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:

Pat Cullen

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