When Geoff’s out of town, it rains through our ceiling. Plinkety-plink, the sound a direct hit, but it takes me a minute to place and another to rise because lately attention and effort are in short supply. Could be anything, I tell myself, leaky sink, ambitious toilet. Rain – it’s not where my mind is. I add ice to my glass. Geoff got all these tumblers for his birthday, Princess Lea, Chewie, Willie Nelson, like the collector sets they used to sell at Burger King to offset the paper crowns which tore through every coronation. Who doesn’t love stamped on faces? (Hand wash. Don’t run the machine unless you want melted images; there are levels to fragile.) I don’t do dishes when Geoff’s gone, so we’re down to lowballs, invisible Bowie. It’s a quiet rebellion. I chew ice. Kids! Crunch! Clink! They are in the shower, one after the next, which is reassuring: water comes from somewhere. I set out rain catchers in the form of buckets, sauce pots, a soup tureen, but the drizzle becomes a downpour, the crack widens, saturating the plaster, which starts to flake in puzzle-shaped chips, my ceiling peels like a boiled egg, a cranial dissection of fetal pig. There’s no keeping up. Any second my kids’ spongy feet will poke through the sheetrock. Turn it off! I holler. Household emergency! But they either ignore or don’t hear me. Teenagers shower for hours, and still, they smell ripe and alive like they do. That night, I dream of being swallowed by flood. In the morning the water has receded but the crack has gashed open; it’s Cesarean. I call Geoff who says call someone. There’s a breach in my ceiling, I say. Don’t worry, someone answers, and I feel marginally better; Ma’am, he says, and I feel marginally worse. Help’s on the way, but the way isn’t today, and tomorrow’s the weekend, so now my ceiling’s a crater. Piece of cake on the phone becomes holy mother of God in real life, which is often the case with me. We thought it would be easy, help says. Only it’s never easy. A hole this size? It’s going to cost you. I know, I say. You’re lucky the roof hasn’t collapsed. Can you still fix it? Can’t be sure until we go in; the damage may be irrevocable. How old did you say your house is? When they step out to their truck I pee with the door open because it’s urgent, because who can be bothered, which means I’m scrambling when they return with headlamps and tools and assure me there’s nothing they haven’t seen. That’s when the objects start dropping. Rusted flatheads, faucet necks, newspapers from the Carter administration, a wig of red hair (mermaid not clown.) Support beams snap like kindling. They shine their lights in the dark. It’s a burial ground up there, they say, bona fide, as if otherwise I might not believe them. Have you found the body? I deadpan. Holy Grail? Other shoe? But it’s not even cute. Excavation takes time. They need to locate the source. Can’t just slap a patch on the problem. Guitar strings, dusty maps, a bicycle pump, ceramic dog with a chipped hind leg, an empty bottle of quinine, carousel of smoking pipes, torrent of swirled marbles, first edition of Arabian Nights, my mother’s valise, my misspent virginity, the balloon I swallowed in Florida, a shissel of sand, set of clothespin people, a boogerish round of rubber cement, and a terrarium of sea glass, leaf litter and bitter root. All day I watch things tumble and fall. How graceful, their descent, like apple cores from a window. Like ballerinas without heads. When I first came to New York, I’d sit on my grandmother’s terrace listening to opera on public radio. Boats passed beneath the Verrazano-Narrows. Princess Di had just died and a sinkhole threatened to devour her street block. Never in my life, she said, but I was young, then, riding the express bus in my discount blazer and happy hour bloat. Before the ceiling broke, I tried telling Geoff about the decline of scent, a global problem, thanks to extinct perfumes, lost correspondence, ossified insect wings, how I read once they’re gone you can’t get them back. He said I’d be better reading the news. When the men break for lunch, my home becomes mine again, so I lie on the rug beneath the pit, sleep drunk, like a fat black cat curls into a favorite spot and waits and waits for the sun.
Sara Lippmann is the author of the story collection Doll Palace. She was awarded an artist’s fellowship in fiction from New York Foundation for the Arts, and her stories have appeared in Berfrois, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Split Lip, Midnight Breakfast, and elsewhere. She teaches at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and cohosts the Sunday Salon. Find her on twitter @saralippmann or online at https://www.saralippmann.