She should have offered Nathan, the plumber, a cup of tea but instead she used a sharp voice and told him he had to be out of the house by midday. A solid young man, with a round pleasant face, he appeared unfazed by her tone.
‘We’ll have to see,’ he said. ‘Depends on what I find up there.’
That made her panic. When she’d flushed the toilet earlier, everything had floated to the surface and threatened to flood the bathroom. The water, with its contents, had subsided eventually, but there still might be traces. Nathan didn’t look squeamish. Perhaps plumbers were like nurses and could cope with bodily emissions.
In the garden, she sat in a deckchair on the overgrown lawn and looked at her feet. A red painted toenail emerged through a hole in her tights, like a reminder of her youth. It was funny how some parts of the ageing body stayed young, while others sagged and wrinkled. Her feet and legs were the most youthful part of her. They used to be admired and not that long ago.
Nathan came out, and looked mildly at her. He held a thermos and poured himself a tea.
‘You need a new siphon,’ he said. ‘I'll have to go and get one, then disconnect the pipes.’ He tipped three packets of sugar into his mug and spent some time stirring it in. ‘I'm likely to be here most of the day.’
‘Out of the question,’ she said. But it was hard to make her voice authoritative.
‘It's how it is,’ he said and stared up at the swifts zipping across the sky.
She wondered whether to say anything further, like – My daughter’s coming with the little ones. We can’t do without the toilet. Or, I’ve got an urgent appointment with my lawyer. None of that was true. She had no children, no appointments with lawyers anymore, and no one to see. She could have said – I was trying a different version of myself. I've been too nice, too compliant. That's why I'm here in the garden with a hole in my tights. That’s why I can’t flush everything away.
She looked down at her big toe. The varnish had nearly all flaked off, her nail needed cutting. Whatever must she look like, in her scruffy fleece, her hair all over the place? But Nathan hadn’t noticed. He leaned against the patio doors and drank his tea, his eyes still following the swifts.
‘They’ll be on their way soon,’ he said, watching them line up on the telegraph wire. ‘But they’ll be back again next year. At least, that’s certain.’ He drained his cup and screwed it back on the thermos. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll sort you out today, no problem.’
He sounded very sure.
JUDE HIGGINS has been successful in several flash fiction contests recently and is published in National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, the Fish Prize Anthology, Flash Frontier, The New Flash Fiction Review and Halo and Severine literary magazines, among other places. She runs Bath Flash Fiction Award. www.judehiggins.com / t: @judehwriter