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Fiction

Bad luck was sort of Reg’s thing. He didn’t think Jess understood the scope of it, although she’d probably heard his friends joking around. You must’ve really screwed up in a past life, they’d say. Maybe you were a serial killer, or a terrorist. An unholy Pope, or a corrupt politician. Still, he wasn’t sure how prepared she was to spend a weekend with him out in a cabin. Something bad was going to happen. Many bad things would happen. It was fact. For all she had planned, he would be surprised if they got through half the list.

Jess had taken a call, and he stood in the kitchen, watching the sun set. The front door slammed open, and her voice filled the house.

“Do you have any phone service?” she asked frantically, pacing right up to him. “Check.”

Reg pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped the screen on. “Nope.”

“Oh no,” she groaned. “I was trying to fix something with my boss. I really just wanted to email her, but the internet went out, so I had to call her.” She sighed, tried to flick on the light. “Oh no.” She flicked the switch on and off, rapidly. “Not the lights, too.”

The bad luck was beginning. An ugly feeling creeped into Reg’s gut, but he took a deep breath. There’s nothing you can do about it, he thought. It’ll be okay. She probably won’t get that angry.

Suddenly the front door flew open again, banging against the wall. “I thought you closed the door,” Reg said, walking towards the noise.

“I did.” Jess trailed behind him. “Heard it click and everything.”

He bent down, inspected the knob. The latch inside was wedged, unable to come out. He tried the lock, but it was stuck in place as well. “It’s broken. Grab a chair; we can wedge it closed for now.”

“Should I just grab one from the kitchen or—” Another boom, this time from the garage, echoed through the house. Jess met Reg’s eyes, and he could tell she was starting to reach her limit. Most people do, fairly quickly, and he couldn’t blame them. He’d been living with himself for his whole life. Usually they only lived with him for a few minutes. Getting tangled up into another person’s mess could be frustrating, especially if it interrupted your plans.

“I’ll check it out,” he said, already on his way to the garage. He walked past the stairs to the back of the hallway and opened the door, immediately spotting a log resting beneath a perfectly log-shaped hole in the wall. He walked over, squatted down, and tried pushing the log back in place, but the corner splintered off. Rarely were his first solutions the ones that worked, but it hardly phased him now. Instead he looked around for something else to use, and headed towards a stack of boxes that looked promising. As he rummaged through the items, the garage door creaked open.

“How does that even happen?” Jess asked, going over to inspect the hole. She stuck her hand through the wall, waving her fingers in the oncoming dusk. “We’re going to need flashlights.”

Reg stopped what he was doing—he’d seen a toolbox around there somewhere. As he walked around the mess he made, he bumped into a box with his boot, tipping it over. A yoga mat rolled out, impeded by the toolbox. He stuffed the mat under his arm, then hoisted up the toolbox, resting it against his hip. In it were a few small LED flashlights, along with a roll of duct tape, which he wriggled onto his wrist.

“Here,” he said, clicking a light on. He shined it in her face.

“Stop, that’s bright,” she complained. She walked over, swiping it from his grasp. With a click she illuminated the hole. “What are you gonna do about that?”

He held up the yoga mat in triumph, then unfurled it. “Grab a side,” he said, pressing the mat up to the wall. With a free hand he wrangled the duct tape, tearing of a long piece with his teeth. Jess waited, shaking her head.

“What?” he asked, taping up her side of the mat.

“It’s just, I thought your friends were joking about the bad luck thing. You must waste a whole lotta time fixing up stuff.”

Reg shrugged. “I don’t really think of it as a waste of time.” He patted the last strip of tape down. “It’s just part of my day. I don’t’ really mind it.”

“Huh.” Jess walked towards the door. “I could never do that. With all the crap I deal with at the home insurance company, I could—ah!” She propped the garage door open with her foot, her hands shielding the top of her head. “The ceiling is leaking!” She ran off to the living room, and Reg let the door slam behind him, quickly sidestepping the dripping above him. “Isn’t the bathroom right above there?” Jess called.

“Maybe. I’ll check it out.” Reg walked up the steps. He wasn’t too worried, he’d fixed a leaky sink before. And a busted shower head. He’d learned how to do a lot of things, which he supposed was a perk to his bad luck. 

As he reached the top of the stairs, he saw water spreading onto the hardwood from under the crack in the bathroom door. He was glad for his rubber-soled boots as he stepped towards the door. It was stained dark at the bottom, and he braced himself for a wave of water to soak his shins as he opened it, but as he creaked the door open, he remained unscathed. He stepped into the bathroom to take a closer look.

The pipe under the toilet had completely detached at the joint and was spewing water onto the tile. Reg bent down, tried pushing the two pieces together, but they wouldn’t stay in place. He stood back up, wiping his palms dry on his denim pants, when he saw Jess peeking her head through the doorway.

“Don’t you ever get tired of fixing problems?” he asked, following him as he walked out of the bathroom into the hallway.

“Not really,” he said. He eyed the doors, looking for a storage closet or a supply cabinet. He had a knack for finding them, and the skinny door at the end of the hall looked promising. “I mean, it’s not like they’re my problems.”

“Aren’t they? You’re the one who has to fix them.”

He reached the door and pulled it open, smiling at the stack of air filters and cleaning supplies. There had to be something there. “I don’t cause them, though. I’m just around when they happen. And who would I be to let them become a problem for somebody else?” He felt along the topmost shelf, his fingers grazing against something metal. He pulled it down and saw it was a wrench. He also grabbed a roll of paper towels and scooped up the mop bucket at his feet for good measure. “Let’s see if this works,” he said.

They both headed back to the bathroom, and Reg placed the bucket under the spewing pipe, then got to work trying to tighten the two pieces together.

“Don’t you have any of your own problems?” Jess asked. The water had spread, and she was further away now, leaning against the wall opposite the doorway.

Reg tilted his head. Did he have any of his own problems? He didn’t really have the time for any. “No, I don’t think so. Do you?”

Jess exhaled sharply. “I wish I didn’t. You know how I called my boss earlier today?” Reg nodded, not looking back. “I was trying to put in my two weeks. I can’t keep working there, the pay sucks and I hate working from home. But they’re so understaffed, I feel bad every time I have to leave.”

“If money’s the problem, couldn’t you ask for a raise? Or better hours?” He slipped in the water, drenching a knee. At least the water’s clear, he thought.

“No, it’s not really about the money. It’s just, I want to help people, you know? Like, work in a soup kitchen or run an organization or something.” She paused for a second. “I just don’t know where to start.”

“I mean, you could start by trying to help me fix this toilet,” he suggested, craning his neck back to look at her. She shot him a smirk.

“Ha ha. I’m on break, Reg. Plus, these are my good socks,” she said, wriggling her feet. She sighed. “I don’t know. It seems sort of impossible.”

Reg gave the pipe one last twist, and it clanged into the bucket, splashing his face and chest with water. The pipe gushed stronger now, unimpeded by the bulk of the joint. He stood up, setting the wrench on the bathroom counter. “Well, we’re just gonna have to find a different way. Come on, there might be something in the garage.” He walked down the steps and could hear Jess behind him. Soon they were in the garage, and he back in front of the mess of boxes.

“Have you tried looking yet? For someplace to volunteer or something?”

Jess shrugged. She was leaning against a wall within his line of sight, her arms folded into her chest. “No. I barely have time off and when I do, I just sleep through the day. Plus, I don’t really think volunteering is going to get me where I want. I think I have to go at it someway different.”

Someway different. The words lodged into his mind, making him pause his work. He blinked quickly, returning to his rummaging. He grabbed onto a pool noodle and tried to convince himself it would work to plug up the leaking. “I mean, you never know. If you volunteer, you can always ask a person in charge if they need more permanent help. And if they don’t, they probably know somebody who does.” He tucked the pool noodle under his arm. “I mean, even if it doesn’t work, at least you tried, right?”

Jess pressed her lips together in thought. “Yeah, I guess so.” She looked up, met his eyes. “Thanks, Reg. You’re pretty good at giving advice.”

He shrugged. “It sort of comes with—Oh! I know!” He tossed the noodle aside, then rushed through the garage door.

“Reg? What is it?” he heard Jess call behind him. He ran up to the front door, unwedged the chair from under the knob and threw it open. The power box was easy to find; the grey metal box stood in stark contrast to the rough wood. He unlatched the box, switching off the water. “Where are you?” he heard Jess cry out into the dark.

He jogged back to the front door, pulling it shut behind him. “I turned off the water. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it sooner,” he said, re-wedging the chair under the knob.

“Hey, I didn’t think about it at all. I was ready to let us both drown,” Jess joked.

Reg shrugged. “I don’t know, watching Pirates of the Caribbean with water up to our knees? It sounds kinda fun to me.”

“Yeah right, with you and what electricity?” Jess grabbed onto his arm, pulling him into the kitchen. “We’re just gonna have some hot chocolate—well, chocolate milk—and play some gin rummy before anything else happens,” she said.

“You sure you don’t want to start a fire in the backyard? I think I saw some lighter fluid in the garage.”

“Absolutely not,” Jess said with a laugh. 

January 22, 2021 21:13

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