This is the seventh story in the Flash Fiction series online this summer. You can read the entire series, and Flash Fiction stories from previous years, here.
Between the outer wall and the Sheetrock, a waterproofing layer was missing. The builders, in their defence, said the class had simply been forgotten, not left out in a deliberate move to save money. The building was the residence of the faculty, and was only occupied by the professors and their families. All but one professor was unproven. Half of them had children under the age of ten.
The missing layer was found during a city search a decade ago. The reforms were postponed for nine years. The school, as both the employer and the landlord, noted the high concern, and noted that despite the missing wall, no actual flooding occurred in the apartments. In the tenth year there was a global pandemic, but the tenth year was also the end of the treatment period, so the construction had to start. The contractor hosted a virtual meeting to explain the many stages of the process. The slide show contains many typos. “Demolition” has become “devil”. The apartment number is not correctly inserted. The dance professor asked, How annoying all this would be, and the blonde-faced, blond-faced contractor spokesperson politely replied, “Very much, ma’am.” Then the chemistry professor talked about particles. If the entire brick facade is torn off, what is done about air quality monitoring? The chemistry professor had young children. Young children had small lungs. The blond man said they would tape everyone’s windows. They were hanging air conditioner vents for everyone “So, no air conditioners or windows?” asked another professor. “All summer, no windows open or air conditioning working?” It was not known that this professor, who taught biology and kept on the roof of the building a colony of honeybees, repeats himself. The blond man said it was true. And that the surface is closed to accommodate the equipment, so the bee colony must be moved.
To better address the tenants’ concerns, a second virtual meeting was held, and it was expected to be much worse.
The third virtual meeting was canceled, and a day later, the scaffolding was lifted. Spaghetti-like ropes blanketed the building, and men in orange jackets carrying hammer drills appeared on slender platform lifts. The windows were covered with a neon blue film that turned every room into an aquarium and gave the tenants a headache. “Nobody has ever complained about the blue film before,” the contractor said, though he later admitted that he had never worked on an occupied building before. A clear film was obtained four days later, and the windows were reinstalled.
The contractor bragged about having a hygienist on site, a woman who was transcribed in emails but never met.
For three weeks, the noise level was appalling, nine to five, Monday through Friday, nonstop. The new writing professor was trying to finish a novel but was writing things like “So that’s what it should feel like to live inside a tooth a dentist is trying to dig in.” Age occupied her thoughts every night. You haven’t been to the dentist in years. red dust coats the window film; Plumes of smoke were seen. The teacher of religion brought the columns, how it looked like a cloud from her red-colored window. The contractor responded immediately, transcribing the hygienist, to make it clear that what the professor saw was not a plume or anything close to a cloud, but a puff of smoke blown by the wind.
Each morning there was an email update explaining which units would be directly affected that day, although the apartment numbers were still incorrect. So, to see if you’d really be affected, you had to pay attention to where the huge mechanical pulley on the roof was going down the lifts. Peeking at the building from the outside, the porcelain professor is reminded of his childhood, the unbeatable arcade game with a box of plush toys and a slippery claw. He was on the corner waiting for Mr. Softee. Mr. Softy was waiting because his three children, who were inside, asked him to text them when the truck was in sight.
The technical term for what was missing was flashing – an embedded metal plate that prevents moisture from penetrating the walls of the building. Blinking is especially important at intersections, around windows, ventilation pipes, etc. No one thought anymore of the other meanings of the word – committing indecent exposure, for example, running naked across a green field in a Superman robe, like the six-year-old did the dance professor’s eldest son during his first football game.
Severe weather on the weekend, a hurricane coming from the south. It rained for three days and nights, said the professor of history, whose apartment was under the spool, as if it was raining within the walls. Could there be a leak? Send the company an audio clip. The company responded a minute later. Leaks were impossible. They shut down all the leaks because that’s what they were here to do. Beneath the history professor lived a professor of mathematics, who had been collecting water all weekend that flowed into her office through the ceiling. I used a one gallon bucket, and emptied the bucket into the bathtub five times. The mathematics professor was married to a professor of East Asian Studies. Not surprisingly, one was Asian and the other white. Between three and four gallons, the former had written an angry email to the school, but then stared at her inaccurate letter. She was concerned about it being the annoying wheel, when she and her husband were doing third year reviews. With that said, I asked if he could rewrite and send the email, given his meticulous skills and the fact that management might take him more seriously. He thought this would take advantage of his privilege, and nodded, but encouraged her to send the email, as she should feel empowered and would never get in her way. A brawl over feminism ensued. No email was sent.
Above the text, some tenants laid out a plan. They were pleading with the permanent resident – an economics professor – to declare war by sending e-mail and to hire a lawyer to then wage war by suing the school. But the economics professor was away. He had left for Crete at the beginning of the construction work, on a private plane owned by one of his friends.