This story is by M. R. Tevebaugh and was a runner-up in our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Matthew Tevebaugh is a writer before dawn, electrical engineer by day, husband and father by night. Our Spring 2018 contest was the first contest he ever entered, so it is appropriate that Summer 2019 is his first featured publication. You can even read his 2018 entry at mrtevebaugh.com.
The jet of water hit me in the face. “Motherless son of a biscuit!” I got a hand between me and the water but dropped the pipe cutter. Whatever, I didn’t need that anymore.
“What did you do, Jim?” Fred demanded, his tone dripping with derision.
“Shut it off!” I shouted back.
“Where’s the valve?”
“To your right. By the shelf.” The puddle on the concrete floor of the laundry room grew at an alarming rate.
“How the hell am I supposed to reach it. You have the ladder.”
My brother was a large man to begin with, but lately he had been putting on some serious weight. I couldn’t fault him for it; I wasn’t far behind. Fred jumped, his bulk soaring the three inches of gain he needed to grip the main shutoff. The handle snapped off in his hand as he fell.
“Did you just break the valve?”
Fred stared at the handle. “Looks like.”
“Water is pouring into my basement and you broke the flipping valve?”
“Maybe you should have turned it off before you cut the pipe, idiot!”
Water sloshed around Fred’s designer tennis shoes. That wasn’t right. It should have been draining. I swiped my fingers over my glasses to clear the water droplets and looked behind me to see the trash sitting over the floor drain. “Maker of all turds! Fred, move the trash.”
“You move it; you’re closer.”
“I’m on the ladder.”
I grabbed the end of the flexible PEX pipe that still spewed water, trying to point it away from the shelves of stored boxes. Christmas decorations didn’t do much for me, but I had a ring on my finger and the wife said they were important. Fred kicked the trash off the drain, but the pool still grew. Apparently I needed to get the drain cleaned. Fantastic. Add that to the list.
“Why do you have a trash there, anyway?”
“Lint, obviously.” I had to move my flashlight to reach the tee fitting that sat on top of the storage shelf.
“I don’t think you can put the fitting on while the water’s running,” Fred said.
“You got a better idea?”
“Uh, call 911.”
“What, you think they have a plumber on call?”
“No, the fire department.”
I pointed the end of the pipe at Fred and sprayed him.
“What the hell?” He sputtered, dodging further away in the small space.
“This isn’t a fire, moron.” I slammed the tee fitting onto the pipe and it slid home. I was just trying to install a new hose spicket for the wife, and this was my reward. Soaked to the bone in freezing water and barely able to feel my hands. I lifted the tube and shoved the tee onto the other side of the original pipe. Water shot out the side of the tee. My eyes followed the arc as it fell on the only outlet in the laundry room. Since I kept putting off updating the thing to a GFCI, a harsh buzz filled the room for several seconds until the breaker popped. The light went out.
“For the love of all things holy,” I said.
“Just swear like a human being for once.”
“That’s just lazy vocabulary.”
“And that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”
I reached for the flashlight, but it wasn’t where I thought. My hand slapped it off the shelf and a depressing splash greeted me from below.
A sound came out of my mouth that I didn’t know I could make. My last resort was my phone. I couldn’t remember backing up the pictures since before Thanksgiving. That left at least seven months of pictures at risk. If I pulled the phone out for a flashlight, I was likely condemning it and all those photos to a watery grave.
“Isn’t the basement power panel right next to you? Just flip the breaker back on,” Fred said.
Though pointless in the dark, I glared in his general direction. “I’m soaked in water, moron. Not going to play with electricity.”
“Well what then?”
“Finish the job.”
“You can’t even see. How the hell are you going to do that?”
My numb fingers gripped my phone and I pulled it out of my pocket. I shook it twice to activate the flashlight and the tiny LED lit like a beacon of hope in the dark. A new phone was cheaper than new carpet, and the water had to be edging into the hallway by now. I moved the light around until I spotted the coiled piece of flexible pipe that would run to the new spicket. “Hand me that tube.”
Fred splashed over and grabbed the coil of blue PEX, lifting it to me. “Just for the record, this is way worse than the kitchen sink.”
“Yeah, why is it always water?” I held my phone in my teeth, maneuvering the end of the tube into place. Water sprayed in all directions as I shoved the pipe home into the gasketed connector. The business end of the tube lay submerged in the pool, reducing the sound and spray.
“Help me move the ladder,” I said, climbing down. I gasped as cold water flooded my shoes. “Holy mother of excrement, that’s cold!”
“Thanks for the update, Sherlock.”
“That’s not even how the saying goes.”
“Well you don’t like me swearing, so deal with it.”
We each grabbed an end of the ladder. I had already mounted the new spicket outside. It stuck through the wall near the ceiling on the other side of the laundry room. As we shuffled through the pool, I ran my thigh straight into something and almost fell. “Curses!”
I waved my arm next to me but couldn’t find what I hit. “I ran into something. Doesn’t matter.” I could worry about my leg later. We sloshed the last few steps and got the ladder situated. “Alright, I’ll get up, then hand me the pipe.”
“If you cut it too short, I will murder you.”
“It won’t be too short. I was going to cut it to length after.”
I climbed the ladder, making sure my grip was solid on every slippery rung.
“Ready?” Fred asked.
“One sec.” I set my phone on top of the basement foundation wall leaning against a floor beam, the little light pointing straight at the end of the spicket.
Fred lifted the tube from the pool of water and handed it to me. For a moment I felt terrified Fred was right about it being short, but it reached. It was about time something went right. I gripped the tube and eyed the end of the spicket, glowing like a bullseye in the light of my phone.
I lined the tube up and shoved it. The pressure resisted my efforts and water spewed everywhere. I pushed harder, trying to ignore the water spraying in my face. My hands slipped on the pipe.
“Fred, get up here.”
Fred cursed and climbed up the other side of the ladder. A-frame ladders are not meant to bear the weight of two large men; so say the stickers on the side. But it held, proving that all warnings are really guidelines.
“I am never helping you with a house project again. You know that right?”
“Trust me, I’m paying someone next time. All right, I just can’t beat the pressure. So grab the pipe and on three we push.”
Water gushed all over the foundation wall and drained down to join the pool.
I lined up the tube with the gasketed fitting.
Men always get stronger when they make manly noises, so I bellowed at the pipe as I strained against it. Fred roared his own challenge as water hosed us down. My frozen fingers slipped and I smashed my hand into the fitting, but the tube slid home.
“Ha!” Fred cried, raising his fists in victory. The wooden roof beams forcefully reminded him he was on a ladder in a basement. He cursed, displaying his lack of vocabulary, and climbed down from the ladder to slosh in the pool. “I can’t believe that worked.”
I wiped my glasses again and eyed the spicket fitting. “Yeah, me either actually. Know what else I can’t believe? That you broke the freaking valve handle.”
“Hey, I was just doing what you told me. And you know this is gonna make a great story.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.” I picked my phone up and aimed it at my hand where I had slammed it into the fitting. The skin was torn and blood flowed freely, mixing with the water to drip into the pool below.
Fred sniffed. “Jim, do you smell that?”
“Smells like gas.”
“Oh, come on.” I pointed my phone at the gas line. It became immediately clear that it was the cause of my throbbing thigh. I said the only thing that seemed sensible. “Well, shit.”