I know what saves me. Adjust my pitch. Cadence must be mirrored back. Smile, smile, smile.
See, the leak you have is here.
Oh yes, I say, as if this is a new development and not the very reason I have let this man with eyes spaced wide like a shark into my apartment. He scanned my body twice, once when I let him in, and now. He’s late, missed his window by two hours, but I’d been working from home and honestly, it’s no big deal.
Should be an easy fix, he says.
I’m relieved when he ducks his head under the kitchen sink.
The faucet sprang a leak after Mikel said we wanted different things. Intangible things like space, which is never correctly calibrated until one person disappears. He put his cereal bowl in the sink and left, letting the vitamin-enriched circles harden on the edges like open mouths. The wait, don’t go lodged in my throat. When I ran the water, I could hear the echo of a drip, drip, drip.
Actually, this should all be replaced. The plumber pokes his head out of the underbelly of the sink and looks up at me.
Oh? Not an easy fix?
There’s a curl to his lip so slight I wonder if I’ve imagined it. Still, my eyes take stock. There’s a toaster I could slam into his head. I have knives nestled in a block of wood two paces away. I imagine my fingers are magnets, drawing their steel. A heavy flashlight rests in a drawer next to him; a pen on the counter I can jam into his throat.
The metal pipes here are old and corroded. They should really be replaced with plastic.
Mikel wasn’t handy. I unclogged the toilets, replaced light fixtures, assembled the Ikea furniture. He was the cook, the communicator, the keeper of our social calendar.
The walls creak their dry bones. The clock chimes a quarter-hour beat. The large man stands, towers over me, and I laugh and back away.
I’m sorry to be so much trouble.
I’m at the front door, already opening it. I’m out of sync, didn’t time things well. I have rushed him. He’s standing with his few tools still scattered. I haven’t offered him a drink. He’s perspiring. I’m being silly, doubting my senses once again, wondering if I’ll ever get it right. If I’ll ever be able to tell the good guys from the bad.
Yeah, not as easy as I’d thought. I can show you if you want.
He stands and waits for my response and I am frozen there with my back holding open the door and the hallway is empty and it would take three lunges for him to get to me and maybe I’d make it to my neighbor’s door, but he’s never home in the day, and the woman on the other side of me is a recluse and rumored to be old and I can’t imagine her opening the door. I don’t know what he’s waiting for as he stares at me so I smile. I smile and manage a laugh. Oh, that’s okay. I’ll call your company and set up another time to get them replaced. And the words are like butter melting off my tongue but leave a slick aftertaste that make me want to gag because something is off as he stares at me. But I’ve never been right about these things. Wasn’t right three years ago when I drank too much and passed out near a guy who I thought was a friend and woke with a dull throb between my legs and was silenced with he’s a good guy, a solid guy, a coach-his-daughter’s-hockey-team guy. And all I see are the birds outside my window springing to other dimensions, perching high in the trees, putting distance between them and whatever it is they want to fly away from, and I envy them.
My phone rings by my laptop. But to get it, I have to release the door and make my way to the kitchen table past him, and I don’t think I should close this opening to the outside, to the stairs. Right now, I can grow wings. Right now, I can fly away. And we stand like this for what seems like a long time, long enough to notice he has no nametag and his eyes hold onto a dull anger, and I make a noise, a piercing trill, and the recluse, whom I’ve never seen before, opens her door and hurries over to me in her old lady robe and slippers and unkempt hair, and as she does, the plumber, whose name I never got, packs his bag quickly, squeezes by us and down the stairs, never leaving a bill or a card or even instructions.
The old woman looks down the stairs at the man fleeing, and then, Are you all right? Her eyes are kind and cloudy with cataracts, and as soon as I nod I’m okay, my body releases a tremble that I’ve held in my bones, calcified from the years of smiles that were never really smiles, but the protective tissue built up and up and up catching fire. She douses it with an embrace, holds my bones together so they don’t fall to the floor, crumble into ash, and we stay like this until she slowly releases me, her muscles giving way and mine taking over and before I find words—because really there are no words, no words for so many things—she is back in her apartment, and I am back in mine, and the birds are back to my windowsill singing over the drip, drip, drip.
Sabrina Hicks lives in Arizona. Her work has appeared in Matchbook, Pithead Chapel, Pidgeonholes, MoonPark Review, The Sunlight Press, Ellipsis Zine, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.