The living room ceiling has leaked since I moved — we moved — into this house. The first winter I was here, barely holding it together and nursing a newborn on the couch, I watched with horror as the brown spot that had been growing steadily bigger on the ceiling finally opened like some portal from hell and released a flow of dirty, icy water onto the floor.
At the time, it was both a reality — something was broken — and also a metaphor: the carefully constructed walls around my life were breaking down, letting in the demons. Or, at very least, the elements. Greg, our (angelic) next-door neighbour, ran out of his house when he saw me attempting to scale a ladder up the side of mine in December. He and my other angelic neighbour from across the street ended up on the roof, hacking away with axes to break up the ice dam that had melted into the chimney flashing. The next summer, we got new shingles, and assumed that the problem was fixed.
It was. That is, until it wasn’t. A couple of years went by, and then the roof leaked again: same spot, same seam in the plaster. Guys came over and re-tarred the flashing. Things stayed dry for months. We had the ceiling repaired and replastered. It leaked again. More tar. And on and on it went, months going by with nothing happening and then some freak windstorm or snowfall and I’d wonder what that dripping sound was. And then it would stop raining and I’d go back to denial. I mean, if the roofing guys couldn’t figure it out, how was I supposed to know? How were we?
That, of course, was a metaphor, too: the way things slide into disrepair, and the ways you fix them, and they hold for a while, until they don't any more.
And then, I designated this past November as maintenance month. While everybody else was writing novels and blogging daily, I was getting the car tuned up and mending the holes in seams. In November, I changed the filters on the fetish vacuum. I hacked away at the summer garden and put it to bed for fall, raked all the leaves. I filled in forms and sent them off. I went through kids’ clothes, my e-mail inbox, the basement. I made chicken stock. I hung photos. I put up the net over the ping-pong table, made all the phone calls, got the winter tires put on. I went to the chiropractor. In essence, I tried to think of every niggling thing I could think of, every open loop, every loose end, and I tried to deal with it, close it, tie it up.
I called the chimney guys. And I called them repeatedly, because you know how they get busy and don’t come the first couple of times, or on the date they say they're going to, but I was on a mission. Because this house, which has been subtly and not so subtly transformed over the last year as I have gone from “we” to “I,” needs to be safe. It needs to function without threat of the elements coming through, without me wondering what kind of black mould has been festering in the attic, right over my head.
The chimney guys came this past weekend. They erected scaffolding, ripped out the old flashing, took up the shingles to check for rot: none. (None!) They laid down waterproof membranes and new shingles, installed actual new flashing, sealed it tight. They sent me pictures from up above as they went along. In the spring, once the snow melts, they will come back and replace the missing bricks in the chimney. The job went so well, my chimney guy told me, that he would knock a bit off the original quote. And it’s guaranteed: if it leaks, they’ll come back and figure it out.
This may or may not be the end of the story. But it’s a new chapter, and I’ll take it.