by Jan Wiezorek
Pounding awakened John at eight on Saturday morning, and he opened the hallway door to see the janitor with his thick waist barge right in.
“Gotta look at your bathroom.”
“Oh,” John said. “Good morning.” His bald head felt greasy and his mouth still tasted of salt from the anchovies on Friday night’s pizza.
Janitor Kilroy walked the twelve steps to the bathroom. The weight of his carriage caused the tea tray to rattle, and the force of his steps settled the china in the kitchen cupboards. He surveyed the curtain and wall, pounded a bit with his pronounced fist, and waddled up and down along the porcelain and white tile. His quick nods brought forth a growth of gray hair from the back of his neck.
Yeah, that wall’s got to come down,” Kilroy said.
“Come down?” John asked.
“Oh, yeah, today.”
“Nothing,” Kilroy said. “It’s the lady up above. Yeah, that wall will need to be taken down right away.”
Come down, John thought. His stomach growled and gnawed at him. What will happen to his blue-striped wallpaper and spotless tile? He wrapped his arms across his belly and dropped his head, attempting to breathe deep. His eyelids felt heavy. For a few seconds he imagined rushing, warm water falling on his head, neck, and shoulders. It was John’s relaxation technique when the pressures of the world mounted. Today, it didn’t work.
Kilroy left and pulled in a narrow, red metal cart from the outside hall. It held assorted tools for destroying walls and exposing whatever problems festered behind them. On the flattop cart was a pry bar, hammer, handsaw, rubber mallet, utility knife, and other tools that John didn’t know how to use.
Once the pounding began, John couldn’t stomach looking at the wall. He wanted to take an aspirin, but the bottle was inside the mirrored bathroom medicine chest. He would have to wait.
It took about thirty minutes to pull the wall down, and when the work was finished and the pounding had stopped, John asked Kilroy what he had found.
“It’s not you,” Kilroy said. “It’s the lady up above. She’s got leaking water.”
Oh, John thought. That explained it.
He was relieved he hadn’t caused a problem, but now he realized he had one of his own. John surmised the water from the apartment above was leaking somewhere. It must be trickling down his wall, presumably, and collecting—somewhere.
“Don’t see anything wrong here,” Kilroy said. “We’ll need to keep this open until we find that leaking water.”
Thrown tools scraped the metal cart top, a line of grease crossed John’s shale floor tiles, and Kilroy left, slamming the hallway door shut.
John entered the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, and chewed three aspirin. Bitter, bitterer, bitterest. He pulled back the white curtain and found the wall by the tub had been exposed. There were pipes and tubing inside. It was a healthy mess, he thought.
His metal rings sang as they slid against the shower rod. The white curtain opened to reveal that the back wall—the one against the outer length of the tub—had been pulled down, too, exposing his entire bath to the public hallway.
John fidgeted with his arms and smoothed his waist as his head dropped and his breathing attempted to regulate itself.
It was not his fault, he said aloud. It was the apartment above that needed some plumbing done. The water itself wasn’t a problem for him, but it was a devil of a fix for someone, somewhere. Still, his wall was taken down. (He had before-and-after pictures to prove it.)
John worried a bit, fearing that since the wall faced the corridor, he would need to shower in an exposed manner. It occurred to him that it made little sense to have only one shower curtain running along the length of the tub when the other side of the porcelain would be open to the hallway’s comings and goings.
It was looking like he could use another shower curtain for certain, if only to shield himself from the neighbors. He realized it may be difficult to hang a second curtain, as there would be no wall to support a rod. How disconcerting.
With the vision of an architect, he understood he could rig a curtain by stapling lengths of yarn to the drywall above and attaching each hanging piece to a matching hole in the curtain. That solution would enable him to shower with a modicum of privacy, but in his mind’s eye he could see his nosy neighbors lining up in the hallway to watch him perform his daily toilet, with his arms, legs, and torso casting their own improper shadows against the new curtain that faced the hall.
John took his arms and folded them across his chest. He dropped his head and tried to relax.
For a moment he thought he understood how neighbors might react to hallway showering. When they left their apartments to enter the stairs, wait for the elevator, or dump the trash, they may be tempted to let their hands wander, reach into his shower around the hallway curtain—assuming one could be rigged as he imagined—and tweak his bum or flick his nose.
And it would be a two-way street after all. If a neighbor needed shampoo or conditioner, John could reach around the curtain and offer it. Convenient, maybe, but upsetting, nonetheless. At whose expense? John asked himself.
He raised his heavy head back and let out a gurgling laugh. Laughter would keep him healthy and sane through this ordeal, he thought.
John surmised the management office would continue to send him threatening notices. One of them might read as follows:
Please be advised that owing to your spillage of water from the shower onto the hall carpet, you will be assessed $100 (one-hundred dollars) each time said water appears.
He had received evil communiqués from the higher-ups in the office before. Once he stated an opinion and was threatened with expulsion. He expected similar missives this time. Not only did he have neighbors with whom to contend but also Miss Shasta Stevens, manager, and her minions to fight off. Would it come to hand-to-hand combat with luffa sponges and soap bars?
After John had attached the yarn and rigged his hallway curtain just so, it was time for his bath. He disrobed, entered the shower, and closed both curtains as tight as he could, one on his left, the other on his right. To their credit, no neighbors interfered with his lavatory. Light shined upon him from the hall, and he was surprised how bright a showering experience could be.
One morning as he stepped into the tub for a shower, he found little gifts from passersby: a new Dove beauty bar in its box, scented body gel that made his skin itch, green dandruff shampoo, and a tube of bronzer. The latter was for after-shower use, he assumed.
Kai, the Japanese man across the hall, with the cleanliness, efficiency, and management acumen of one from his cultural heritage, suggested the two of them run the hallway shower as a profitable enterprise. After a hard day’s work, the shower, with plenty of hot steam, would relax those on the floor who cared to use it. And for a small fee Kai was prepared to set up a massage table behind a threefold screen near his own door in the hall. The two could enhance their income in the hallway and, as Kai said, turn lemons into lemonade.
Since John always listened to the last person with whom he spoke, he thought well of the hallway-showering venture and devised a marketing plan to promote it: three showers a week, with massage, for the price of two.
When Kilroy spoke with John a few days later, he was visibly upset. “John, we still can’t find where in hell that water is coming from.”
“Take your time,” John said. “I’ll manage.” John and Kai had a chuckle behind the threefold screen.
“What’s this screen for?” Kilroy asked.
“Oh,” John said, “Kai’s moving a few things. He’ll have it out of your way soon.”
Kilroy nodded and turfs of gray hair sprouted out from his blue shirt collar. “Make sure he does before Miss Shasta hears about it.”
The service elevator opened and Miss Shasta stepped out onto the floor only a few feet from John, Kai, Kilroy, the threefold screen, massage table, and hallway shower. She wore a puffed-up beehive hairdo, a voluptuous beige sweater that accentuated her busty figure, and a bossy disposition.
“What is the meaning of this?” she asked.
“Kai was adjusting a few things in his apartment,” John said. “He’ll have them back in a minute.”
“I should say he will,” Miss Shasta said. She wandered over to the hallway shower and noticed it was occupied. “Yes, well, I imagine we’ll be able to finish your wall soon and give you some privacy again,” she added. Her eyes wandered along the white curtain. There was a man in the shower, and his profile looked muscular.
“John,” she said, “it appears your shower is otherwise engaged.” Her mouth curled up along the outside, and her lips pulled together tight to form a red kisser.
“Yes, well, Mr. Coleridge in Unit A knew my shower had extra steam, so I allowed him to try it out.”
“I thought as much,” she said. “Fine-figured Mr. Coleridge.” Her eyes lingered again, and then she inspected the water droplets on the hallway carpet. “As you have been forewarned, I find it necessary to bill you for destroying our carpet.”
“Really, Miss Shasta,” John said, “it would be helpful if you could bypass this infraction, which is hardly my—”
“Yes, John, I will give you a reprieve this once, but I insist that this never happen again. Good day.”
“Good day, Miss Shasta.” John, Kai, and Kilroy spoke the farewell in unison. Athletic Mr. Coleridge sounded off as well while toweling himself dry. Miss Shasta left on the service elevator. Mr. Coleridge gave John a twenty-dollar bill for using the shower and readied himself for a massage by mounting the table. Kilroy was inspecting the wall again.
Mr. Coleridge offered Kai another twenty. Before the threefold screen could be placed for privacy, the service elevator opened, and Miss Shasta reappeared for an encore.
“What is the meaning of this?” she asked again, scolding John, Kai, Kilroy, and Mr. Coleridge. “Soliciting in a public corridor, Section V, Paragraph Seven,” she said. John saw her view the money, and the men all bowed their heads. John felt like a schoolboy who was found running in the hall and needed swift disciplinary action.
“The fine is one-hundred dollars each, gentlemen,” Miss Shasta said. John saw her eyes dart to Kai, Mr. Coleridge, and him. They circled back to include Kilroy, and then spread out again to target Kai, Mr. Coleridge, and him once more. Miss Shasta saw shame in every cornea.
Mr. Coleridge spoke up. “Pardon me, Miss Shasta, but these men have assisted me today. I was sore and tired, and they lifted my spirits, soothed my soul with their healing, and made a new man out of me,” he said. “I wanted to thank them for providing hallway showering with a small token of gratitude. There was no solicitation. Only kind thanks for their neighborliness.”
“I see,” Miss Shasta said. “Made a new man out of you. Interesting.” She smoothed her thighs and puckered. “Mr. Coleridge, based on your recommendation, I wonder if I might try hallway showering.”
“Of course,” Mr. Coleridge said. He took Miss Shasta’s hand and walked her over to the white curtain.