Wednesday, May 11, 2011
By Sean Kenealy
Jake could feel it between his toes. The dirty water and the hair and the clumps of day old soap. He usually took his morning shower with Clair; both half asleep, soaping their naked bodies and waking up to the reality of life with the lust of a recurring dream. Their own 15 minute routine. Jake had been at it alone for the past week, however. Alone in a shower and ankle deep in filth.
“Is it clogged again?” Clair asked.
Jake stood in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around his waist. He was shaking, cut off from his bedroom and the warmth of his thick work day clothes. His feet dripped brown water.
“I thought you asked him to fix it,” Clair said.
“Well, clearly it didn’t work.”
“Okay, I’ll ask him again.”
“Don’t ask him, Jake. Tell him”
Jake nodded, and Clair made a huffing noise that said everything while saying nothing. She picked up two duffle bags, filled with clothes, makeup, and a hairdryer. Clair had been taking her showers at the gym for the past week.
“Hey,” Jake said. Clair turned from the front door and brushed away her greasy blond hair. Her eyes were puffy, half shut; awake but not ready for the start of the day. And her cheeks, which were usually round with a tint of red, were shapeless and white, a void no dimple could find home in. Jake would never say it, but Clair looked like an old lady in the morning. Nothing like a 26 year old should look. “I love you,” he said.
Clair sighed. She stared at a thin puddle surrounding Jake’s feet and adjusted her two bags. The filth was reaching towards her.
Downstairs Jake saw his landlord with his three young daughters.
“Jake!” the girls yelled. They ran to his side as if seeing a carnival ride in the distance.
“Show us another magic trick,” one of the girls said.
“Do the one with the three cups!” They laughed and jumped, scrunching up their small noses.
“Girls, please,” the landlord said. “Jake needs to go to work.” He smiled at his children and shook Jake’s hand, a greeting habit of men that the landlord never seemed to grow tired of.
They were an Indian family. They were beautiful. Small and stout, everything about them trying as hard as it could, and Jake knew they were proud of it.
“All good with the tub?” the landlord asked.
“Well, you just let me know if there are more problems.” He shook Jake’s hand, firmer than before, as if to reiterate their understanding and silent bond as men.
The girls stared up, eyes so petite and dark Jake could have mistaken them for music notes. They were still, all of them, all of them waiting for a laugh, a trick, or for Jake to do anything at all.
He only winked and was gone.
Jake called in sick that day. He’d called in sick the entire week. Instead of going to work, he’d spent his time at a toy store down the street from his office building. It was an old fashioned store, everything appearing handmade, having a magical feel that is often lost with mass production. The store was filled with children, and the children were always smiling. Jake watched it all, handing down puzzles, teddy bears, and games like a helpful employee would.
Today Jake saw a little boy crying. He faced a corner, blockaded by toys he could never reach, shaking his tiny shoulders.
“Why are you crying?” Jake asked him. An older woman stood in the distance, dressed in a business suit that didn’t quite fit her body. Jake wondered if she was his grandmother, though by her complete lack of interest he had his doubts.
“I want a toy,” the boy said.
“A toy?” Jake said. “I love toys.”
Jake smiled. “Of course you do.”
What Jake loved about children was despite them often being upset, their problems and wants were easy to understand. Not easy to solve, necessarily, but anyone could relate to them. Wanting a toy for instance: who couldn’t sympathize with that? It was simple. It was beautiful. Aging didn’t make people more complex, Jake thought, it just gave them more time and material to convolute their lives, making problems Jake had difficulty sympathizing with, not like he could do with children.
“Well, why do you want a toy?” Jake asked.
“Because,” the boy whimpered.
“Because they’re fun?”
The boy had stopped crying, as if too distracted by Jake’s questions to even remember why he was upset. The woman then walked closer, for despite her obvious lack of interest in the boy, the sight of a man seemed to gain her attention.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“We’re talking about toys,” Jake said. He smiled. She smiled back, seeping warmth into a face Jake would have assumed was as tangible as dry ice.
“I like toys with wheels,” the boy chimed in.
Jake knelt down, to the exact height of the boy. If handshakes were the bond of men, Jake knew size was the bond of children. Big meant grownups; small meant something else.
“But what about magic?” Jake asked.
He moved his hands in the air as if painting a sky with an invisible brush. He closed his eyes; he hummed, he then reached behind the boy’s ears with calm, steady movements. When he pulled his hand back there was a dollar in it. This was the magic.
The boy laughed, sincerely and innocent, the way only a child can do. Jake handed him the dollar.
“See, who needs toys when there’s magic everywhere.”
“Very impressive,” the woman said. “Your own kids must love that.”
“More, more, more!” the boy yelled.
Jake stood; quickly, as if not just standing, but ejecting from the child’s world.
“Not today,” Jake said. The boy stopped jumping; the woman frowned, both of them appearing let down by the end of this impromptu magic show. Jake then reached down and took the dollar from the boy’s hand, pulling it past the soft grip of his tiny fingers.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He walked down the aisle, bordered by toys he’d spent the better part of the week helping children get down. Now he wasn’t even looking at them. In the background he heard cries.
Jake left the store running. He went twenty three blocks, steady breath, his body sweating evenly, as if used to this routine and knowing the most efficient way to cool itself down. Jake’s body was fit, something he took pride in. He often ran to just prove he could run.
He ended at a city building that looked just like the rest. It had hundreds of windows, it was the color white, it was one in a thousand. The building looked pretty from the outside, but Jake knew it was broken. He knew water leaked from its pipes, and that that past its polished shell were clogged drains.
Jake fell to his knees. He grabbed his legs and rocked like a child watching a movie at the edge of their bed. Dozens of people walked by, though no one stopped.
“What?” Jake yelled. “What?”
He moved his hands to his crotch and cupped his erect penis.
Clair came home earlier that day. She walked into her bathroom and screamed, pushing against a wall and knocking over a shelf filled with white towels. Jake was in the tub, immersed in the filthy water, his body pruned as if he’d been sitting there for hours.
“The tub is still clogged,” Jake said.
“Jake, what the hell are you doing?”
“I called in sick today.”
“I called in sick all week.”
Clair opened her lips, as if expecting to have a quick response like she always did. She said nothing, however, and slowly sat at the edge of the tub.
“Jake, what’s wrong? Tell me.”
“I tried donating sperm.” Jake was silent, waiting for Clair to digest his comment, knowing it was something she wasn’t expecting to hear.
“They give you a hundred dollars you know.”
“A hundred dollars.”
“Jesus.” Clair could see his naked body in the tub, all of his curves and colors past streams of dirt and hair. “Why would you do that?”
“Because we need it.”
She stood from the tub. Their bathroom was comically small, though she still managed to pace. “You should have told me about this, Jake.”
“We need the money.”
“I don’t care what we need. You should have told me.”
Jake looked down. He sank deeper into the water and began to cry. He covered his face and sobbed, revealing veins on his forehead. Clair was silent, standing above him like a mother would a child.
“I’m sorry,” Jake said.
“Don’t cry, Jake. Jesus.”
And he cried harder. Clair rubbed her eyes and blinked over and over.
“Jake, we can ask our parents for money if we need to.”
He turned away, revealing lines of long hair from the bathwater strung across his back.
“I’m not mad at you,” Clair said. “I’m just.” She slowly sat back on the ledge. “I’m just-“
“They didn’t accept it,” Jake interrupted. He gasped for air, mixing his own saliva and snot into the bathwater. “My sperm. I went back three times. Used different names. They never accepted it. So I went and asked why. They usually don’t say, but I kept going and…” Jake leaned up. He wiped his tears and purposely stuck out his wide chest. “I know we’re not trying. Maybe we never will…But you should know this.”
Clair looked at the tub. Even in the filthy water she could see her reflection. She wore makeup, her cheeks were round with a tint of red, and a dimple was at the side of her mouth. She looked nothing like she did in the morning. Everyone told her she was beautiful.
“Get out of the tub, Jake. The water’s disgusting.”
She stood. Jake leaned forward, trying to hide any evidence that he had been crying. When he was about to stand he noticed a brown bag at the entrance of the bathroom.
“What’s in your bag?” Jake asked.
Clair continued to stare at her reflection, which was now broken in the water.
“Clair,” Jake said. “What’s in your bag?”
“A fucking plunger.” And she walked out of the room.
Jake hummed. He felt bubbles surface at his sides. He lifted his hands and moved them like a magician before his final trick. There was nothing to appear.
Jake then reached for the shower handle and turned the water back on.
Posted by Sean Kenealy