Inside the Ceiling

A Thursday two months ago I stepped into the kitchen and noticed a small puddle of grayish water on the floor. A huge moist spot of grayness covered the ceiling.

I called my landlord straight away. I told her that there was a leak and that either a pipe must have burst or some water might have accumulated on the flat roof. She said she would send someone straight away. I asked whether she needed the key – she said No.

I suppose I am an idiot. I assumed that the lack of phone calls during the day was a good sign and that, when I got home, it would all be fixed.

I felt some nervousness on the ride home. The bus was slow and my thoughts went a bit overboard. I scolded myself for ‘being ridiculous.’

Far from ridiculous.

From outside the bungalow looked fine. I pressed the key in the keyhole, turned it and pushed the door open. Immediately a moldy old-water stench welcomed me. If you ever cleaned an old aquarium thick with algae you know what I’m talking about.

The water and debris was already in the corridor. The kitchen looked like an earthquake had struck: Pieces of wood, cement, insulation material and chipped off paint were all over the kitchen. The sticky gray water covered not just the center of the room, where the ceiling had crashed, but seemed to have splattered on every single wall and piece of furniture. The old-water stench by a pungent smell of rot.

Some of the water seemed to have flown in small trickles into every room. There were small puddles or dried gray stains in every single room.

First the landlord apologized profusely. Then, when the handymen came and told her that there was no pipe to fix she blamed me instead, she said that I must have done something to the ceiling. One of the men suggested that it must have been rainwater – rainwater that had trickled through small holes in the roof and had collected over weeks, months, maybe even years in the insulation material of the ceiling.

I understand why my landlord was so suspicious that I had done something. Basically since the first week of moving in I had complained about the paint that occasionally chipped off the walls and ceiling – paint of so many layers that had been painted on top of one another. The bungalow badly needed a renovation and she knew it, but she didn’t want to spend any money on it. The for-its-condition-far-overpriced bungalow was her cash cow that she wanted to milk until the cow dies – or rather until the falling ceiling killed someone. I only stayed because it was so close to work.

For three weeks I had to get up half an hour earlier to make sure that I got my shower in before the builders came. In the evenings I came home every night for a new smell – plastic, plaster, powdered insulation material – it was hard to imagine what exactly the four guys did during the day.

But they didn’t just leave smells. They also left trash – obvious trash that I ended up throwing out because they never bothered to do it. I had to live in the mess, eat my cereal between heaps of trash until I threw it out myself.

In a way it was curious to stare at the different materials that made up my home. In a way it was fascinating to guess what each of them would be used for – the black sticky rolls were likely for the roof, the yellow fluffy rolls were clearly insulation, the wooden planks and drywall plates likely were part of my future ceiling.

The trash was harder to identify. Of course there was also the yellow drywall – soaked in some sort of grayish water and covered in a moldy slime. I asked the builders three times to get rid of it – and in the end did it myself because just the sight of it made me feel sick, not to mention the smell.

I pulled the slimy yellow marshmallow-like material into large black bags and pulled the bags outside. It was at the bottom of the heap where I found the white bag. I call it ‘bag’ because I don’t know what better to call it and it was my first impression that it must be a bag. But the texture was different, it was flexible and strong like a bag, but it also seemed to have some structure, a scale pattern was pressed into the material.

I hated the builders. I hated that they used my bedroom for their smoke breaks. I hated that they ate my food and particularly my bread during the day. I hated that they left pee on the toilet seat and dirty water all over the apartment.

I was happy when they finally finished. The ceiling looked like a patchwork because the landlord felt I was the one that should do the paint job. The kitchen and corridor were a mess and a few persistent spots of sticky mass were on the kitchen counter and outside the front door. But all in all I was happy to be on my own again. For two days I lived in the mess, then the weekend came and I finally had time to clean up.

I spent four or five hours on cleaning the apartment. I got neither rid of the old smoke nor of the all-permeating smell of moldy old water. Still, after those four hours I sat in my armchair and for the first time in weeks, maybe even months, felt relaxed; truly relaxed to the core.

I fell asleep like that. I woke up at 3 am because the light was still on. I made my way to the bedroom and nearly had a fit of rage.

There was water on the floor. Grayish, slightly thick water.

The ceiling looked perfectly fine. No holes, no dripping, no wet spots.

I wiped it off and checked the walls as well as the floor for any possible leaks. Nothing.

By 4:30am I was finally in my bed.

Every night a few more puddles of grayish water appeared. I told the landlord about it and she had a go at me that I should be more responsible.

At that point I made the mental decision to move out, but only now that’s really a conscious decision, only now that’s really a fact. It took me a whole month to overcome my denial.

The puddles were always in the same places – at the foot of my bed right next to the door, at the entrance of the bathroom and at several places in the kitchen, mostly the fridge.

There weren’t any leaks and the air was not moist enough to create whole puddles of liquid – and even less to create puddles of grayish liquid.

After a week I had found the common pattern. First I looked for ‘repeat spots’ in order to figure out where the leaks or stored liquid in the ceiling were. There were the three spots I mentioned already, but still occasionally there were wet spots in the middle of the corridor or near the back door.

In the second week, when I knew the repeat spots, I watched the ceiling and surrounding areas closely. Still there was no sign of any liquid seeping through the many cracks in the ceiling and certainly not enough to form a puddle.

In the third week I gave up on the puddles. I made sure all windows were locked and I made sure that I checked all the ‘suspicious’ areas for signs of moisture. But honestly, work was exhausting and I just didn’t want to think about any of it. I didn’t even bother wiping the puddles up unless they got too big.

I felt hopeless. The smell had soaked through my clothes and even at work the smell seemed to come out of my skin as if I myself was filled with dirty grayish water.

At the end of the third week the puddles suddenly stopped. There was nothing more.

I wondered probably more why they had disappeared than I had wondered why they had been there to begin with. Still all I felt was relief and happiness, a deep sense of liberation. I slept well again.

Six days in a row the puddles were gone. That brings us to today. That brings us to the reason why I’m in a hotel I can’t afford.

When I woke up this morning I smelled it right away. It was more pungent than ever before and in between the smell of stale rotting water was something else, something fresher, a note like sweat.

On the way out of my bedroom I stared at the huge puddle in disgust. I led straight from the door to my bed – and it continued behind the door and to the kitchen. There also was a branch of thinner spots towards the bathroom.

I wiped it up straight away. I knew I would be late for work, but I just didn’t want to come home only to expect to see more suffocating liquid soaked into the cheap floor boards.

I started in the bathroom because it felt the easiest. Then I made my way to the kitchen and wiped the liquid up. I had to change the cleaning water two times to get rid of all the gray marks on the floor.

Finally I got back to my bedroom. It was definitely the worst of the rooms and I wondered why I hadn’t woken up from the noise that the flood of liquid surely must have produced.

I had just changed the cleaning water for the third time when I realized that the puddle continued under the bed.

I pulled the blanket up and pushed my bed towards the far corner.

The bed moved. The puddle seemed to have spread even larger under the bed.

Suddenly something white appeared. Something white and thin like a plastic bag.

The wrinkled and ripped textile was soaked full of grayish water.

In size and shape it was only a bit smaller than me.

I pushed it around with the mop. A corner folded over and I saw a piece of bread. A piece of fresh bread right next to the top of the white bag.

It took me nearly a minute to recognize where I had seen it before.

I recognized it because of the scale pattern.

Then it took me only a second to realize what it was.

Not a bag.

A shed skin.

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