First, it is a hilt and sword. It grows into a lady in a hat and then a pig head on a pike. A dragon emerges. Now it is a stingray caged within the outlines of the aquarium tank surrounding it.
Its beginning falls on the two-month anniversary of our moving in. The ink is dry on the mortgage. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the ceiling.
The leak grows bigger every day. Brown stains find the joists and then the seams in the drywall. It is reaching out into the living room. I pop upstairs to tell the neighbor above me. We haven’t met yet but he lets me step into his entryway to so I can point out the suspected source near the front of the kitchen. “It’s coming from behind your dishwasher. Or maybe the line to it from the sink.” I trace the area below with my toe.
He is non-committal. “We’ve had problems like this before.”
“Yes, well, the downstairs neighbor before you. I hate telling you this.”
His dishwasher is running. He touches it but does not turn it off.
Days pass. Bug goes away to family camp for what feels like a geologic age and I only half inhabit my home. Over the holiday weekend, the good man who manages maintenance for our complex is unresponsive. Now, a week is gone. Bug and I tumble in at the end of his second day of first grade. We look up and assess. It is a giant Mr. Potato Head. One part of the leak has separated from the rest and forms a goal post near the kitchen doorway. The seams are beginning to sag.
I start brown rice in the cooker. “Grab your scooter, kiddo. We’ve got to go talk to the dude upstairs again.”
Before we can even get over the threshold, we bump into Bones. He’s the fourth-floor fellow who owns the teeny, fluffy rescue dog. He’s home from work and currently sans canine. Keys jangling, he’s picking up his mail from the boxes that live right outside our door.
“How did your dog like the treats?” He asks.
“She loves them!” He had left a bag rawhide sticks when we moved in. The note, Welcome to the neighborhood!, was signed by his pooch. “They’re just her size,” I say. “Since you’re here, I have some others for you to take to Teddy. He likes the ones dipped in chicken broth, right?”
“Yeah. I’ve spoiled him,” he says.
I run back inside as Bug scoots all around the corridor, wheels bumping along cracks in the concrete. Blonde ropes of his hair stick to the sweat on his forehead and neck. The evening is cooling down but you wouldn’t know it looking at my son’s plum cheeks. I come back out with a bag of gourmet chews I’ve been saving in order to hold up my end of the social exchange. Bones takes them and thanks me. I tell him about the ceiling leak and the hard-to-reach maintenance manager.
“Buzz him again. He’s good. He’s around a lot on weekends because he does contract work for folks around here. He’ll help you out.”
We join him on the elevator and head up to tap on the door of our upstairs neighbor. At the second knock, he pokes his head out. This time, he does not invite me in. He is youngish and skinny in a black rock and roll T-shirt. His unit is an exact replica of mine except for the fancy, swooshy track lighting and deep merlot décor.
“It’s growing,” I tell him with a grimace.
“Uh oh,” he says.
“Will you be home in the next few days? They’re going to have to come poke around to find where it’s leaking.”
He says he has a class he may or may not attend tomorrow. Otherwise, he’ll be in and around all day for the rest of the week. I’m dying to know more. What improbable income source allows for these upgrades to his condo along with entire expanses of the week at home? I swallow my questions. The guy won’t even give me his email address, telling me instead that the property manager knows how to reach him directly. “Thanks,” I give him a light smile. “I’m sure we’ll get all this figured out. Hey, have a great night.”
As we walk away, Bug suddenly remembers that one of his buddies from last year’s kindergarten class lives two floors above us, which is one floor above Mr. Rock ‘n Roll. “Can we go say hi? We haven’t even seen him yet!” He’s right. Two months in, and we haven’t made time to climb two flights of stairs.
“Oh, sure. Why not?”
Bug coasts back to the elevator. Bones is stepping out again. The big man has Teddy in tow, or at least a naked approximation of him. The little puffball has suffered a shave and a haircut. He’s about the size of my foot and leaping at the sight of Bug. My kiddo drops his scooter and plops down to the ground to coo and cuddle Teddy in his new ‘do and Petco kerchief. We chat for a few more minutes and then head up one more floor.
The sound of a squeaky violin calls to us from the end of the corridor. A smell rides alongside it, bright like ginger and hot oil. We knock and the mom whose name I finally know comes to the door. Bug peeks under her arm at his buddy who is hanging back and clutching a lego robot creation. We exchange phone numbers and emails, making plans for the boys to play together over the weekend.
“Do you go to the park?” She asks. “We’re going after dinner in a little bit. We’ll see you there?”
Bug perks up. He is gathering force for a puh-leeeze? I head him off at the pass. “If we can get down and eat quick, we’ll for sure see you there.”
When we return, the rice is done and the sausage is already warm in the steamer. Broccoli and cauliflower are chopped and ready in a flash. I send a new message to the maintenance manager and this time, he responds. We make a plan for Friday. He will have to cut a hole in the ceiling.
Bug does not waste time brokering his usual broccoli-for-sausage deal. He cleans his plate then fills the dishwasher. He even finds his own socks. We are out the door before the sun has touched the horizon. The dog pulls at her leash, straining towards the shriek and bustle of the park. Bug zooms ahead as three boys from his school leap off the jungle gym and race to the corner to meet him.