“Christ,” Bob said as he pulled up the lane. It was already 4:27 and he was over 45 minutes late. The tires of his van slid in the gravel as he brought it to a harsh stop. He leaned forward and peered through the windshield at the dilapidated home. Wooden shingles clung to the side in desperation. The roofing was in need of serious work. The lawn looked like a field of weeds. He grabbed his clipboard and his belt and headed to the door.
The doorbell gave a lifeless buzz when he pressed it. He sighed at the setting sun behind him and pressed the buzzer again, longer this time. He cupped his hands to the dirty windows. He could see slow and steady movement passing through the white lace. The door creaked open slowly and the tiniest of women looked up at him. Her thinning white hair matched the color of the cataracts that shrouded her blue eyes.
“Yes?” she asked.
Bob checked his papers to the house number. “Hello, ma’am. Did you call for a plumber?”
She gave him a quizzical look and leaned forward, turning her ear. “What’s that?”
“A plumber,” he shouted.
“Oh, yes. Heavens, I almost forgot.” She let the thick door swing open and turned down the hallway. Bob followed her in.
Bob passed by a study filled with more books than he thought could ever be read. He was ushered through an empty living room of spotless rugs, pristine chairs paired with cups for sipping tea, and photos of people in black and white. She led him slowly, carefully, beyond her kitchen that was neat and stowed and smelled of home-made soup. Everything that was within her five foot reach was spotless and clean. All else was layered with years of dust.
“There,” she said, revealing an external bathtub. It was made of porcelain and stood on intricately carved feet. “It won’t drain.” She twisted her boney hands together slowly in front of her chest.
Bob leaned his head over the edge. The water was still and cold and clean. A thin line of bubbles formed at the shore where it met the edge of the tub. He immediately saw the black rubber plug. He reached in and gave it a pull. The water flowed away freely. He gave a sideways glance to the woman, but she didn’t turn or give notice. Her foggy gaze was sent to the window, to the setting sun, her hands slowly turning over each other. Bob watched her until the tub was dry. The room, the entire house, was silent, save for a clock that sent out its ticks and its tocks.
He dried his hand on his pants and gave her shoulder a tug. “Ma’am?” She startled at his touch.
“Oh. Yes?” she said, still wringing her hands.
Bob held the stopper in his hands, gave it a squeeze, then set it on the edge of the tub. “All fixed, ma’am. You’re tub is all fixed.”
Her eyes lit. Her mouth curved into a smile of toothless gums. Suddenly, frantically, her eyes began to scan.
“Oh, thank you!” she said. “Thank you, young man.” She hurried into the kitchen and Bob followed. “Would you care for some supper?” she asked. “I’ve some soup and some bread and some wonderful tea.” She opened drawers and began gathering an extra place setting.
“I can’t, ma’am. I’m sorry.” Bob felt his throat tighten. “I must be going.”
“Oh,” she said. “Oh,” nodding. She looked at him with her ghostly eyes. “Well, thank you again.”
Bob left the bill on her table and returned to his van. He sat in silence for several minutes before backing up and heading home. He returned on Saturday with some shingles and nails, yard equipment, and a couple of close friends.