I must have spent half my childhood on my grandmother’s hobby farm. Those were happy times: there was always some adventure amid the comforting and well known sights and sounds. But on one visit, when I was five, I locked myself in the old farmhouse bathroom. I don’t recall why we were at her place but it must have been a special occasion because all my maternal aunts, uncles, and assorted cousins were there too.
We were sitting around the bonfire by the gnarled chestnut laughing and roasting hotdogs. I turned to my father, who was then on his fourth or fifth Tuborg of the afternoon, and whispered:
“Daddy, I need to poop.”
He looked me up and down and said:
“You know where the bathroom is. D’you think you’re old enough to go on your own?”
I nodded, excitedly. He gestured for me to go, smiling at my keenness.
I jaunted through the long grass under the chestnut toward the farmhouse: I was old enough to go all that way on my own! As I walked, the old chestnut reached its kindly limbs over me, as though each familiar branch were there only to keep me from harm. That big half-darkened house was unnerving at first, but I knew it so well I could find each creaking floorboard and creak out the comforting pattern.
A five-year-old knows nothing of modesty, and so I let the bathroom door stand open. But the shadowy, silent corridor beyond -so unknown-seeming in the dimness- began to excite my imagination, so I closed it. Then, thinking better of it, I locked it.
When I had finished and washed my hands, I went to leave, feeling a slight thrill at the thought of that long, dusky hallway. But the door stuck fast. The lock on the knob wouldn’t budge. I stood back in horror and stared. Then tried again with renewed desperation.
I shook the knob. Nothing. I hit it with my palm. Nothing. I clenched it in my teeth and tried to wrench it. Nothing. I tugged at it as hard as I could until my hand slipped and I sprawled across the floor.
I sat there for a moment, tears in my eyes, and gazed helplessly at the door. I do not remember if I made another bid for freedom.
The next thing I recall was sitting in the bathtub crying and calling for help. But with so many relatives and so much news to exchange, it could be hours before someone noticed I was missing. Besides, all of the men, and most of the women, would relieve themselves in the bushes.
That old high-ceilinged bathroom was lit only by one lone window about eight feet up on the wall opposite the door, so that as the late afternoon sun westered, dusk gathered in the corners of my prison. The generator buzzed and the bathtub drain occasionally gurgled. Several times I heard a joyous uproar from around the distant bonfire. The floorboards creaked in the dark corridor.
Such familiar sounds comforted me, reminding me of safer times: sleepovers at Grandmama’s and Christmas dinners. They evidenced a known and welcome world beyond the confines of the bathroom. But, as the dusk descended, so did silence.
It was then that I realized the faucet was dripping quietly. Until that moment I had not noticed it, but now it seemed deafening. Steady, monotonous: drip, drip, drip… as if mocking my captivity. At first I tried to ignore it, but the incessant dripping continued as though to spite me. Roused from my fearful torpor, I got up and went to the vanity.
I cranked the faucet knobs. Perhaps I had not really turned off the water after washing my hands. But the dripping continued. I turned the tap on and let it run, then turned it off again. The dripping continued. I shook the vanity. Nothing. I hit the faucet with my palm. Nothing. I clenched my teeth around the knob and tried to wrench it. Nothing. The dripping continued.
I returned to the bathtub and sat there, alone, in the dark, listening to the faucet’s mocking drip, drip, drip. The generator had stopped buzzing now, and the water in the pipes had settled. The other children must have been dropping off to sleep in their parents’ laps, because the peals of laughter no longer came from around the bonfire. Only the drip, drip, drip of the faucet kept me company, reminding me of the world beyond the darkening bathroom.
I have no recollection of how long I stayed in the bathtub, waiting to be found. I think I drifted in and out of an anxious sleep. During my more lucid moments I was aware of the faucet drip, drip, dripping. But slowly the sound grew less bothersome. It was my only company: a reminder that I was still connected to the outside world, if only through the maze of plumbing under the house.
Eventually, I was fully awoken by bellows of my name from outside. I called back, screaming as loudly as I could. There was a banging on the door and my father’s muffled voice came through the crack:
“Erik, are you okay?”
“Yes! The lock’s stuck.”
“Stand back! I’m gonna break the lock!”
There was a banging sound. The knob shook. The door quivered. Then, with a thud, it swung open and warm light flooded my prison. My mother pushed past my father and took me in her arms.
“We were so worried! We didn’t know where you’d gone!” She half sobbed. My father looked sheepishly at the broken lock. As they carried me out of the bathroom I could hear the drip, drip, dripping of the faucet, saying good-bye.
The sound bored its way into my five-year-old mind and found a spot beside my mother’s voice, and the crackling of the bonfire. It was a kindly sound. A hopeful sound. And to this day, I never fully turn off a faucet.
Erik Peters is a teacher and mediaevalist from Canada. He is fascinated by humanity and nature. He’s spent his career working with marginalized groups which has profoundly influenced his writing. You can read Erik’s writing in recent of The Silent World In Her Vase, Abstract Elephant, Showbear Family Circus, and The Dead Mule School.