become accustomed to the noises. It had been almost two months since the first incident and there had been no progression since. Not a single pipe had burst, not a single leak had been found, and all the faucets were still producing their water at an even pressure. Save for a little murkiness in the water when the taps are first turned on in the mornings, the plumbing was running like it should. Tim had not been to check the basement toilet since his mad plunging experience, and Charlotte never went down in the basement to begin with, so neither of them had noticed the deposit of black sludge that had almost reached the rim of the closed bowl. It was thick like molasses and smelt like toilet cleaner. The occasional bubble blipped itself to the surface, like the dying breaths of a drowning man, and with each bubble, the level in the toilet bowl increased the smallest amount as more black sludge evacuated from the depths of the pipes. Soon, the liquid would be enough to begin seeping over the seat, and onto the concrete floor.
Afternoon sun poured in through the bathroom window in a large glowing rectangle. It splashed on the tiled wall beside the vanity mirror, grabbing half of Charlotte’s shadow and painting half of her head, and the left side of her body against the wall. The face reflected in the mirror was sunken. Dark half-circles clung beneath her eyes, eyes that looked cold and distant, eyes that knew only the story of wrongdoing and hurt. Her hands moved soundlessly through her long blonde hair, the fingers separating the three ropes of hair and crossing them over and around each other. She was doing this without really thinking about it, her muscle memory was essentially doing the work for her. Over the last five years with Tim she had done it countless times. It was Tim’s favorite. Along with her dark, rose coloured dress, which now hung low over her shoulders, and down to her knees. She wasn’t really thinking about any of this though, she hoped it may cheer him up a little when he retuned from work, but her hope was miniscule. It was a small candle burning inside a log cabin as a hurricane raged outside, already the windows and parts of the roof were starting to go.
She was thinking about Tim, and his affair.
You don’t know that! Her mind screamed at her.
What else could it be! She screamed back. After this, she let the voices in her head have their way with her thoughts. The argument was one she had listened to over and over again, like a tape that had gotten stuck in the car radio. She simply stared into the mirror, and her let hands plait her hair.
Tim had become increasingly distant over the last two months. Moving further and further away from her, like the raft of a marooned man floating off from the island which had held him for so long, except Charlotte had been left behind.
A tear threatened to bead from her eye, and she sniffed it back. The sharp rise and fall of her chest was the only movement in the bathroom besides the silent, knowing movements of her hands beside her head. There was no sign of the screaming debate that was going on inside the small sound room of Charlotte’s mind.
He’s probably just been really busy with work, she told herself for the hundredth time. He’s probably just got a lot on his plate, and now with moving to the new place, and those plumbing problems that came up so early, and I really haven’t been helping that much.
Charlotte, that other voice broke in. Tim is no busier at work than he has ever been, do you see him doing work at home if he’s been so swamped? She hadn’t. You moved to this place over two months ago hun, that voice told her. You’ve been settled for over a month of that, and those plumbing problems haven’t changed in all that time. If anything, that should cheer him up because it means he was right, it was probably nothing.
Tears were leaking from her eyes now. She made no move to wipe them away, only continued to plait her hair silently.
You need to talk to him, that voice told her.
“I can’t,” she told the empty bathroom. Her voice sounded low, and throaty, speaking through the tears building up there. She cleared her throat and said it again.
You can though, that voice told her, you have to.
She knew this was true, but didn’t want to accept it. She didn’t want to even think about Tim having an affair, let alone bring it up in conversation. It made her feel like crying just thinking about how this was an issue in her marriage at all. Hell, she was already crying!
She knew she would have to talk to him though. The distance was only getting further between them, and all her efforts to stop it (like braiding her hair the way he loved, and dressing in his favorite dress) had all proved fruitless so far. He continued to float away, despite her efforts to pull on the rope of their fraying love and pull that raft back to shore.
With the plait in her hair finished, she brought her hands to her face, and started to cry. The sun had drifted in the sky, and Charlotte’s full shadow was now a black painting on the wall. It lifted its shadow arms, and joined her silently in her grief.
She stayed that way for five minutes time, crying the tears she knew she couldn’t cry when Tim was in the house. It was an ineffectual effort though. The tears did nothing to relieve her of the sadness she felt, and she knew there was always more just lingering behind her eyes. She never let herself cry for more than five minutes. She wiped her tears from her cheeks, studying the tired face in the mirror.
It was as she turned to leave the bathroom, meaning to take the steaks out of the freezer for dinner, that she heard the loud clonk! from behind her.
Charlotte froze. Not because the sound had scared her, but out of confusion. It was a noise she had heard countless times throughout her life, so much so that it had become part of that symphony of sounds one hears on a daily basis but doesn’t really think about. The humming of your car’s engine, the continual droning and honking of traffic outside your office window, or the voices from the TV that had been left on in the other room. It is all background noise; the elevator music of our lives.
In this case, the sound of the toilet seat coming down confused more than scared Charlotte. The complete familiarity with the noise setting up a temporary roadblock, a roadblock that lasted only a few seconds because the realization that she was the only one in the house sunk in and the block was obliterated like an apple shot with a handgun.
She whirled around, her recently braided hair swinging over her shoulder. The bathroom was empty. The shower stall was empty. The window above it was also empty, filled only with the bright glow of afternoon sun.
She stared at the toilet, and shadow-Charlotte stared at the shadow toilet. Her heart felt near the exploding point and she could feel sweat moistening the spaces under her arms and between her breasts.
You’re hearing things now, dear, that voice told her. Charlotte ignored it though and simply stared at the toilet. She was certain that was the noise she had heard, but how could that be? The seat was down already, and Charlotte knew she hadn’t put it down just seconds ago.
So where had the noise come from?
She took a tentative step toward the toilet, not exactly sure what she was going to do. As if in a trance, Charlotte watched her hand lift up from her side and come into her field of vision, then watched helplessly as it drifted toward the lip of the baby blue toilet bowl.
What are you doing? That voice practically screamed in her head.
As her hand neared the top of the bowl, the lid came up to meet her. As if something were underneath and looking to get out, the lid popped up a few inches, slamming into her outstretched fingers with enough force to hurt and Charlotte retracted her hand, screaming all the while.
Her hand flew in the air as if she had touched something incredibly hot and was now trying to get it as far away from the source as possible. It flew back over her shoulder and her arm went with it, pulling her off balance. She stumbled to the wall where her ribcage struck the metal bar of the towel rack, this time the pain was sharp and shot up her side like a lightning bolt. Charlotte released a scream of pain and collapsed to the bathroom floor as she completely lost her balance.
The pain in her side and in her hand was quickly forgotten though. There was something in the toilet; something alive. Charlotte watched from her back, propped up on her elbows, as the lid from the toilet, jumped in the air repeatedly. First, only jumping up a little from the porcelain rim, then popping up to about half it’s arc, then finally flying so far back it slammed into the tank with a clatter, then smashed back down from the force of the impact. After this, the lid remained still, as if whatever was in there had been scared by the loud noise it had created.
You’ve really lost it now, girl, that voice in her head told her.
Charlotte had no come back, she had nothing to refute the claim. She tried to pull herself up, but when she tried to move her arms, none of the muscles cooperated. Her arms remained where they were beneath her, and her gaze remained fixed on the thin curved grin which was the space between the toilet itself and its lid. Her chest was starting to regain its regular rise and fall rhythm and Charlotte was going to try and pull herself from the bathroom floor once again, when the lid started again. She screamed, a short, high-pitched blast from her lungs just as the lid slammed back to the porcelain. It didn’t move again.
You scared it, Charlotte, that voice told her, followed by a low chuckle that seemed to echo inside her head.
“Stop,” she whispered, unsure of whether she was speaking to the toilet, or the voice inside her head. “Please just stop.”
As if thrown up by some invisible hand, the lid flung into the tank once again, then slammed back down. Charlotte screamed again.
The lid popped up again, along with a spray of dark, murky water. It spattered on the underside of the lid and the white tile of the floor around it. This time, the lid didn’t fall back down, it only slammed into the back of the tank and remained upright.
Now Charlotte wasn’t staring at the grinning crack of darkness made by the lid and the toilet, now she was staring at the edge of the porcelain that gave way to the open bowl, and this was worse.
It’s going to get out, she thought.
Without being aware of it, Charlotte was crying again in short silent sobs. Her mouth was curved down in a scowl that could have been comical in other circumstances, and tears were leaking down her already reddened cheeks; black streaks of mascara were creeping from her eyelids. She couldn’t move, her fear had stopped all motion below the neck and Charlotte was left to stare at the edge of the bowl and wait for whatever was beneath it to come forth.
Now, Charlotte could hear the night-noise (as her and Tim had labeled it) coming from the floors below. A loud and persistent groaning that echoed in the empty house, flowed through the floor below her and found its way up the stairs like a cold wind. Charlotte could only lay frozen on the floor, and cry.
Then, like the house were trying to lift itself from its foundation, a groan that seemed to slam its way out of the walls in a single burst, exploded from the basement. This was followed by a torrent of murky, black water that belched from the toilet, spraying the surrounding walls and shower stall. Some landed on Charlotte’s bare legs. The water ran down her skin, leaving behind gobs of a thick black substance. Instinctually, Charlotte attempted to swipe it away like it were a giant insect that had crawled on to her. Instead of flopping to the ground though, the substance only smeared, and stuck to her fingers like molasses. This barely registered though as the toilet had become a sloshing mess. Water was still spraying from its mouth in bursts and something wet was slapping the porcelain. The sound reminded Charlotte of a fish flopping against the wood of dock, twitching and hopping furiously in its desperation to return to water.
Whatever was in the toilet did not seem happy to be there.
It sounds stuck, Charlotte thought.
Listen to yourself! That voice screamed into her head. The mental scream, which made no noise at all, was loud enough to bloom a headache in the place behind her forehead. Again, Charlotte was unaware of the pain. The walls continued their groaning sighs from the basement.
Then it all stopped.
The walls fell silent, the movement in the toilet ceased, and the water stopped belching from the toilet. The only sound was the haggard breathing coming from Charlotte’s lungs. Her stomach felt like it were stuck in the spin cycle of a washing machine.
What is happening to me, Charlotte asked herself. It wasn’t fear she felt now though. It wasn’t fear or even sadness. Charlotte was angry.
It was one thing after another for Charlotte. First the small apartment, then the fruitless search for a house, then finally finding a house and having it be like this, then the worries about Tim and his affair, the worries which only seemed to become more and more real with every passing day. Now this.
She was up in a flash and slamming the lid of the toilet bowl back down before she could even think about whether her muscles were going to work for her or not. She stood there, breathing hard through her nose, like a bull who had just finished charging the matador, and is now looking around for the next target.
Charlotte wasn’t searching for another target though, she was only thinking about what she had just seen resting in the bottom of the toilet bowl. Her hand was still resting on the lid, her fingers curled around the edges.
You didn’t see that, the voice told her. Charlotte could practically see the imaginary person in her mind crossing her arms and shaking her head in denial. Nope, you didn’t see that.
But she had, and Charlotte, who was like any other woman on the planet, always flushed the toilet when she was finished (regardless of what business she had just completed). So she knew it wasn’t something she had left behind in the toilet. She knew what she saw, and she also knew, her brain had no response to this newest shock.
She lifted the lid again, and found the bowl empty.
See, see, see, I told you, that voice said. The words meant nothing though. Charlotte knew what had been there. It had been there, laying in the bottom of the toilet bowl, a small bit of it resting above the surface of the water, laying there like some sort of diseased bowel movement.
Charlotte flushed the toilet, and walked out of the bathroom, heading for the freezer, and the steaks she was going to cook for dinner.