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This never happens to plumbers.

The plumber’s world makes sense. It’s all about water and gravity and slanting pipes. You channel the water in, you channel it back out. You slant the pipes earthward a little. Not much, just enough for the water to get the idea. Gravity does the rest.

Mine is not a plumber’s world and my world makes no sense. Marie is on the floor and my knuckles hurt.

The plumber has an easy life. Copper pipes bring water in, copper pipes bring water back out, and there’s never any question about whether it works. When you flush, the bowl empties and the waste pipe devours. New water fills the bowl ready for the next guest. As the container refills the bulb rises to shut the flow.

Or not. Clean and clear. It either works, or it doesn’t.

When it does you can feel pride and a sense of accomplishment and you render a bill. If it doesn’t, you fix it until it does and then you can feel pride and a sense of accomplishment and you render a bill. Dad’s a plumber. He doesn’t render many bills these days though.

It started out plumbing enough. I loved her. Simple as that. Easy enough. No question. She was the most beautiful, wonderful, perfect girl in the world. If she had one shortcoming it was loving me, for who would? I mean, who was it that said he would never be a member of a club that would have him as a member? Shaw or Wilde or one of the Marx brothers, I think. Unless, of course, loving me made me perfect, too. So perfect you would be forgiven for loving me.

Loved to perfection, by perfection. Nice thought, that.

And I really did. Love her. So much I could not sleep. She did though. She worked the morning shift at 7-Eleven and had to sleep, she said. She slept a perfect sleep. She slept deep chestfulls of air with not a hint of snoring which raised her chest over and over and over. Her one arm slung across her breasts, the other out and just over the edge of the bed. That wrist so easily breakable.

So simple. So plumbing. Loving her. At times I sat on the bed, others I sat beside it, and now and then I watched her so hard that her sleep punctured and she would look at me, eyes not quite open, and say, “Hey, what are you doing?”

“Looking at you,” I said.

“Go to sleep,” she said. And did. I did not.

The alarm went off and she woke up. “You been up all night?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Doing what?”

“Looking at you.”

“You crazy.”

“I know.”

She held her toothbrush with authority and brushed her teeth with perfect strokes to a perfect sparkle, sparkle, sparkle and she kissed me and tasted so good. I must not have, though, from up all night and coffee and cigarettes. Still, she didn’t grimace, not a bit, she just smiled and see ‘ya and out the door to her morning shift at the 7-Eleven not too far from here.

Soft shoes on stone stairs tap-tapping down then a squeak, a gasp of street noise, a soft thud, then nothing. Just me, loving her. Waiting.

Plumbers follow blueprints. Sinks go here. Traps and overflows there. This is where the valves and cleanouts go. A drain here. A vent there. Toilets here, here, and here. Showers. Dishwasher. It’s all laid out. Regulations, plumbing codes. Inspections. Approvals. Signatures. All so aboveboard. All so follow-able, do-able, achievable.

They have found plumbing that’s ten thousand years old. I forget where, but it’s true, ten-thousand-year old plumbing. Bet they didn’t use copper pipes back then.

Love starts out like plumbing. Kisses go here. Smiles there. And over here go swirls around the living room just like Fred and Ginger and then make love with your eyes open on the floor often and often right here.

Breakfast in bed just so and such sweet thank you kisses and it is all clean and well laid out and love—just like gravity—does most of the work and you fall in with the rhythm and all goes according to code.

To start with.

No wrinkles. No side-thoughts. No choices. Just the pull of love and everything fits. Her one shoe here the other there isn’t at all messy, it’s cute. She calls her long legs skinny; I call them slender. She adores this guy called Elvis Presley and has a bunch of his CDs, even some of his vinyl LPs (she calls them), which makes her loveable, and makes him loveable, too, though before meeting her I had no idea who this Elvis guy was and even now I can’t really say that he’s up my alley. But that doesn’t matter for when you set out nothing grates.

I’m pulled by love as gravity but can’t tell the pulling and all is perfect. Every pipe, every u-bend fits, every elbow joins just right, every tee serves its purpose and everything flows. Everything is gravity.

We’re on our third day and I haven’t slept much if at all. Three days now and all is well. I guard the perfection by staying awake. I’m afraid that sleep might harm it somehow, maybe break it.

I remember breakings. The tiniest crack can do it, like the first scratch on a new bicycle or a new car which is now here and which was not here only moments ago when the world was perfect and scratch-less.

And once the scratch is here it is here to stay. I cannot undo time and the scratch, huge now from constant inspection and re-inspection, is here to stay and love is no longer whole.

It’s three days now and with Marie there are no scratches. She is all well-polished, showroom shine. And she works until two and I am still awake and waiting, cigarettes and coffee, lots of it. I’m looking at the bed where she no longer sleeps, at the valley dug in the pillow by her head, a sock, another, a blouse. Panties on the floor by the chair. Bra on the seat. Remnants of Marie. I am sick with love.

I am very tired but not really, but really, yes I am. Thoughts sprout like those beans you see sometimes on television in those speeded up movies, the pale shoot grows out of the earth like a bald rising snake (which is how a sperm looks, come to think of it) that splits into leaves and other thoughts before your very eyes. They are like things that breathe, my thoughts. I no longer have to think them; they think themselves into being. I must tell Marie about them. They float on air and sail over murky waters that seem more like coffee if you really look closely enough and over islands of fog that look more like cigarette smoke.

They float into darkness. Did I sleep? My eyes are open again. I see her bra on the chair, her socks on the floor—one here one there. Her key turns the lock. She’s here again. I must look surprised, for what she says is:

“What’s the matter? See a ghost?”

“No, no.”

“Gawd. You look awful. Have you slept at all?”

“Not sure. I bit, I guess.”

And she shed her shoulder bag onto the floor—it falls off of her like so much water—and goes into the kitchen. “Want some coffee?” she says over her shoulder from there. What a nice shoulder.

“Yes. Thanks.”

Gravity returns and opens the faucet as I fill with love. Not a scratch.

I climb off the bed and walk over to the kitchen where Marie moves a pile of plates brown and yellow with nearly finished meals to make room for two mugs. The coffee is instant. She pours hot water. Adds milk for me, sugar for her.

My coffee, light brown has small flecks of white swirling on the surface from her stirring. What’s with the milk?

“How old is that milk?” I ask.

“Don’t know.”

I pick up the carton and read the expiration date. Two days dead, it says. I smell it; it smells two days dead. I look up at Marie but only catch her back leaving the kitchen for the main (and only) room. She brushes the bra off the chair and sits down. Her dress rustles. She chews gum, lights a cigarette. Heaves a sigh.

I hear that wonderful sigh and it fills me like helium would fill a balloon and float on love into the room and smell the smoke.

This is good plumbing. Copper pipes rush hot water to you the moment you open the faucet. The garbage disposer grinds everything into molecules, or near enough. The shower is flawless; the drain is hair-less and wide open. There’s not a drip, not a leak. It is a system without flaws. There are no scratches and all is according to blueprint, to code.

“I could do with a back rub,” she says.

She smiles when she says this and lifts her long legs onto the bed and leans back into the chair. She closes her eyes. When she stretches her lovely legs like that her knee caps stick out like cute little rocks formations.

She kicks off her shoes as I float behind her to deliver. One shoe thuds to the floor while the other remains on the bed. Her toes look happy to be let out. Her neck is long and slender like a swan’s. Downey and ridged with fine vertebrae. Some of her toes look stunted. Like after thoughts. But I know it’s from wearing tight shoes, and girls do that. Some boys do, too.

My toes are not all that stunted, though my left little toe nail is half missing and looks more like pale hillock than nail from an accident I will never forgive my father for not giving a shit about although he was there to see it happen. The bed-leg came down right on my little toe, and he was the one who dropped the bed. My toe was red at first, then bluish, then sickly yellow. These days I don’t so much cut that nail as sculpt it. Fuck him.

She moans as I press and circle my thumbs into muscle. I love the feeling of her skin and I get an erection from touching it. She doesn’t seem to know what to do with her hands.

“A little to the left,” she says.

I comply and she moans again.

And there is nothing in the world I would rather do than exactly this. Than rubbing her neck. Than doing good. Than making her feel good. Than applying love. I can feel her relax. I can almost hear her smile. She is a big cat.

She is not quite blond. I brush aside strands of off-brown hair. I stoop to smell. It is not clean. When did she last shower? I wonder. When did I last shower? I must smell too.

“Hey, don’t stop.”

Did I drift? My thoughts are sluggish now. Not so eager to take off. I find my thumbs again.

“I’m starving. Do you have any money?”

I work her left shoulder.

“A few bucks.”

“Enough for pizza?”

“I think so.”

“Don’t stop. I’ll order.”

Without moving, she sends out one long arm to pick up the phone and as she does I work my way over to the right to make room for her left ear to hear. I work her neck again and down her back and around under her arms and forward to the tender weight of her breasts and here’s my erection again. She slaps my hands a little and then the pizza arrives.

We sit on the bed and eat straight out of the box. I spill sauce on the sheet. She dribbles grease on her dress. She’s crossed her legs like a yogi and her knees are more like weapons now, very sharp.

She looks at me with eating eyes.

“So. You gonna get a job?”

As soon as I can find planet Earth. “Sure.”

“When?”

She gets up and comes back with some toilet paper. Hands me a couple of feet of it. Wipes her mouth with the rest.

“I haven’t…”

“The rent’s due tomorrow. You said you would help.”

She looks at the last slice of pizza. I don’t want it. She takes it without asking me. It drips a small spot of tomato sauce on her leg. She takes a huge bite from the wedge end. My hard-on’s all gone. She chews with her mouth partly open and makes small smacking sounds which my mother would have commented on, and not in a nice way, had she been here to see and hear.

Her dress has slid all the way up and her thigh exposes a blue little river of vein.

“How much is it?”

“The rent?”

“Yes.”

“Four fifty.”

“How much do you have?”

“Three hundred.”

“I’ll get the rest.”

I’m not sure where I’ll get it. Mom won’t talk to me anymore. Dad perhaps. Only he wants to put every little thing in writing, if he’s got the money, that is. It means I have to get out to the Valley and kiss up.

“Right.”

She says this in a tone that says I don’t believe you and that little river of vein on the inside of her thigh, which my eyes cannot quite let go of, swells into a scratch.

“What?”

“Where would you get a hundred and fifty bucks?”

“I have sources.”

“Right.”

“No, seriously.”

She talks around the crust. “Okay, I believe you.”

She unfolds and brings the pizza box into the kitchen.

“Thanks for taking out the trash,” she says, trying to fit the empty pizza box into the large black bag.

“Sorry.” And I close my eyes to lose the blue river but I soon look again and there’s another one strung down her calf: small, blue and angry. She mutters something that is probably meant for me and ties the garbage bag and heads for the door.

“I’ll do that,” I say.

“No, it’s okay.”

She’s out the door. It doesn’t quite slam. Man, I am tired. I lie down. Close my eyes. Into darkness.

It’s morning. She’s by the side of the bed in her 7-Eleven outfit and looks down at me.

“Don’t forget the hundred and fifty,” she says and is out the door.

Right. Got to get out to the Valley, see Dad. I close my eyes and set out for his house and into darkness. She shakes my shoulder.

“Hey. Wake up.”

It’s afternoon. She’s by the bed looking down at me again.

“Hey, sleepy head.”

“What?”

“You didn’t get the money, did you?”

“What?”

“You slept all day?”

“What time is it?”

“Three.”

Big eyes, looking down on me. Not entirely friendly. Not so incredibly loving.

“Well, can you get it now?” she says.

“Doubt it.”

“Well, what the fuck?”

“He works nights. He won’t be home.” I lied. He’s impossible to deal with unless you catch him sober, and he’s only sober in the mornings, if you can call a hangover being sober.

“Who?”

“Dad.”

“Gonna borrow from your dad?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s lame.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“You’re not a kid.”

“So what?”

She doesn’t answer, just shakes her head and dons a fuck superior smile like I was some useless ass fuck.

“So what?” I sit up. Stand up. Too suddenly, I go all blank. I sit down. Stand up again.

She doesn’t answer. Just smiles that stupid ass fuck smile, the pipes fit like shit, and I trigger.

And now she’s on the floor and my knuckles hurt.

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