A depressed woman must cope with a hostile plumber.
Someone had stolen the newspaper again.
Jo sighed as she turned back quickly to her front door. The cat ran out before she had a chance to shut him in. He’d be scratching at the window soon enough and she’d stop whatever she was doing to let him in. Jo loved cats but hated how they transformed their owners into servants.
It had been twenty years of loving, trusting service. And then, this. Tossed aside like a bag filled with feathers. Fifty-seven days into the most wretched time of her life.
Jo didn’t go outside much. The neighbors knew of the shameful situation:
“You were too religious.” “You had to have known about it. I sure did.” “No, it wasn’t that. It was you, Jo.”
Tired of their analyses, she decided to venture outside only if there was no other option.
It was rare that she was dressed before ten o’clock. She didn’t worry about people coming by. That had stopped. And she could fend off her clients by phone or by ignoring their knocks. As long as she had the work finished and uploaded by deadline, the Boys were sure to leave her alone.
Jo was on a first-name basis with the fast-food drivers, and she tipped well. They began to include little gifts with her orders, like buy-one-get-one-free coupons and chocolate chip cookies. The fifteen pounds she had gained gave her another excuse to stay inside. Jo used to pride herself on the fact that wherever she went, she’d see someone she knew. That was a matter of dread for her now. So she kept the shipping companies busy instead.
She walked to her bedroom and found the cell phone on her desk. Her hand stroked a book cover and felt the upraised letters of black and red. She was tempted to pick up the novel and crawl back into bed, moving from her dismal reality and into the world of murder and mystery.
But she had to get that newspaper. The article might be published today and she could not miss it. There was no telling when it would appear, so she had to look for it every day.
She punched in the phone number.
“Circulation. How may I help you?”
“Good morning. I don’t see my newspaper and I think it was stolen again.”
“What’s your address, Ma’am?”
“I’m at two-zero-seven Elizabeth Lane.”
“Checking .… Okay. I apologize, Ms. Tilson. We’ll have a paper for you before noon.”
“Could you tell the delivery guy to throw the paper on the lawn, closer to the door? He’s been tossing it on the curb. Easy to get stolen that way.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll notify the route supervisor. Thank you for calling the Daily News.”
Jo placed her phone down on her desk. She saw the bright red number and felt the twisting begin in her stomach.
Every morning, for the past two months, right around 10:30, the message would come.
Jo pressed “Delete.” She had thought about blocking the sender, but watching the message being sucked into a trashcan gave her one pleasurable moment each day.
She shoved the pile of laundry from her desk chair and onto the floor. It was a sturdy oak desk, painted a creamy white gloss, her birth date inscribed on the top right with a pearl overlay. Notes, dates, and names were scratched and written inside the drawers. From where she sat, she could see the vegetable garden failing, and the rose bush waiting for water. Yet there was still a solitary yellow rose.
She would sell the desk.
It was hard for Jo to see clearly. She pondered over the physiology of the eye and the salty taste of tears. She used her finger to make circles with the pools that formed on her desk. Then, hearts.
Last came the crosses.
Her head ached, so Jo rested.
The tapping sound finally awoke her, and she rose slowly from the desk. She looked at her clock: 11:16. She wondered how long her cat had swiped at the screen door to come in. The pills. She promised herself that today she would flush them away.
She glanced at the Bible, the ribbon marking the spot where she had last opened it, more than a month ago. From the bedroom she walked to the kitchen and grabbed the box of cat food.
“I’m coming, Stanley, you stupid cat.” She swung open the door.
A tall, skinny man wearing dark blue coveralls with Elliott Plumbing Service stitched on a pocket stood on the other side of the screen door.
Jo quickly wrapped her robe together.
“Um, Ma’am, I’m the plumber. I’m here. You’ve gotta problem, right? Two-zero-seven, right?” He looked down at his clipboard and then back up at Jo. “Joanne Tilson?” He spit to the side and then drew from a cigarette.
Jo had forgotten. Her shower drain was clogged and she couldn’t let it go any longer. She had called the service three days ago and hadn’t put the date on her scheduler.
“Sure. Yes. My shower. Sorry. I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Yeah, well, you called and they sent me out.” The plumber took another draw from his cigarette, dropped it on Jo’s welcome mat, and crushed it with his boot. “Do you want me to fix it or not?”
Jo opened the screen door and looked at the man’s face. He was unshaven and his blue eyes were trimmed with red.
He pointed to the name badge on his shirt pocket. “I’m legit. Can we get going on this?”
“Sure. This way.” Jo couldn’t decide if the plumber had been drinking or if he was just having a bad day. After he left, she would call the service and report her conclusion.
Stanley tried to squeeze his way inside the doorway. He let out a squeal as the plumber stepped on his tail.
“Sorry.” The plumber glared at the cat as he closed the door.
Jo tightened her robe and led the way.