…and the plumber in navy blue coveralls rattles his sewer auger, ready to impale it.
Moments before, the murky water flowed down the hallway to your living room, soaking hardwood floors and drywall, as you panicked about future bills for mold remediation, having to fix your father’s old house, the one you moved into when he died, years ago. And after the plumber removed the toilet from where the water had erupted, that’s when it squeezed out of the drainpipe, like giant brown toothpaste at first, until the fecal clump expanded and hardened into your father, life-size, with his man boobs, and flecks of undigested corn on his face where his sunspots were.
You retch at his pungent odor, perhaps not unlike when your father was alive, as the begoggled plumber thrusts his arm forward, auger buzzing and spinning, while the monster mutters under his fetid breath, something you can’t quite make out.
You have mixed feelings. This is a dangerous situation, and you’re glad the plumber’s protecting you with his tools of the trade. But you’re fast re-evaluating how you feel about your father. Rigid, toxic head of household who screamed your trembling mother into submission, who called your older brother a fucking moron whenever their arguments escalated. How every evening, this house reverberated with his bug-eyed yelling, which you accepted as normal because it’s all you ever knew. You’d learned to look down and quietly nod when he spoke, sparing you from his wrath.
But there was that time he sunk into his reclining chair, and consoled you for hours, after you broke up with your first girlfriend. He quoted Doogie Howser, MD, his favorite TV show. The downside of growing up is that sometimes doing what’s best for you means breaking someone’s heart, including your own. You actually felt much better afterward. You’d never seen that side of him before.
The plumber plunges the auger into the monster’s lumpy pot belly, and it howls at the green floral wallpaper that you couldn’t remove, because it was your father’s favorite. The plumber pulls his weapon back, getting ready to jab it down the monster’s throat, when you cry, Stop! That’s my father! and you leap in front of him, parrying the auger, knocking it to the floor, its coiled spinning tip coming to a halt.
In the silence, you hear it.
You get your phone out and press record. Your father’s voice. The words he never said. You want to airdrop this to your brother. You want to play it back on your mother’s grave.
His chest feels warm and sticky, as you press your face into him, clenching your eyes shut, because you wonder if flesh eating amoebas, which you’ve heard are spread by fecal contact, could enter your brain through your eye sockets. Your arms, your shoulders, your chin disappear into his soft bulk.
I’m so, so sorry.
Eliot Li lives in California. He has recently been dealing with various relentless and horrific plumbing issues in his very old house. His work has appeared in CRAFT Literary, Maudlin House, SmokeLong Quarterly, Trampset, The Citron Review, and elsewhere.