Louis sat in his car and watched her house. At 2pm he grabbed his briefcase off the backseat. His fingers brushed against the fabric warped from his daughter’s baby seat.
Mrs. Allen answered the door after the second round of Louis’ knocks. Her dark ponytail was pulled up into an askew bun. Her narrow cheeks were flush. Beneath her baggy sweats, her body was an indeterminate shape.
She squinted. “What are you…”
“Did you lie to me?” Louis said.
“What are you doing back here?”
“I think you lied to me, Mrs. Allen. You’re still at home. You told me…”
“I don’t understand why you’re back here.”
“You told me you had to go to work at noon.”
“Why are you back here?”
“If you had to go to work at noon, then why are you still here? You lied to me.”
She looked at Louis’ soft, round face. Then past him. At his car, parked at the curb opposite her house. “Is that your car?”
“I don’t understand why you lied to me, Mrs. Allen.”
“I asked if that was your car.”
Louis looked back over his shoulder, as if he had to check that, yes, it was his car.
“Have you been in your car this whole time? Watching my house? In your car watching to see if I really left for work?”
“I don’t want you to miss out on this potentially lifesaving opportunity.”
“You’ve been in your car for two and half hours, watching my house?”
“See, I’m only allowed to sell these water filters to home owners especially selected by the company president. You should feel lucky, Mrs. Allen.”
“Lucky that I came back.”
“I should feel lucky?”
“I have literature right here in my briefcase, Mrs. Allen, and once you read it, you won’t ever drink tap water again. That’s a Pureway promise.”
“It’s Miss Allen. And you think I should feel lucky? You stayed in your car, watching my house… and I should feel lucky?”
“The pipes in this town were put in during the 1950s.”
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s why I’m explaining it to you. That’s six decades of erosion, Mrs., I’m sorry, Miss Allen. Six decades. And when pipes get that old…”
“I don’t understand why you came back here. Why you waited. Why did you do that?”
“I’m not just a Pureway Filtration sales rep, Miss Allen. I’m a human being. And I care. I care about your family’s health.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t give me that tired sales pitch bullshit.”
“Now, Miss Allen…”
“When someone tells you they’re not interested, you’re supposed to smile, thank them, and leave. That’s how this works. I told you at 10:30 that I’m not interested. You smiled and left. But why are you back here?”
Louis fiddled with his tie and said, “The… the pipes, you see. They’re eroding.”
“I don’t have a family.”
“You said you care about the health of my family. I don’t have one. Miss Allen, remember?”
“I meet lots of single parents in my line of work.”
“That right?” Her arms were crossed now. She was leaning on her doorframe, a flicker of a smile crossed her face.
Louis noticed a small sore on her lips. He said, “I myself am a single father.”
“Well, Christine, my wife. Sorry, ex-wife. She has my daughter. But I make sure on visitations, our little girl only drinks from water that’s gone through the Pureway filtration system. Because…” His voice trailed off.
Miss Allen waited a moment for him to continue. He just stood there, on her doorstep, looking far away.
“Because the pipes are eroding,” she said. A trace of sympathy in her voice. “You told me the pipes are eroding.”
“That’s right. Now if I could just show you…”
Louis held his briefcase up and undid the latch, using his knee as support. He lost his balance and dropped the case in awkward slow motion. Its contents dribbled out. Miss Allen saw pamphlets with pictures of rotting pipes. Sludge and rust. Pitting and sulfide.
Louis apologized and started grabbing up handfuls of pamphlets and papers. He started shoving them back in his case. Miss Allen kneeled down with some effort and helped. One paper caught her eye. It was a drawing of a tree. A large one, dwarfing the ranch house beneath its massive limbs. Its roots were deep and thick and sturdy beneath the ground. It was in crayon.
“What is this?” Miss Allen said.
“That’s… that’s not supposed to be in there.”
Louis reached to take it from her, but Miss Allen pulled away. Her knees cracked as she stood back up, staring at the child’s drawing. She said, “Did your daughter draw this?”
Louis clicked the briefcase closed. He held one wrinkled pamphlet in his hand. “Yes, she wants to be an artist when she grows up. Here,” he held out the pamphlet. “I encourage you to read this and call the 1-800 number.”
“Can I have this?”
“Yes, I encourage you to read…”
“No, this. The drawing. May I have it?”
“Why do you want my daughter’s drawing?”
“Just… may I have it?”
Louis looked at her, unsure. There were deep wells under her eyes. Their sockets looked shallow. Louis hadn’t noticed them before. And something about the color of her flesh was off. Like a TV on the wrong setting.
“Yes,” Louis said. “You can have it.”
“But tell me, why do you want it?”
“I don’t know. It just… it speaks to me, I guess. This tree… the tree looks strong.”
She thanked Louis again and took the pamphlet. He again urged her to read it.
She said, “It’s okay. I know all about erosion.”
Miss Allen closed the door. Through the window she watched Louis drive away and disappear around the corner. She threw the pamphlet out and hung the drawing of the tree on the fridge, over her positive test results.