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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Wet Leaves

Valerie Brown-Kuchera

I had just settled into a steaming bath for my weekly 15 minutes of peace. Joel had already showered and was down having his midnight snack, a ritual he must maintain so he doesn’t get too skinny. The big kids were at their dad’s, and Clementine had taken her own bubble bath and was cozy in bed. I was feeling pretty smug about the management of my evening.

That’s when the pounding and yelling started. If Joel had interrupted his midnight snack to come up and pummel the bathroom door with such ferocity, I knew he either couldn’t find the Doritos, or he was experiencing a real emergency.

I skidded out of the tub, grabbed a robe, and flung open the door. “Don’t pull the plug!” my husband shouted.

I hadn’t planned to pull the plug. I had, in the back of my mind, held out a miniscule measure of hope that I’d be able to finish the remaining 14 minutes, 30 seconds of my bath.

“I screwed up,” he said. “When I showered earlier, I slipped and fell. I sat down hard on the edge of the tub and popped a wheelie.”

“Popped a wheelie? Did you have a skateboard in here? How do you pop a wheelie in a tub?” I wasn’t trying to be smart. I really didn’t understand. Was he hurt?

“Not in the tub. With the tub! I sat down on the opposite end of the plumbing side of the tub, and the whole thing came up,” Joel said impatiently, as if I should understand the everything just perfectly when my husband barged into the bathroom, apparently to brag about slip and slide antics.

“That sounds very nice, dear. Can we discuss it after my bath? I don’t want my water to get cold,” I said with more than a touch of snark.

“No, we can’t. I thought everything was fine, because there was no water leaking up here, but now there’s water running into the library. I must have broken something under the floor when the tub popped up.”

The “library” is what we rather pretentiously call our home office. The room is our most recently renovated, and it contains floor to ceiling shelves stocked with hundreds of thrift store or hand-me-down books. I am unduly proud of the space, and it is the one room in our home that I feel is truly finished. So, the phrase, “water running into the library” was possibly the scariest thing anyone has ever uttered to me.

I rushed downstairs to find Joel’s shower water and Clementine’s bath water soaking the books, dripping down the trim, pooling on the carpets, and pouring out of the ceiling of our library in a line of soggy plaster. Many of the books on the shelves were 100 years old. They already carried a musty odor; now they were releasing their century of olfactory memories in a moldy, stale tide.

We got straight to work, un-shelving the books and fanning open the wet leaves. At first, I tried to maintain some sense of alphabetical order, but after a half-hour, I just started randomly grabbing books, trying to spread the soggy pages out. I figured they were already soaking, so my tears weren’t hurting them any more than they were already suffering. A couple scrapbooks were also damaged, and I spent the rest of the night using a hair dryer and an iron to rescue our vacation memorabilia. 

At three in the morning, we gave up. I went back up to my bath, and since the water was already in the tub, I figured I might as well use it. I rinsed off in the now-cold water, careful not to bump the drain. Later, we bucketed it out and carried it downstairs.

We had to throw a couple hundred books. That’s tantamount to sacrilege in my world. But there was just no way to salvage them. They were smeared and waterlogged and rumpled. Joel made a comment that we probably needed to cull our collection anyway. “Maybe we should cull you,” was all I said. I have forgiven him. I really have. This happened three months ago, and I am getting close to letting him shower upstairs again. I may even let him sleep up there sometime, too.


Host of Little Spouse on the Prairie, a regional comedy feature that airs Sundays at 8:35 a.m. during Weekend Edition.