I was a very literal child. All the best children are. The world is black and white, and there’s always a simple answer to every problem. It’s not until you grow older that you begin to understand the complexity of the world and enjoy the depression that walks hand in hand with adulthood. It’s always a good idea to remember how differently adults and children see things. I point this out because what happened was not my fault. I did as instructed and I followed everything to the letter, as the dutiful 7 year old boy that I was.
During the summer holidays, I had made big plans. I got my priorities straight and knew exactly how to spend the near endless months of free time. My sister agreed full heartedly with me and we made efforts to maintain a series of very important appointments. Pokémon episodes at 11am. We knew, no matter what we were doing, we had to drop everything and rush to the tv at that time. One of Ash’s Pokémon might evolve and we couldn’t afford to miss that! Besides, the tv show gave me an edge while playing the Pokémon gameboy game, as my trivia knowledge gradually improved. Another kid at school had gotten his Charizard to level 100 and could destroy everyone else in any match. I couldn’t allow him to stay at the top. My Blastoise was only level 80; just a little more of a push and I’d be able to match him (level 83 was when I realised life was far far too short). Obviously, I was a really cool child, but my father didn’t appreciate the show quite so much. When I spoke to him about it, he mentioned something about fixing the water pipes in the cellar. Nothing nearly as essential as the tv show.
The latest episode had just begun and my father was tinkering away in the cellar. It was gripping. We were on the edge of the sofa, enjoying every moment until it was rudely interrupted by a sudden bang from the cellar. Then, if that wasn’t enough, we heard our father scream in anger shortly afterwards. We strained to hear the show while our father, maintaining the lack of consideration, sprinted up from the cellar and then to the attic, swearing venomously with every bound. We didn’t move of course. Pokémon was on. A moment later our father runs back down, swearing after every step he jumped. His head suddenly appeared around the door frame.
“Poncho! I need you downstairs now!” he cried out, rushing off again toward the cellar.
“Do I have to?” I moaned, reluctantly wavering between the door and the tv. “Can’t April go instead?”
My father’s voice carried up from the cellar.
“Poncho, I choose you!!!”
I made my sister swear to tell me everything that happened during the episode, before I sulked off toward the cellar. As I got closer, I heard it. Rushing of water, and the scrape of plastic against concrete. There were no lights on but I saw my father’s torch flash in the darkness. In it’s dim light I walked into a miniature disaster.
Air had been trapped in the radiator pipes, causing them to creak throughout the day. My father’s plan was simple; op
en the pressure valve and release the air. It was just a brass screw protruding from a pipe on the cellar ceiling. He didn’t want to hire an expensive plumber just for this simple task. So he had gently unscrewed it, just enough to allow a tiny gap big enough for the air to escape. Unfortunately the extreme amount of pressure inside the pipe wasn’t quite as patient as he had imagined, oddly enough. The screw shot out like a bullet, whizzing over his head and smashed into the only lightbulb, plunging the cellar into darkness. The steaming water in the pipes cascaded out just as fast, scalding my father directly in the face. He searched the floor desperately for the screw but it was impossible to see in the pitch blackness. He had rushed up to the attic to switch off the water only to remember that the radiators weren’t connected.
When I arrived, I found him pressing one hand against the piping hot pipe to stop the sludge like water escaping, while he reached out for a bucket. The water was too hot to block with his hands for long and there was far too much for one bucket to collect. The cellar was slowly flooding. I searched in vain for the screw while my father scooped as much water as he could, panicking throughout it all. He thrust the already full bucket into my arms.
“Quick Poncho! Bin it!” he cried at me, snatching the torch to hunt for the screw.
“Bin it?” I asked.
“Bin it Poncho! Bin it! Bin it!”
“…you want me to bin the water?”
“I need the bucket again before the cellar floods! Get rid of that water! Bin it, quick!”
Perhaps an adult would have chosen to pour the sludge down the bathtub plug, or maybe even outside in the garden. But I was a literal child. Which is why I poured everything into the kitchen bin, watching the viscous black water soak into all the rubbish lying in there. I returned quickly with the empty bucket and we repeated the process.
He would collect the water in the bucket while I searched, until eventually it filled up. I then carried it upstairs to the kitchen and poured it into the bin. I did wonder why I had been instructed to do that; even at that age it felt somewhat unusual. But I managed to convince myself that it was probably because we needed to store it somehow. We’d need to refill the pipes later on after all. So when water started spilling over the top of the bin, I knew we needed a new container.
“The bin’s full dad” I reported
“The bin’s full” I repeated.
He squinted at me in the darkness.
“Just, take the water away!”
Relying on my own ingenuity instead, I roamed about the house for suitable containers. I filled the bathtub. I filled both the bathroom and kitchen sink. I filled the plastic crates we had lying in the garden. I was on the verge of filling the kitchen bowls and saucers when the water finally ran dry.
My mother came home later in the evening and took my place helping my father search the cellar. Despite my bucket trips, the water was shin deep, making it impossible to see the screw. They could only feel for it. Pokémon had ended hours ago and April barely gave me a detailed account of what happened. She couldn’t remember everything, she said. These 5 year olds are just so unreliable for handling simple instructions.
That night my parents emerged from the cellar defeated. My father’s face and hands were still lobster pink from the scalding water, and both of them had black sludge stains across their clothes. My father moaned over how much a plumber would charge for the screw; a tiny component that couldn’t be bought from a shop. It was too unique to our ancient house for it to be readily available anywhere. He walked into the kitchen and saw all the water waiting for him. He slowly checked the sink. The bowls, the crates. The bathtub.
“…You poured the water here?” he asked in disbelief.
“Well, yes. But I poured it into the bin first. Just like you asked”
He lifted the lid and water splashed onto the floor. We all stood in silence as his complete confusion started to develop into bewildered rage. He looked as though he were on the brink of exploding when my mother abruptly cut his fuse, by dipping her hand suddenly into the bin-pool. From just below the surface, resting atop the half floating rubbish, she found the unique brass screw. The one that we’d all been hunting for all day long.
My parents were too relieved to speak to me about the water I had collected for them. After all, in doing so I had saved the screw from being tossed out. Nobody puts as much stock in literal thinking as they obviously should.