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Water Stained

Marriage is an ebb and flow

By Vivian R McInernyPublished 3 months ago 7 min read
Image by Elke Oerter from

He’s being a dick. He knows he’s being a dick which makes it all the more aggravating. We’re standing in the kitchen on Saturday morning talking, or rather, I’m talking about the new coffee shop on Belmont and how I’d like the three of us to walk over there as soon as Winnie gets out of the shower.

“We could use the family time,” I say.

Gideon nods. He’s dressed for a run. In shorts, his bare legs look ridiculously long and thin. Winnie calls him Daddy Longlegs. He bends his right knee and pulls his leg behind him. Holding onto the granite counter with one hand for balance, he uses the other to stretch his thigh.

“Would it kill you to run later,” I ask, then try a more authoritative declarative. “You can run later.”

I sound like a nag. Winnie sounds like Aretha Franklin if she were five-years-old and tone deaf. She’s belting it out in the shower. This morning she asked if she could bring her yellow plastic umbrella in the shower. It made no sense. I told her as much. “But I saw a movie at Nana’s house,” she says as though that explains everything. Apparently, Gideon’s mom finds taking care of her only granddaughter one afternoon a week too much to handle so plopped our kid in front of an ancient VCR to watch a thirty-year old video of Gideon as a boy playing a man in a school production of a musical set in the 1950s against a backdrop vaguely resembling Cleveland. The concept is at least three steps beyond Winnie’s grasp of reality. In any case, she is upstairs trilling Singing in the Rain in our newly remodeled master bath because the other shower isn’t big enough to accommodate her open umbrella. I’m singing in the rain, I’m singing in the rain, over and over, the only lyrics she can remember. The melody is nowhere to be found.

A minute earlier, we were laughing about it, our daughter’s uncensored enthusiasm and utter lack of talent. She has a big husky voice and sounds, always, as though she’s projecting to the cheap seats. She’s like bad Broadway. My theory is that she can’t hear herself because her ears and nose are stuffy from allergies. We’re constantly telling her to turn down the volume. But she’s a full blast kind of girl.

“We can go when I get back,” Gideon says, switching legs to stretch.

“We can, ” I say. “But we won’t.”

Gideon runs for at least an hour, often more. Then he needs a good twenty minutes minimum to cool down. No sense showering if he’s still sweating, fair enough. On Saturdays, he likes to take his time in the shower. Reasonable, right? Monday through Friday bathing is perfunctory. The work week is always hectic. Half the time, I’m driving to the office with wet hair, leaning into the car heater like a blow dryer.

The doorbell rings. I’m still in my robe.

“Can you get it?” I ask. I’m wearing pink furry slippers for God’s sake. Gideon looks at my fuzzy feet as though they’re the paws of a giant plush toy, as though I’m slowly becoming a super sized version of what Winnie calls her “stuffed-up animals.” We never correct her.

He comes back carrying an Amazon box the size of a microwave. We don’t need a microwave. I rarely use the one we have and Gideon never cooks. Somehow, we’ve fallen into traditional gender roles. I resent it. I don’t know how to correct it.

“I didn’t order anything,” I say.

“It’s for me,” he says.

He loves to buy tools more than he likes to use them. Hammers, stud finders, an electric sander; he has them all. Once just to shake things up, I hung a picture in the living room and took out the garbage. Gideon didn’t even notice until a couple weeks later when the picture fell. Then he tried to make his mother’s split pea soup and burnt the expensive cookware that was a wedding present from my aunt in Germany. The enamel finish actually cracked. The man could burn water.

“You don’t need more tools when you. . . ,” I stop. We both hear it. Winnie’s still stuck on replay, over and over singing in the rain, singing in the rain, but there’s something else. It sounds like actual rain. I look out the kitchen window; brilliant blue sky and sunshine. But the splat-splat of big fat raindrops falling is undeniable.

Gideon catches on a split second faster. He dashes into the hall. I’m right behind him. Water is pouring from the ceiling. It’s splashing on the hardwood floor. Not a little drip-drip but an absolute downpour. A puddle is already forming.

“Turn off the shower! I’ll grab some buckets,” he orders as he runs for the garage.

I’m thinking a pipe burst. I’m thinking the ceiling is ruined. I’m thinking the floors are fucked. Before I hit the landing I’m calculating the fortune in repairs. Winnie is still singing. The upstairs hall is flooded. It looks like a small creek. My fuzzy slippers go squishy as I make my way toward the source. What the hell? I find Winnie sitting under her plastic umbrella in the shower, singing away. She’s blocking the drain with her cherubic butt.

“Out of the shower,” I scream, yanking her by one slippery arm. Winnie startles, bursts into tears. Her open umbrella catches on the door and falls upside down. Water starts filling it like a bowl. I’m squeezing Winnie’s little arm way too hard as I reach into the shower and turn the taps to off.

Winnie, standing dripping wet on the tile floor, is by now hysterical.

“What I’d do? I didn’t do anything!”

“You blocked the drain,” I yell. “The house is flooded!”

She’s shivering. And crying.

“I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to,” she manages between sobs. “I did it on accident.”

What the hell is wrong with me? I reach for one of the fluffy white towels from the rack, and wrap it around her fish-slippery little body. I’m on my knees holding her close, trying to absorb her cries and absolve my sins.

“I know,” I say. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m so sorry.”

“You shouldn’t yell,” she shouts at me in hiccuping sobs. “You’re mean!”

She slays me with those words. I bury my face in her wet hair. She smells of Ivory soap and apple shampoo. She’s so small. What is wrong with me?

“I am so, so sorry Winnie.”

She’s not quick to forgive. She stands with the bath towel wrapped around her shoulders. It reaches almost to the floor. She looks like an Indian sage, like a wise elder carefully considering the crime, weighing the punishment. She’s undecided. I scoop her up in my arms to carry her and kiss her face and head over and over. She allows me this.

The upstairs hall creek has all but disappeared through the floorboards. By the time we get downstairs, the indoor rain has slowed to a drizzle. Gideon stands holding two new saucepans by their handles catching drips. The opened Amazon box is on the floor, its bottom soggy. Gideon’s hair is a mess. He’s sliding a red plastic bucket across the floor to the far end with the toe of his left running shoe. He’s all arms and legs akimbo.

“Daddy, you look like a skinny starfish,” Winnie says.

Gideon moves his arms in what he imagines as sea creature fashion but looks more like a ferris wheel or windmill blades or maybe a frantic juggling clown. Winnie giggle-wiggles out of my clutch. She splashes through the water, grabs one of the pots from her dad. She needs both hands. It’s enameled cast iron and matches the set from my aunt. The two of them start up then, both of them blissfully out of key: Singing in the rain. Singing in the rain. I take out the wet cardboard box and get a mop.

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About the Creator

Vivian R McInerny

A former daily newspaper journalist, now an independent writer of essays & fiction published in several lit anthologies. The Whole Hole Story children's book was published by Versify Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. More are forthcoming.

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