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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 8.18.11




Sumpin’s Not Right

No time to question spousal duties

By Sally Sheklow

Wifey was convalescing from surgery, and I was busy loving, honoring and cherishing her pretty much around the clock. On one of my trips to the kitchen to fetch a fresh ice pack, I noticed an odd quiet from our basement where backlogged laundry had been cheerfully chugging along. This could mean only one thing: Our sump pump wasn’t working.

When the system’s functioning, the washing machine overflow raises the pump’s float which trips a switch that starts the motor that draws the sump water up a drain hose, out the basement window and into the rhododendron bed. Dry basement, happy shrubs

This day, however, silence.

Already on post-op home-care overload, I needed another project like a funeral needs Fred Phelps. Please. As it was, we hadn’t opened mail since our five days in the hospital, kitchen compost needed dumping and the answering machine flashed FULL, also descriptive of the cats’ litter box. 

I consulted Wifey, our resident basement butch, who’d have zipped downstairs had she not been lying in bed, leg elevated and under ice. 

“Could you please go look?” she slurred through her medicated fog. 

How could I deny her? I had to rise — or in this case descend — to the occasion.

The wooden stairs creaked. I ducked the cobwebbed beams, traversed the dingy expanse of concrete and beheld the sump. Dim basement light cast an eerie glow on the stagnant water in the sump, an oval-shaped catchment pit the size of a chamber pot. 

The sump pump, a thin pedestal model with a motor on top and water-sucking intake at the bottom, lay tilted against the sump wall, lifeless. This is really Wifey’s territory, but no way could she even get down here on that newly replaced knee, let alone squat sumpside. It was up to me.

I mustered my resolve, held my breath and plunged my hands into the murky pool. These are the things one does for a spouse, I thought as I groped around in the thick, tepid water, whether or not they file taxes jointly, enjoy Social Security rights of survivorship or any of legal marriage’s myriad other federal benefits. 

I fished out the old sump bricks that were supposed to keep the pump upright. They were slimy and coated in black shmutz. Elbow deep now, I wrangled the pump creature from its black lagoon. No matter the thousand-some rights I’m denied because the U.S. still discriminates against couples like us, this was no time to question my responsibility to spouse, home or humble sump pump. 

I cleaned that sucker, found the irreparable problem, dashed to the hardware store, assembled the new pump and anchored it in place. With schmutz-blackened hands (nice contrast to my gold wedding band, by the way) I flipped the switch. The fetid water slurped into the hose and out the window to the appreciative rhody.

I scrubbed up and returned to Wifey who lay in a drugged stupor, knee aloft on a pile of pillows. I applied fresh ice, re-wrapped her leg and prepped her next dose of meds. The sump pump whirred softly in the basement.

How is it again that our marriage isn’t real?

Award-winning writer Sally Sheklow lives in Eugene where she does what needs to be done.