Alice’s last dream was of oceans. Turning and flowing eternally beneath her, she flew with outstretched arms over the furrowed waves until they blurred together as one blue grey stipple under an eternal blue sky. After ten years, twenty, a millennium, she arched downwards and pummelled deep, past fish and whales and coral and seabed, down, down, floating into darkness until nothing. The air smelled of salt as she woke blinking into waterless darkness.
She stared at where the ceiling was for a full minute before begrudgingly swinging her legs out of bed. The sight of water always made her want to pee. Swimming had always been problematic, the number of lengths and number of bathroom trips falling neatly into a symmetrically regular rhythm. Staggering to the ensuite, feeling for familiar clues so as not to give in to her eyes’ demands, she held her head in her hands while her body received its release and showed its relief accordingly. The flush almost made the relief completely disappear, though. How ridiculous, she thought. How bloody ridiculous.
Now thirst replaced pressure, her throat still reeling from the freely available, albeit salty, gallons of liquid waiting for her in her unconsciousness. The ensuite’s taps had never managed to provide the kind of chilled liquid that she so craved now. The best they could manage was a slightly off-copper version that didn’t look enticing even at three in the morning. The fridge downstairs was only a few months old, a crazy spontaneous purchase that came with the salesman’s number. The fridge had proved to be the more reliable acquisition. It had a built-in space in the door where the introduction of a cup wold magically produce the sweetest, coldest water humankind is capable of imagining. At least, that’s how it felt right then. Unable to fight this image hanging in her mind, Alice allowed her feet to follow their familiar path down familiar stairs and right into the kitchen.
Moonlight was drifting through lazy curtains, allowing her to avoid the obstacles in her path. Alice wasn’t an unclean person, she was just untidy. The battle between personal pursuits and immediate house responsibilities had never been a difficult one and she could often be found nestled deep in her couch, book or movie or phone or laptop in hand, while the evening’s dishes quickly joined the modest collection by the sink. Using the natural light as her guide, she slipped her last clean glass out of the cupboard and under the tiny red dot of light that showed her the path to satisfaction. The water sprayed out abruptly and Alice did her absolute best to ignore the immediate reaction from her bladder. How ridiculous. Filling the glass almost to the top, she heaved the liquid back with so much force that she had to gasp for air at the end. God, it felt good though. Who cares that she’d need to pee again in a hour. Totally worth it.
Leaning against the counter, glass in hand, she allowed her gaze to take in the room at such a quiet hour. The moon was highlighting the edges of everything. It looked so beautiful. The fridge made a quiet gushing noise, low and steady, probably replacing the taken liquid. Her house was her castle. Bought at the end of a particularly messy breakup with her childhood love, it was her ultimate retreat and declaration of independence. Lucky to have a job that paid enough to have extra, she set out filling it with things. Comfort in design, a chair for every occasion. It wasn’t a new house but certainly not too old, give or take the odd touch of paint or occasional need for basic tools. She had her home, paid her bills and watched whatever she wanted on the TV. The fridge refilled again, reminding her of her initial greedy thirst. Sinking another glassful, she rubbed her eyes filled with persuasive sleep and allowed her feet to make the move back to bed.
The floor was wet.
She stared down in bemused darkness and gently raised and lowered her foot. Squelch. Squelch. Ah, shit. The damn fridge, still playing its tune of refill and renewal, was finally revealing its stupidity. Where the hell was she going to get a plumber at 3am? Or rather, how much was it going to cost her? That’ll cut into her contingency, but that’s what its for. Better than buying a house worth of new carpets. Damn.
Slopping over to the light switch, wondering absently how she had managed to not notice it underfoot on her way in, she flicked on the light to survey the damage. The blast of rude white forced her to twist up her face and gave her a moment to berate her stupidity at not first checking the light switch for water. Slowly, the room came into focus, white turning to blue turning to yellow until she was able to take in the view with disbelieving eyes. There was water everywhere. Gushing flowing, streaming, from somewhere.
Now panic was starting to replace her initial annoyance and she immediately got on her knees to see which side of the fridge was leaking. Not the left, under the tap. Hmm. She could still hear the refilling noise of constant, increasing flow. Must be stuck. Shitshitshit. So it’s the right then, except it wasn’t. The middle? No. Confused now, she placed fingertips behind the fridge and pulled as hard as she could. The two inches of movement didn’t reveal a source either. But she could hear it. She looked down to see the current, now somehow larger, starting to make inroads over her toes. What? Already? Following the reverse of the flow, she traced a path up to the fridge then past, round the corner, new panic building over old at the realisiation that the hall carpet was a stream. Back, back, round past the washing machine and bathroom, past and on and worse now, even ankles feeling effects, sloshing and breathing hard, now up to the trapdoor down to the basement and the oak panel is almost bobbling with escaping water and it springs up with grateful motion as she releases the catch and she looks down at the swimming pool that was once her basement. Padded, carpeted downward stairs obscured by endless upwards insistence of gallons and gallons of liquid.
Alice really needed to pee.
The first thing was to shut off the mains. But where where the mains? Kitchen sink, had to be. Running as fast as she could back into her sodden kitchen, she slammed open the cupboards and threw out the collection of old recycling, cleaning apparatus and various plastic bags, all then taken away by the current beneath. Reaching around in the half-light, she found a cold flat handle patiently waiting for an emergency. Not stopping to confirm her actions, she pulled it as hard as she could, biting the edges of the metal together, hoping to hear the gush relax and fade and stop.
Nothing happened. She waited then crawled then ran back to the basement door, hoping to see a change, a reduction, but if anything, it was increasing in its severity. Staring with unacceptance, almost panting with confusion, she was no longer worried about the cost of late-night repairs. But where was all this actually coming from? Maybe a leak from outside? It was possible a fire hydrant hat been hit and was emptying its load from the ground up, but even then, this was a lot of water. Even in the thirty seconds that she was standing there, the dark liquid was noticeably creeping up her shins.
Walking – wading – back to the front room, she moved to the phone but didn’t clear the table leg and crashed down like a shot soldier. For a second it was as her dream, except freedom was replaced by heavy water and the murk quickly removed the light. Spluttering and splashing upwards, all swimming pool elegance gone, her clothes saturated and hair tangled, her brain tried to process a new, rising action: OUT. Maybe the phone call could wait. Heaving back up and slopping left to her front door, her cold hands fiddled with the lock – always a little sticky, never quite immediately doing what it was told by fingers or keys – but the door remained resolute in its absolute closure. Finally the lock shifted begrudgingly against its own internal mechanism with an inviting click. Slamming the deadbolt out of its position, she twisted the handle down and pulled.
The water was high, now, somehow as high as her knees, so she supposed in her nighttime logic that the pressure was forcing the door closed. That can happen, right? She stood straight, angled her body against the swing of the door, turned and pulled. Submerged feet pushed hard into sodden carpet, but there was no give at all. Alice double checked the locks – Yale opened, deadbolt gone, chain hanging as it always did against the frame. Twist, pull. Nothing. Nothing, again. Not even a tiny physical recognition of her efforts.
Alice stood and stared. The cold water lapped the backs of her knees as it swirled around her legs before hitting the door like a fist and running sideways to find a new home. She reached and tried the handle again, frigid muscles apathetic with the effort.
The door would not open.