When the well died
The day the well died it was hot and dry and my father had run out of money for the month.
We opened the taps and nothing came out. It took a while to sort out that all the mechanical things that needed to work to get water into the pipes were working.
The garden began to bake right away, as if it was anticipating the shrunken water table. My father started making phone calls. He didn’t know who you needed to get on the phone to figure out what made a house stop giving water. In a bit, the long driveway was filled with trucks: the plumber, a carpenter, the fire department, a couple of police cars. Some neighbors had wandered over through the woods. The men tinkered in the basement, walked around the yard looking down at the ground, gathered in the kitchen and tapped at the sink spout.
Finally, the plumber said, “yep, the well’s dry.”
What do you do when a well runs dry?
We had to wait first. We didn’t have the money to sink another one.
My dad and I spent the afternoon toting buckets from a neighbor’s house. We filled up the bathtub with water.
“This will have to do us until I get paid,” he said.
This was before the days of bottled water, credit cards and home equity loans. That evening, I watched my dad talk with the well guy. They were trying to figure out a payment schedule. The guy wanted some money down. My mother and father had argued about how much he could take from the food budget. She had to feed five kids under 10. My dad had to feel like he could solve the problem.
Whenever we wanted to use water we had to boil it on the electric stove. It was slow. My mother told us that if we drank dirty water we would die.
One evening that week when I was supposed to be in bed I snuck out of the house to see the moonlight play on the leaves. My dad was sitting on a bench by the garden, looking out at the swamp. The sprouts and shoots were brittle, just one dry day from dead.
“What are you doing here, dad?”
“I don’t get it. How can we have a swamp over there and no water right here?”
I threw a stone into the bushes and heard the moist earth suck it up.
I was thirsty. I had to pee. My dad was tired. He came inside with me. That was the night I had my first beer.