Short Stories

photograph by Jacqui Morley

The Psychic Plumber

Plumbing…It’s like the circulation in a human body. Mysterious pathways of piping, hidden from view, carry the fluids of life, warmth and energy.

I’ve often thought about doing one of those three-day plumbing courses designed for the layman. Not only would it save me a ton of money – I’d be empowered. Washer on the kitchen tap gone? Not a problem – I’d handle the job in ten minutes flat.

But I haven’t got around to doing that course yet.

Two weeks ago – while staying at my father’s house – I’d pulled the loo handle too hard and the loo wouldn’t flush any more. I took the top off the cistern, fiddled around and thought I’d managed to mend the mechanism.

But I was mistaken. The outside overflow pipe swung into action, gushing a Niagara of water. My ageing father, still master of the acerbic put-down, snarled at me: “You’re a banker, not a plumber!”

This morning, back in my own house, I am facing plumbing issues – once again. My wife has gone to see the doctor to discuss another round of IVF treatment, informing me that she’ll be fine on her own and that the best contribution I can make to marital harmony is to get the heating fixed. So I’m sitting at the kitchen table in Putney, catching up on emails and ringing my office in the City. I can hear the plumber walk from room to room overhead, doing mysterious things. The central heating pipes gurgle and burp as though the house had irritable bowel syndrome.

The plumber entered the house an hour ago, depositing the standard plumber’s bag of tricks on the kitchen table. This struck me as a slight liberty; surely plumbers usually place their bag on the floor?

Trying to cover up my low self-esteem on the plumbing front, I mustered as much nonchalance as I could: “I’ve tried bleeding the radiators. No dice. But I’m sure you’ll sort it in no time.”

The plumber’s gaze had settled on a point six inches above my head. This was unnerving.

Round the Table

I’ve been part of this family for over a hundred years.

Roberto’s parents bought me from an Italian joiner. I’m made from olive wood. I’m pretty hard wearing and I enjoy my life as the repository for the stuff of family life. Meals – lots of them. Sunday papers, catalogues, tablets and card games. Babies have been propped up in their baby seats on top of me. Robert and Claire have flung cushions on top of me and had wild kitchen table sex. That was before children came along. And I was a passive partner in their passion. I’m Italian. I understand these things.

And I understand families. Well – I understand Italian families. Roberto’s parents used to have a rich and full family life with laughter, tears and arguments at the meal table that lasted for hours. And then Roberto married an Englishwoman, Claire, and came to live in England. Why is it that the English regard full-blooded arguments as a bad sign? To us Italians, they are an expression of the life-force of a family. Remember that scene in Fellini’s Amarcord? The family at supper? The mother and father are screaming their heads off at each other, but round the table, the rest of the family sit spooning food into their mouths, completely at peace, enjoying their food. The verbal fireworks are clearly a routine event. No-one blinks an eyelid.

So here I am in Wandsworth, gateway to middle-class England. The two kids who used to cover me with Play Dough and finger paints are growing up. Matthew plays on a hand-held Nintendo while waiting for his supper; Natalie is uploading pictures onto Instagram while listening to Justin Bieber. Claire juggles Shepherd’s pie and a Face Time conversation with her best friend, her iPad propped up between the cooking Range and the sink.

lavender bouquet