The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Autumn 2013 Results

Testing the Water

Copyright © Raymond Scott 2013

We bought a house with a view, the road ran up the side of a fairly steep hill and the difference of level between neighbouring houses was quite marked, when we stood in our back garden admiring the hills in the distance, we were able to look down upon the roof of next door's veranda. That was the first contributory fact towards the coming disaster while the second was that I tend to be too meticulous.

That there are times when one can be too pernickety there can be no doubt, when doing odd jobs around the house I habitually arouse my wife to screaming pitch as I carry them out very slowly because I wish to be absolutely certain that everything is as it should be. I remember the occasion my wife wanted to view a favourite programme of hers, and the reception on that particular channel had gone colourless and very fuzzy. I went up on to the roof to adjust the television aerial. However, I took so long to do the job, running up and down the ladder to check how the reception was on the various channels with the aerial in particular positions, that my wife missed the programme she wanted to see, plus two others that came later during the evening. Eventually she got a man in; in fact she brought in two, one on the roof and the other watching the screen.

Then we began to experience problems with our bed, during one very active night we were assailed by the business end of a spring that burst through the mattress and also penetrated the bottom sheet, erupting between us and nearly causing us both a nasty injury. Turning the mattress over was no solution, there was a distinct hump on the other side that rendered sleep and anything else impossible.

After some discussion on the subject, my wife and I decided to buy a water bed, lured by their promised capacity to enhance the nuptial process, or so the advertisements hinted, although my first thought, no - alright it was the second - was of any possible leakages that could be caused by perforation …of the bed that is. A friend of mine had purchased a defective water bed some years before and his bedroom had been flooded.

The bed eventually arrived, delivered by a van driver who seemed to have a facial tic since his left eye winked incessantly whenever he spoke to me about the advantages of this type of bed, usually when my wife's back was turned and he thought she was out of earshot. When it had been extracted from the packing, he described the procedures of how to fill it, and then his facial affliction increased in intensity as he hinted at the acrobatic possibilities when the bed was ready for action. After he had departed, with a leer and a last knowing wink, I hauled it out into the garden, connected it to the hose pipe and turned on the tap.

This last action was solely dictated by the experience of my friend who had bought the defective bed, though on reflection it was quite possible that any leak could have been the result of the activities of one of his young sons to whom he had foolishly given a penknife for his previous birthday.

This over cautious act of mine also instigated a furious argument with my wife, who thought I was being too fastidious, and further she was also impatient to try out some of the calisthenics that had been hinted at by the delivery driver, which she had overheard despite his voice sinking to a husky whisper when he elaborated on the theme. She flounced out of the house and drove off, with two of my best dahlias decorating the front bumper bar.

With the water bed being slowly filled by the garden hose, I settled down in my deck chair clutching a cold beer. It was a pleasant day, insects buzzed and the birds sang. In addition I had been up late the night dismantling the bed to clear a space for the water bed which necessitated us sleeping on the floor and all of these factors had their effect.

I’m not clear what it was that woke me, I came to with a jolt, opened one eye and took in my surroundings. At first sight all seemed well, but not at the second. I leapt out of the deck chair with a cry of horror.

The water bed had become so full that it was spherical, bulging and distended like a huge toad. As I watched it, it began to respond to the force of gravity and to roll, accompanied by a loud rending noise which I think is what woke me. There was a pronounced slope on my garden due to the general surrounding terrain, although I had skilfully fashioned my back garden in a step design to bring about successive level areas which formed a setting to catch the eye and interest of any beholder.

The water bed proceeded to negotiate the boundary between a level area and the slope leading down to the next and also squash flat any beds and flowers that I had painstakingly planted and nurtured that lay in its path and these were transformed in a matter of seconds to mash.

As it moved down the first slope it dragged the hose pipe with it, stretched it taut and the hose pipe scythed across a dahlia bed, its progress being marked by a series of blooms fluttering into the air. As the petals cascaded down the water bed rolled over towards the western fence, the hose pipe stretched like an elastic band as it dragged its way over a small plum tree that was pulled nearly flat to the earth as the hose passed across it. After the hose progressed past it the tree sprang upwards like a catapult, firing its fruit into the air and over the fence on the east side where it plastered the patio and veranda of the house next door. I heard a scream and a splash, but I had more pressing matters to attend to as the water bed had swollen to larger and larger proportions and was gathering momentum, heading across a small flat area and making for the next downward slope.

At this point I think I lost my reason. Instead of rushing to turn off the tap I seized hold of a pair of shears, made my way to the hose and cut it. As it parted I tripped over a stone on the rockery, hitting my nose a painful blow and bruising my leg. My fall was a blessing in disguise, the end of the hose came back like a whiplash, missed my head by a hair's-breadth, whooshed over what was left of my dahlias, knocked down three of my flower pots and smashed the family room window.

Without the hose to hold it in check, the water bed gained further momentum as it reached the lip of my contrived slope that joined together the two lawn levels. It rolled down the slope with the loose end of the hose shooting alternately skywards and then earthwards and cracking like a whip. The boundary fence lay at the foot of the slope and after many hot summers it had tended to become rickety and dried up. Using my wheelbarrow as a stepping stone the water bed mounted the fence, squatted for a few seconds and then as a section of the fence collapsed it fell onto the roof of my neighbour's garage.

I reached the fence and tried to shout a warning, I just had enough time to register a scene of domestic bliss in their back garden below as my neighbour and his guests gathered around the barbecue and the swimming pool.

Their heads turned and I watched their gay chit chat turn to curiosity as the sound of the approaching mammoth came nearer and nearer, incredulity as it towered over the fence and then sheer terror as the fence collapsed and the water bed thumped down onto the sloping garage roof, gave a last roll and settled upon the roof of the veranda. The ether was full of the sound of screams and breaking glass, followed by an ominous tearing sound as edges of broken glass gashed the side of the water bed and it split asunder under the internal pressure of the water. The outside veranda door leading to the garden banged shut as the water tsunami struck it, thus forcing the flow to turn inwards through the house to find its own level. I watched fascinated as the wave swept through an open door and cascaded into their kitchen.

I turned and ran to the front of my house, raced around and turned into my neighbour’s drive. I wasn=t sure what I could do at this stage, I had some crazy idea of apologising. As I reached the front door, water was seeping from under it and into the porch. There was no response to my frenzied knocking so I turned the doorknob. The front door was unlocked so I forced it open and was promptly swept off my feet, off the porch and onto his rose bed, where I was submerged under a flood of water, newspapers, a trilby hat, two cardboard plates and a loaf of bread. There was also a hissing ball of fury that I identified as their cat. The flood swirled out of the porch and washed down the drive. Two late guests were caught as they came up the drive by waters that covered their shoes with mud and rose petals.

I scrambled to my feet, suffering several severe scratches in the process from the roses. I was festooned with earth and was greeted by my neighbour who had emerged from the front door, probably in response to my knocking. He plainly did not recognise me after my headlong plunge face first into his rose bed.

"What the …! Where …?" was all he seemed capable of saying at this juncture, though he did recover himself sufficiently to say something about killing the bastard! I shuddered and to avoid recognition I moved away from him and beat a hasty retreat behind him through his house, picking my way though a scene of devastation reminiscent of Cyclone Tracy. There were wild eyed screaming children, together with their dog who was padding through it barking excitedly and biting anyone who came anywhere near him, with adults jostling and floundering on all sides as I slunk through the flooded veranda and went over to the back fence of my neighbour’s garden.

The level of my own garden was too high to start climbing over, there was a brick retaining wall on my neighbour's side and my fence stood on the bank above that. If I did try to clamber over I risked being recognised and possibly lynched. The deflated water bed lay draped across the top of my neighbour's veranda like a tarpaulin, casting its shadow below, accompanied by the sound of steadily running water and gurgling noises as it emptied its last remnants onto their veranda floor.

I reached the back end of my neighbour’s garden, dived into some bushes and managed to negotiate the rear brick wall and fence, then I slipped over it into the garden of the house at the rear. Then I burrowed through the bushes and eventually clambered over my own rear fence and reached home via a circuitous route where I found the hose was still pouring water and had flooded my family room and lounge.

The insurance haggling went on for some months, my own insurers paid for any water damage incurred in my own house, except to the water bed itself. My neighbour's insurer did likewise and then turned round and sued me, which I passed to my own insurers to fight off or pay. They tried to involve the vendors and the manufacturers of the water bed, claiming a faulty product, but the manufacturers brushed it off, stating that the instructions made it quite clear how much water was to be put into it and when. Their argument was that they could hardly be held liable for the actions of a lunatic.

Eventually the insurers between them paid for the damage, I was never sure of the details but nobody tried to sue me. In fact nobody tried to speak to me either, my relationship with the neighbours was irreparable, it was never the same, and after three months of unspoken hostilities we put the house up for sale.

Our present house is not on the side of a hill. After the disaster we purchased a new mattress and we still sleep in an ordinary bed.