It lives somewhere, in some chamber dark and drear I know not of: I know only it must be damp, and cold, and these things are all my consolation, because it hates me and I wish it in hell. At night it moves, sometimes silently, sometimes with barely audible stealth. But I hear it, and I know it is preparing for the earliest hour, the coldest dawn, when it may strike.
Its spiteful cry, its impactful bang and crash wake me as certainly as it might wake the dead. I run about the house, seeking it behind walls, beneath stairs, under floors. I return its malevolent hammering with fists of fury and it merely laughs. I know it laughs.
How do I know?
Because I can hear that, too.
But I have a path, a way to vengeance. Before exhaustion overtakes me I must rush from bath to basin, from shower to sink. I must open every faucet, turn on every tap. Water gushes, pressure bursts forth: my enemy groans its pain, then lapses into silence. I turn off the taps, return to my deprived sleep. And as I drift away I hear it, shaking off defeat to move once again…
There are few things I cannot do in a house – I re-wired a shop premises once: I’ve relaid floors, plastered walls and yes, I have plumbed. Lord knows I have plumbed.
A few months ago, however, in lazy mode, I let plumber in. A professional. This followed an unfortunate experience refitting a radiator which resulted in a minor emergency. Nothing serious, just enough to set the blame train in motion: I blamed the radiator, the radiator denied all responsibility – you know the sort of thing. Anyway, the system needed flushing, another radiator had to be refitted so I allowed myself to be persuaded, and in came plumber.
He brought Gherkin with him.
Gherkin, by the way, is ‘it’. Named after my least favorite vegetable; something small, green and slimy. About the right size to block a pipe.
Yet Gherkin’s activities are not confined to creating blockage: no, Gherkin is also a skilled saboteur. Since it was introduced by plumber it has been moving around, disabling everything it passes. A minor adversary at first, it has become a dangerous enemy.
This Saturday it struck. The Judas goat – the ‘bait’ if you will – was a perished ball valve. No problem; simply replace the washer. A few years ago, foreseeing the need, I placed a tap in the flow pipe for a straightforward operation like this. I turned this off, removed the valve, ignoring quiet sniggers from somewhere below, and extracted the old washer.
My tap failed. Water came, at first dripping, then trickling, then gushing. The more I turned off, the faster it gushed. Race downstairs, plunge beneath kitchen sink, turn off mains.
At least, the flow of water was stemmed. Absolutely nothing in the cupboard below could be described as dry.
I tried to reunite valve and pipe. But plumber had rearranged the piping so it didn’t fit. Let’s just give the two parts that needed to be joined names, and say that Mario’s thread refused to go anywhere near Maria’s socket. However, after more craft, graft and wrestling than goes into the average Italian wedding I managed to achieve a union. I turned the mains back on, stood back with a sigh of satisfaction. Life would be normal again, at least until tonight.
We didn’t get that far. An hour later, returning to the room with the cupboard that contained the header tank, I heard the dripping; my new union had begun to leak. Not quickly – just quickly enough to saturate the pile of washing we had just placed underneath.
Put bowl under drip, placate the arguing partners – it’s slow, it’ll settle down, dry out. Saturday night passed quietly. Gherkin, apparently satisfied, allowed me sleep. But it was plotting.
Sunday morning I returned to find a faster drip. Decree Nisi already a distinct possibility, it wasn’t going to dry out. I searched my stock of plumbing joints, ready to replace a whole section of piping. A cry from my wife alerted me: the drip was becoming a trickle and increasing by the minute. The bucket was filling. I did not have the parts I needed, so, panicking I raced the sixteen miles to the only DIY store open on a Sunday and laid out extravagant amounts of money on new pipe and new joints.
I raced home.
The drip had stopped. The joint was dry.
Today, the joint is still dry – I don’t know why, I hope the warring newly-weds have made up and are happy together, though I darkly suspect otherwise. I suspect it’s dry because Gherkin is sitting right there, blocking the leak. And one night, I don’t know when, perhaps in a few days, or a week, or even a year, it’s going to move.
Meanwhile, I pass my nights in wakefulness, deprived of rest by the quiet menace of its laughter.