March 20, 2019 by The Citron Review
by Abigail Pettit
Each place the Mulaneys moved into broke down, in one way or another. One time, it was the paint that bubbled and peeled off the walls. Another time, the oven burners refused to ignite—spluttering, popping, then only making a ratcheting sound and filling the air with the foul, queasy smell of gas. Still another, the bathroom faucets began to shoot out fire-hose streams of murky brown water that wouldn’t run clear.
Every time it happened, one of these unexplainable incidents that required a telephone call to the current landlord, Mr. Mulaney started right away to search the classifieds again, tapping the newspaper with his bow. He was a violinist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and he carried his violin around at home, occasionally even when he wasn’t practicing.
Their landlords always offered profuse apologies, mouths agape, scratching heads stubbled with hair—can’t understand it, they’d mutter, that caulking was just put in last year, that closet didn’t have moths before, I’d swear to it. The landlords urged them to stay, offered a free month of rent, usually. But they didn’t ever stay.
They had just moved to a new apartment, boxes still piled everywhere, labeled with things like Books and Sweaters and Pictures, Framed and Unframed, when the refrigerator shuddered and died. It was the fastest anything had happened yet. They’d been in one place for six months before the shelves in the kitchen cabinets had buckled and collapsed and couldn’t be put back in straight, the glasses sliding into each other or tipping over.
The Mulaneys didn’t find out about the refrigerator until after they’d returned home from dinner in the city on one of Mr. Mulaney’s nights off.
“My God, it smells terrible,” said Mr. Mulaney. He switched on the kitchen light, swung open the fridge. He grabbed a carton of cream and went over to the sink, held the carton up. He poured out the congealed clumps and the thick pale liquid, glop glop glop. He telephoned the landlord, who promised they’d get a replacement refrigerator within the week.
By then it was already past midnight, but Mr. Mulaney put on a record of Beethoven’s seventh symphony and started humming along. His hand went back and forth in the air, sawing an imaginary violin.
Mrs. Mulaney looked up from the shopping list she was writing, then looked away. “I don’t like the oboe,” she said.
Mr. Mulaney took the needle off the record. “Now, now. Don’t do this. You know all that’s in the past.”
Mrs. Mulaney kept writing. Coffee. Rye Bread. Butter, if on sale. Eggs. To herself, she asked, “Is it?”
Mr. Mulaney shook his head. “It’s these apartments. They’re all just slapped together, like tin cans on top of one another. Nothing real or solid about them. Everything done on the cheap. Hey.” He snapped his fingers. “Hey, there’s an idea. We’ll move to a house next.”
So they moved to a house in the country, a square white house with hydrangea bushes in the front and a tidy yard with a stone cherub fountain in the back. Mrs. Mulaney fluffed pillows and hung blue striped curtains and unpacked while Mr. Mulaney was at rehearsal.
A month after the house was finished, a hairline crack appeared in their bedroom ceiling.
“Well, shit,” said Mr. Mulaney, craning his neck up to see the crack better. He got out of bed and took a shower.
Mrs. Mulaney put on her robe and slippers and paused in the doorway to look up at the ceiling. She pursed her lips, then left for the kitchen to make breakfast.
At the breakfast table over his orange juice and toast, Mr. Mulaney said, “Time to find someplace else, I guess.”
“Actually, I think I’ll stay,” said Mrs. Mulaney. “I’d like to fix it.”
They stared at each other. Mrs. Mulaney’s eyes were steady, unblinking.
“Suit yourself,” said Mr. Mulaney. He wiped the crumbs from his mouth and went back to their bedroom. He packed his suitcase and his violin and left that evening.
The next day, Mrs. Mulaney woke slowly, luxuriously. She didn’t look at the alarm clock. She didn’t worry about the coffee or the toast or the newspaper outside. She stretched, yawned, and looked upward. Then she gasped. She squinted, closed her eyes, opened them again. Yes. She was seeing right. The crack in the ceiling was gone.
Abigail Pettit works as a writer and editor. She holds a BA in both Writing and Philosophy from Wheaton College and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Ohio, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and currently lives in northern Illinois with her husband and two cats. She is in the process of revising a novel.