The bathroom in the new house is leaking, is a waterfall which breaches the kitchen ceiling, green plaster falling in tectonic pieces on the stove. When she goes to the gas station, she wants to tell the mechanic her story, how she is going to take a bath at her friend’s house. She can’t help imagining the bathroom of everyone she meets—the mechanic, Fred, is his bathroom white? Pale blue? The yellow of old tile? Does it have a furry cover on the toilet, a stain in the shower that never goes away, a cracked empty glass on the window sill? When Fred looks in the mirror, does it reflect his true face as she is afraid hers does, a face furious with household repair, sleepless because of the wire-chewing squirrel racketing in the walls?
The gas gurgles into her car and Fred watches imperturbably from the station window.
At home there is a hole in her bathroom floor where the lead pipe, exposed, black and grainy, scaled with deposits of dust and water, coils away from the bathtub toward the wall. The hole is a wound sucking the life of the house, a lair where anything might live, coming out at night. Is Fred’s bathroom like this?
She dreams of water at night, translucent and sloshing like beer in a glass—it runs through her house splashing from stair to stair, filling the halls, making the rooms into pools. Are there no female plumbers? Do they all poke at the pipes in a superior way? Point out how it’s not done this way, hasn’t been done this way for years?
Fred, she wants to say, why shouldn’t you come and stand in my bathroom and look at the hole in my floor? She has been standing in her bathroom with other strange men, among towels that have been rubbed against her skin, in this room where she is most often naked. After each encounter, she wishes she hadn’t given up smoking.
Fred, she says silently, don’t you have a wrench or a coiled and flexible snake? Can’t we together take on the intractable nuts while dirty water drips on our heads? Search with me for tree roots, Fred, which I fear are in the drain, like the roots of the tree that holds up the world, coiling, intent, writhing in the dark heart of the house.
is the author of two books, both published by Random House: Left to Themselves,
a novel, and Stealing Time, a story collection. She is now working on a
dystopian novel about oldsters, and teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve
Soon after she committed to writing as a career in the mid-1980s, Grimm began
publishing stories in such venues as The New Yorker, Redbook, Antioch Review,
and the Beloit Fiction Journal. Her work also quickly garnered numerous
awards, including the National Magazine Award for Fiction for “We” (first
published in The New Yorker on 17 October 1988 and then reprinted in her book
Stealing Time in 1994).
Her long list of awards and grants include a Baker-Nord Senior Fellowship (2005),
a nomination for a Pushcart Prize (2001) for her story “On Not Cleaning the
House” and several stories named among the 100 Distinguished Stories in
different years. She won an Ohio Arts Council individual artist fellowship in 1989
and was named the John Atherton Scholar for the famed Breadloaf Writers’
Conference in Vermont. In 1993, she won the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature.
Mary Grimm on the Rituals and Stories of Summer by Deborah Treisman
in The New Yorker (17 June 2019)
⚡ Interview with Author and Creative Writing Professor Mary Grimm by
KC MacGuire in Luna Station Quarterly (21 January 2015)