Every old house seems to have one room that doesn’t work quite right. You know what I mean. That room where the walls aren’t quite straight and the ceiling sags. No picture looks straight, no matter how many different angles you try it at. Windows that are almost impossible to open and close but suddenly let loose and slam shut in the middle of the night. Doors that mysteriously open and close before your very eyes. Rooms where a pencil dropped in one corner will slowly roll across the floor and end up on the opposite side of the room. We’ve all witnessed this, if not in our own home, certainly in some elderly relative’s home. We have all walked away from somewhere saying “That house is haunted.”
I have observed my bathroom here in Florence since October and I’m pretty sure my bathroom is haunted. For those who started reading this blog from the beginning you will be familiar with my first night alone in the apartment. For unknown reasons the toilet wouldn’t stop running and the tank is mounted 9 or 10 feet off the floor. We have been jiggling the handle to stop the water ever since.
It would have moments where it would work right, never for more than one or two flushes. Nothing we could point to and say it was getting better, or that it fixed itself. Suddenly about a month ago it started to work correctly, no more water running endlessly through the bowl. I have been raised by my very German father to question everything. So naturally I wanted to know why it suddenly started working. Not from mere curiosity, mind you, but with the idea that I could actually fix the darn thing if I could just figure out what made it work now.
I probably shouldn’t have asked the question out loud. Leif looked at me, puzzled by my curiosity. He didn’t have to say a word, I could read it all in his face…”It works, don’t mess with it. Who cares why, just enjoy the moment while it lasts!” I flushed again, watching the water swirl around the bowl with my hands on my hips, daring it to work right again. Which it did. He just watched me. Apparently Swedes aren’t as curious as Germans when it comes to understanding the way things work. I tend to work through problems out loud and he wasn’t used to that yet, so as I ran through a ridiculous list of possibilities he walked to the door, said “Maybe it’s the humidity,” and left the room.
Well, that stunned me into silence for a moment. I had no snappy come back for that one, because anything I said could probably be taken as argumentative. But really, humidity? Come on…I think the very essence of the inside of the toilet tank is it’s absolute, 100% humidity. In fact, without the water it ceases to function as a toilet. But I didn’t have a better answer. And it kept working, so I stopped questioning. Well, I didn’t question out loud anymore.
We were gone for 10 days at the end of June, and when we came back, exhausted from our Midsommer festivities, one of the first rooms I visited was the bathroom. Unpacking, you know. And there, behind the door, just sitting there not moving, was a lizard. Not the cute little salamanders we are used to in Minnesota, not even the slightly larger lizards that are everywhere here in Florence. It was a big blob of lizard-shaped blackness on the light colored floor. OK, not Gila Monster sized, but big enough at the end of a travel day for me to jump several feet off the floor, run into the bedroom and tell Leif, who was still in the bathroom brushing his teeth that there was a big lizard behind him and could he please do something about it? Yeah, I know, pretty chicken move on my part, but it surprised me. So first he calls down the hallway to me that it’s dead (not a pleasant thought, but at least it couldn’t run away), then he says “Oh, no, it’s not dead,” all casual-like. I think he’s got the thing under control and then I hear, “Hmmm…it’s gone, but I don’t know where.” That’s an answer that had me entering the bathroom very carefully for the next few weeks.
Oddly enough, when we lost the lizard the drains stopped working correctly. Every drain, not just the bathroom sink or the bathtub, but also the kitchen sinks. Even the washing machine had problems with the drains. Every drop of water we put into any of these places backed up into the tub. Smelly brown water with pieces of I don’t know what suspended in it would slowly rise in the tub, and then drain back out even slower leaving an odd odor in the bathroom and a yucky layer of debris on the tub. In true apartment dweller fashion we stuck a coat hanger as far down the bathtub drain as we could to unclog it and came up with nothing. But, hey, at least we tried.
We decided to wait out the drains, see if the problem corrected itself. Yeah, I know, these things never fix themselves, but we are optimists and just smiled as we took our showers and washed our dishes in the bare minimum of water needed to get mostly clean. I couldn’t buy drain cleaner on my own, because I just don’t have the Italian required for reading the labels of possibly hazardous liquids to know which one will eat the clog but not the pipes in our 80 year old apartment building.
All was going well till Leif told me one day last week that his friend Peter was coming to Florence for a visit and would be staying with us. It’s one thing for us to put up with the plumbing eccentricities of our apartment, but we just couldn’t ask a slightly futzy visitor to accept standing in calf deep water during showers. At least, I thought we couldn’t, but he is Leif’s friend, not mine, and he thought it would be fine. I spent the day before he came mentally preparing a "care and feeding of the bathroom" speech that would inform without disgusting him. I never got the chance to deliver this speech, luckily.
Peter arrived in Florence just in time for the first big heat wave of the summer. 90 to 100 degrees every day and the humidity was probably just as high. He took four or five showers a day, and after the first couple of showers I started to wonder if the drains would work fast enough to empty the tub for his next shower. Imagine my surprise when I checked the tub and it drained fine. What the…? How is it possible that for three weeks it would take almost an hour to drain the tub after a shower and now it swirled out as quickly as it came out of the shower head? It even made that nifty whirlpool at the drain and that satisfying sucking sound that means water is moving quickly. Every sink drained the way it was supposed to. I have no explanation for this, except that possibly the missing lizard finally decomposed to the point where it became dislodged and has, in fact, left the building. Hallelujah!
I’m sure you think this is the end of the story and all is well with the bathroom. Ha! I told you at the beginning that this room is bewitched. Peter left on Thursday afternoon. That night I used the bathroom and pushed the little button that flushes the toilet. After the rush of water in the bowl subsided, I started to walk away. I had to turn back though, because I heard that sound I hadn’t heard in over a month…the sound of water gently flowing into the bowl long after it should have stopped. As we say in Minnesota, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.