The sump pump
The 6 a.m. alarm rings on this grey, summer morning. She awakens slowly and looks around the bedroom — the bedroom she occupied as a child. She looks at the cheap, pink paint with its sooty patches, the threadbare linoleum and the dusty curtains that have framed the window for decades. Very little has been replaced in this house since she was young. Very little could ever afford to be replaced.
She listens to the rain beating against the window, that infernal, incessant rain, listens in terror, this single woman alone in her bedroom on this grey, summer morning. Nausea, the gutwrenching nausea that comes only from intense fear rises like bile in her throat.
She listens, not for the sound of an intruder, but for the comforting whir of the sump pump, the wonder machine that pumps the water from the basement of her run-down home, the miracle contraption that will protect the oil furnace which is in use only from November to March.
She bought the furnace on the instalment plan four years ago and made the last payment in April. She hears nothing. Her fear intensifies and her body becomes rigid. Her hand is white and shaking as it clutches the knob of her bedroom door.
Finally, she hears the familiar rumble and to her it is the sweetest sound in the world. She walks quickly through the kitchen and into the basement — just to check, just to be sure. She throws the light switch to reveal the earthen floor. The smell of mildew assails her nostrils and the rain continues to beat against the plywood window coverings. The glass disappeared a long time ago. It is dank in there, always is, but there is little water. The furnace is safe — for now. She breathes a sigh of relief and mouths a thank you skyward.
She knows that for most people a sump pump burn out would simply mean a call to a plumber and the house insurance would probably cover the cost of replacement. But house insurance is a luxury neither she nor her family could ever afford.
She knows the pump is almost two years old and it cannot last much longer but she pushes these negative thoughts from her mind. She does not want to think it will cost close to $300 to replace, more than that now, probably. It is money she doesn’t have. Her welfare cheque and the income from a minimum wage job with few hours will just not cover it.
She is a 61-year-old spinster and she knows she is not alone. She is among the most derided and least vocal of rejects — a single woman with no savings and no pension. She is too old for a well-paying job and too young for the “high-end” old-age security.
She goes back into her kitchen — her kitchen of poverty. The stove has one workable burner now and the lino is yellowing and spotty. She makes a quick breakfast of bread and tea. When the welfare comes, she may buy a few luxuries like cereal and orange juice. But for now, bread and tea will have to do.
As she relaxes with her meagre breakfast, she ponders on the sense of duty that brought her to this place and the strange love of it that makes her stay.
Later, she will run down its rain-slick steps for her one-hour slog to work. She has been promised six hours this week. The pump continues noisily. Life is good. She is lucky.
— Pat Cullen is a freelance writer living in Carbonear. She can be reached by email at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org.