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The Walls

by Lindsay Vermeulen

On Wednesday afternoon Elowen noticed a small, grey spot of moisture on her living room wall, a sort of lopsided heart discolouring the floral wallpaper. That’s odd, she thought, and rubbed it briskly with a tea towel. It didn’t help. If anything, the mark seemed to get slightly bigger. She left it alone and returned to her laptop. She had deadlines to meet.

By Thursday morning, the spot had grown to the width of her hand. It was damp to the touch, but nothing seemed to draw moisture out of it. She tried a towel again, then the hair dryer, to no effect. She spent her evening on the phone comforting a friend, and the call lasted into the wee hours of the morning. She sat with her back to the wall so she wouldn’t have to see the spot.

On Friday, her parents were coming for dinner. She cooked up a feast: coconut curry, homemade naan, pickled vegetables, a chocolate rosemary tart. She stared at the spot on the wall, which had grown to roughly the size of a dinner plate. Her guests were coming in fifteen minutes, so she hung a painting over it—a still life of pomegranates.

“Are you okay?” her parents asked over cups of tea from her antique china set, looking with concern at Elowen’s tired eyes, her faintly trembling hands.

“Never better!” she said brightly, serving up the tart. “Just up late chatting with friends.”

Her mother’s sharp eye spotted a damp shadow creeping out from underneath the frame of the painting. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing.

“Oh, nothing!” said Elowen. “Just a little moisture, but it’s getting better. Would you like some more tea?”

On Saturday morning, she decided to take the painting down, to prevent it from getting damaged. By the end of the day, the spot had grown so large it covered a good third of the wall. She began to worry about whether it was safe to use the electricity—was there wiring on the other side?—so she lit candles instead. There, she said as she lit the last one, very romantic. What a nice way to have dinner. She served herself some of the leftover curry, eating it cold, just in case. No more guests for a while, perhaps.

On Sunday, she awoke from dreams of the ocean, but the sloshing sound of water did not fade. She checked all the taps, the washing machine, and the dishwasher, but everything seemed fine. The spot, however, was no longer a spot. Its soft greyness had engulfed the entire wall and seemed to be spreading to the ceiling. At this point, it would just be embarrassing to call a plumber.

Well, I always wanted to live by the sea, she thought with a strained little laugh. Who gets to enjoy the sound of the waves this far inland? But this was not the peaceful sound of lapping waves. More of an anxious, angry sloshing. No, it sounds nice, she corrected her inner voice angrily. And she went about her day, writing a postcard to her cousin, potting a pothos cutting for a friend’s birthday, updating payment information for some recurring donations.

On Monday morning, she decided not to leave her bedroom. She worked from her vanity desk with noise-cancelling headphones on to mask the sound of the water. Just to help me focus, she thought. A co-worker sent a thoughtless email and she took a deep breath, counting to ten. Time for an early lunch break, perhaps.

She headed toward the fridge, passing through the living room, and a small involuntary sob escaped her lips. With a deep rumbling, the walls burst and a torrent of water poured forth, knocking Elowen to the floor. The room was flooded to capacity in moments.

Lindsay Vermeulen (she/her) is a writer and editor dwelling on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, sometimes called Vancouver. She likes chocolate, afternoon tea, social justice, classical music, being outside, and heartbreakingly beautiful books.


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