‘I hope you can fix it’
That woman wouldn’t give him a moment’s rest. Sweat ran down his fingers. He could taste the
garlic on his breath. Christ, he didn’t want to talk to a beauty when he felt half a beast.
‘I’ll do my best.’
He heard her walk away and he breathed a sigh of relief. It had been near the end of the day when Marcin got the call. His back had ached, and he had been washing the grime off his fingers. The phone had rung. The voice would not take no for an answer. Could it not wait until tomorrow? No? You want me right there right now? You want me to drop my evening just so I can handle that water heater? Sure, why not. What else could a plumber in Krakow have to do on a Friday night.
If it was a man, he would have told them what to do with themselves. But, well, women were a different sort. Even listening to that voice sent a thrill through his synapses. It lit him afire. He hoped she hadn’t heard the rasp in his voice. Truth be told, the only women he knew were his wife and his sisters. He hadn’t been able to think. Had no chance for reason. Sure as hell wasn’t thinking of her as a sister. And all he could smell was that subtle scent of perfumed air. While he still fumbled, this woman struck. She offered him a large amount. So large as to be stupid. He had no choice but to say yes. And he had packed his stuff with a sigh.
Right now, his back ached. His knees trembled. The tiles pulsed red, the bath as white as milk. He couldn’t kneel. It would look savage. Couldn’t touch the bath. What if she wanted to shake hands? His calves ached from the stress. It was difficult to take apart a water heater. Lots of parts that crunched. Gushing water that stank. His callused fingers reeked of grease, but it helped to block out the scent of the woman. He paused. What was that…something had glinted in the depths of the machine. A star in a coal mine. He pulled it out. The cylinder was scratched as if by nails. His eyes ached as the silver clashed with the colour of the walls. He had to get out of here. He could taste the copper in the air, and the salt on his tongue. He put it in his pocket without thinking and packed up his equipment.
If god willing, he would have a drink when he went home. Boil some pierogi, open a can of peas, and throw it all together with some soy sauce and vinegar. First, he had to get the money off the woman, and his mouth dried at the thought. He walked through the hallway. The pain in his calves leached through his body as he stood. The floors were clean. The wardrobes spotless. A child’s box lay in the corner. It was green with a purple petal on its cover. It had been opened. He saw an old coin, a beaten book and a bent spoon. He entered the studio apartment and he noticed a couch. A bed. A table, and little else. The ceiling was in the shape of a square that had been spun on its axis. His feet felt unsteady, rolling with the very movement of this world.
The woman’s back faced him and he licked his lips at her shape. Her shirt left the centre of her back to touch the curve of her buttock. Her hair gushed like ink on her shoulders. She turned. Motes of silver burned in her hair. The outside light turned the whole room red.
‘Have you finished?’
He felt awkward. Uncomfortable under those cool dark eyes. His eyes were drawn to her lips, her hips and her cleavage glinting in the light. It was as if he were the gardener suddenly called into the tea‐room. Should he sit on the floor to eat with his hands?
‘Nice place you got here. Tidy.’
‘I wouldn’t live here. Someone else did’, she replied.
‘Oh. Good. Well then…who was that?’
She leaned against the windowsill and he kept his eyes on her face, ‘Immigrants from another place. A gas leak killed them. Accidental. The minister told us so.’
I wasn’t saying he hadn’t.
The woman’s disapproval flavoured the air. He could smell his sweat. The blue of his overalls had never looked so faded in this room. Christ, he had been married. He should be able to talk with one woman. He didn’t want to leave a bad impression.
‘You know, I found some strange scratches on the machine. I can check them out for you? I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been doing this for years. And, you know, some of these government folks can be wrong.’
She paused, ‘Really?’
‘Here, why don’t I show you?’
He held it up and it blazed like a bloody sun.
‘That’s strange. Why don’t you leave it here and I can check with the minster?’
‘Don’t bother. I can check myself. I’ve been at this for years. Won’t miss a thing.’
‘Really’, the piercing on her tongue glowed green as she licked her lips, ‘…What did you say your name was?’
‘Well, Marcin. I thank for offering your help.’
She blinked her lashes and he could feel their softness from where he stood.
‘Okay. That’s fine.’
He found himself short of breath. Flushed as if in fever. Blood pounding all around his body as the light flushed her skin.
‘No, it’s not fine. Not many other men would have been as gallant as you. So brave, so strong, so fearless to go against the long arm of the law. Marcin, you are a ripe apple that falls from the sky.’
‘Eh, well, maybe.’
‘A man of few words. I see. I wonder….’
‘You wonder what?’
The shadow of her opening legs ripped wounds in the floor.
‘Whether there is another way to pay you.’