Saturday, December 9, 2017


By Michael Priv

© 2017 Michael Priv. All Rights Reserved.

Life sucks and then you die—trite but true. My house is dark and neglected. My laptop is fossilizing under a layer of dust. My TV died, just like my garbage disposal. Nobody, namely me, cooked anything in ages—or took out the trash for that matter. Time froze; life stopped.
                I don’t want to think, but thoughts keep worming their way through my skull as I if I am buried alive. Unpleasant imagery, isn’t it? I grab another beer.
                After twenty years of a reasonably happy marriage, my wife dumped me for a younger man who apparently went to the gym a lot in between his successful legal practice and his mountain climbing expeditions to Kilimanjaro. Probably hung like a donkey, too.
She took the kids, obviously, since I don’t have a job at the moment—well okay, for the last ten months—not for the lack of trying, I assure you. The kids simply went with her, no drama. I thought I loved my kids. Not so sure at the moment.
To say I am hurt, or insulted, or devastated would be accurate but still a misnomer—an accurate misnomer. I am dead. I am buried in a cold, dark place—the place of silence. Nobody here but me and the worms of my thoughts.
She left; I stayed behind. She is happy; I am not. She has him, the mountain climbing dick; I have no one. She has a future; I have nothing but past. She has a new life; I have a new… what? Death, I guess.
Death? I am too much of a coward for that. Although I heard slitting one’s wrists in a bathtub of warm water wasn’t that bad. That’s it then? The end? Finita la comedia? Just the thought that five minutes from now I wouldn’t feel the pain is refreshing, the ultimate panacea. What am I doing here? Who needs me? Nobody, not even the kids. Not even my parents. Death beckons: the beautiful seductress. Something to think about. I shuffle to the bathroom to think about it right there at the bathtub, at the epicenter. Five minutes and whew, no pain . . .
The horror unfolding in the bathroom stops me dead in my tracks. I suppose first I am swatted by the stench and only then struck by the sight. With disgusting gargling, gagging, and sucking noises the bathtub is filling up with sh . . . I beg your pardon, excrements, the raw sewage.
Unbelievable! I can’t even die right. One time I almost make a decision and bam! Just once . . .
Got to call Roto-Rooter now. Disgusted with myself, I comb through all the horizontal surfaces in the house in search of my cell phone comforted by the thought that it is probably easier to find things here in my modest home, than, say, in a huge house of that donkey-dick lawyer—a small consolation of sorts. Small, ha! Average size… God!
The doorbell interrupts my search for the phone. A young guy in work uniform is at the door, all pierced and tattooed.
“The Plumber,” he announces cheerily, attempting to squeeze past me with no invitation. “The Plumber” his nametag reads. How do these people get through metal detectors at the airports with so many piercings?
“Name’s Al,” the kid introduces himself. 
“The plumber?” I ask.
“That’s us,” Al nods. “What’s the emergency here, Brian?”
How does he know my name?
“I didn’t call a plumber . . .”
The Plumber,” Al corrects me. “There,” he nods toward a van outside with the words THE PLUMBER, #1 IN THE #2 BUSINESS stenciled on its side in large, cheerful letters.
“Seriously? #1 in #2? That’s your level of . . . whatever?” I look at the guy accusingly.
The guy rolls up his eyes and spreads his arms in a “Hey, what do I know what those marketing dicks are doing?” manner.
“You see, I was just looking for my phone when you rang, so I couldn’t have called you with no phone, do you understand? And I wanted to call the Roto-Rooter anyway, ‘cause your slogan is not exactly . . .  Plus I don’t trust you kids, the millennials. Go snap some selfies or hook up at an after-party or something.”
“You found your phone, remember?” Al reminds me patiently.
What do you know! I distinctly remember now that I did indeed find my phone. Yes, there it was on the kitchen table as expected, and then I called them, the Roto-Rooter. Wait a minute… The Roto-Rooter or The Plumber? I look up and find myself staring at an elderly, cleanly shaved plumber, his thin gray hair carefully combed, with a nametag “Roto-Rooter” on his dark blue breast pocket and his name “Al” on it.
“What the hell? What happened to the young guy?” I ask Al, bewildered.
“What young guy?” the plumber raises his eyebrows in surprised. “Young guys don’t want to do plumbing. Easy childhood and participation trophies ruin character. All they are good for is snapping selfies and hooking up, you know? Think they don’t have to work, neither, they’ll all be millionaires before thirty. What seems to be the problem here, Brian?” Al is all business now.
A quick glance through the open entrance door reveals a Roto-Rooter van parked in my driveway. Oh, yes, now I remember calling the Roto-Rooter. What happened to the other van? Silly me. There never was any other van.
“I just called a minute ago. Pretty quick, aren’t you?” I ask as I let the older guy in.
“Don’t forget to mention me in the survey you’ll get in the email,“ Al nods amicably. “Customer satisfaction is our number one concern.”
“You’ve come to the right place, Al. Customer satisfaction is what I desperately need right about now.” I usher Al into the bathroom and allow him to behold the horror in silence.
“Yep, as a customer you are missing out on a lot of satisfaction at the moment,” Al finally declares. “And this,” he points at the continuously arriving horror in the bathtub, “violates one of the three major laws of construction.”
“What law?”
“That shit flows downhill. You have shit flowing uphill here, Brian. That’s a no-no. How did you do that?” Al glances at me in an accusing sort of way and shakes his head in disapproval.
“And what are the other two laws?” I ask, feverishly figuring out how much extra they’ll charge me for the violation of a major law. Can I even afford this dude now?
“The other two are ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and ‘payday’s on Friday,’” Al explains with a grin.
I stare at him. “Joking at a time like this?” I ask.
“Lighten up, man! On this job I wouldn’t last past the first seven days without a sense of humor!”
“You’re here to work. So work!” I snap.
“Just full of negativity, aren’t you? All this crap just keeps on oozing from the depth of your sub-consciousness, doesn’t it?”
                “What?!” Rage is pounding in my head, threatening to kill me with an apoplectic fit.
                “Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m here to work . . . Okay, let’s see . . .” Al gets on all four and starts poking in his tool bag, the inevitable plumbers’ crack showing. I never noticed he even had a tool bag before. Al is muttering something under his breath as he is searching through his bag. I hear “Half-inch . . . five-eights . . .” He finally extracts a smallish plunger out of his bag.
                “What kind of a goddamn plumber are you?! You can’t fix this with a plunger!” I shout, enraged.    
                “Fix this?” Al points at the bathtub and raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Oh no, I’m not going to fix this. This is just a symptom, a consequence of your mental state. You are full of crap, I’m sorry to say, and that’s official. No need to bother fixing the consequence unless we address the cause,” he explains in a reasonable tone of voice. “You tracking?”
                My breath catches in my chest. I am so infuriated, I can’t say a word. Out of many things that I want to say or do at the moment, including but not limited to proactively strangling the bastard, the only thing that finally comes out is, “Then why the hell do you even need a plunger?!”
                “Here, let me demonstrate.” Al is suddenly and inexplicably right next to me, jamming his plunger to my forehead. I want to scream but I can’t. Paralyzed with terror, I can’t move. Al starts making pumping motions with the plunger, muttering something about needing a new half-inch protoplasmic coupling under his breath. I feel something is happening in my mind, not altogether unpleasant.
                “Calm down,” Al says. “Remember, you called us. Your life is full of crap, not mine. I’m here to help. Okay?”
                “Get off of me!” I want to scream but can’t.
“Trust me, I’m a professional,” Al says in a soothing voice. “Or trust yourself. It adds up to about the same thing.”
I suddenly feel my anger evaporating. I feel better, lighter.
                “Yep, we hit something! An obstruction,” Al’s face is alight with satisfaction of the job well done. The plunger unsticks from my head with a pop. “You have a question?”
                “Yes, I do, Al,” I reply, calm now. “Could you explain this phenomenon in a little more detail?” I point at the bathtub with the bubbling feces. It seemed the level subsided a bit.
                “Certainly,” Al readily agrees. “Thought is the cause of everything. You are what you think. What you think is all you are and all you have in your life and all you’ll ever have. Judging by this,” he points at the bathtub, “we are dealing with unfulfilled promises galore as well as lies, words left unsaid and unbecoming acts that you are not proud of. You tracking?”
                “I was always good to her! I loved her dearly for twenty years. She dumped me for that long-dick mountain climber! I didn’t leave her! So fuck you and your unbecoming acts!” I yell, enraged again. “Why me? Why?!” The gargling noise from the bathtub is louder. The sewage is threatening to flood over the edge.
Al glances at the tub nervously. “Of course you were good to her!” he hurriedly agrees, “Now stop asking why this is happening to you and start thinking more in the direction of what this experience is for. What does it teach you?”
                “That all women are no good?” I ask. “The ungrateful bitches. They stab you in the back every time!” The crap in my bathtub reaches the very top again.
                “What does it teach you? Not her. Not interested in her at the moment. Not interested in your excuses or explanations, either. Honest now.”
                “Why are you not interested in my excuses? I have some good ones.” I feel that I really do. After all, she left me, not the other way around.
                “Are you sure she left you and not the other way around?” Al asks as if I spoke my thoughts aloud. Or have I? “Are you sure you didn’t leave her first but pretended to still be there when you weren’t?”
                I thought about it. In a way I did leave her first—in spirit, not physically. Well, physically, too, I suppose.
                Al nodded his satisfaction. “That’s better. Remember, nobody is interested in your excuses, ever. You are the only one listening to your own excuses. Imagine being a passenger on a bus which flies off an overpass and kills you, but turns out the driver had an excuse. Would you be interested to hear what it was?”
I shake my head.
“’Course not. So get over it. No more excuses. Now, think. What is the lesson you are learning here?”   
                I thought about it. “Well, I did leave her in a way. I could probably improve on a few things.” I notice that the crap level in my tub came down some.
                “A few things? Like what?” Al asked.
                “I could’ve thought more about the family instead of feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in my own crap, you know? I could be there more for them or even be there at all.”
                “And then she wouldn’t have left?”
                “How would I know?”
                “You know, Brian. Honest now.”          
                “Honest? I suppose if I lived up to my own expectations, she probably wouldn’t have left.” That is the truth. Damn. I’m such an idiot. What have I done? I run my trembling fingers through my thinning hair.
                “Why do you think she fell in love with you to begin with?”
                My mind takes me back to when we were twenty.
                “I made her a part of all my plans, I suppose. I accepted her as a major part of my life long before we got married. That and a sense of adventure. I used to race ATVs and bikes, did white water rafting, parachuting, you name it. She loved the adventure.”     
“So what happened? Where did you amble off the straight and narrow, you oaf?”
“I hated the manager’s job. I was okay as a salesman but not as a manager. Honestly, I hated being a salesman, too. I always wanted to have an ATV repair shop. Fix them up and sell them, trade them, organize races, classes, picnics, things like that.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Come on, seriously? With three kids? Hobbies don’t pay the bills.”
“Where are your kids now? And who is paying the bills?” Al chuckles. “Brian, you got to get honest with yourself. And remember as you think so you are. I want you to really get it. You think it doesn’t pay the bills so it doesn’t. You are always right. Always.”
“I betrayed her,” I finally mumble.
                “You betrayed yourself first. Join the human race, man! The funny breed. You people think you are not angels but you really are. Boy, are you confused!” Al slaps me on the back. “Now look,” he points at the tub.
                The gleaming, pristine white surface of the tub shimmers in bright LED lighting of the can fixtures in the ceiling. Where the hell did those come from? I wanted to remodel this bathroom for ages but never had the money. I stare at the fancy tile job around the tub. Holy shit!
                “Hey . . . ?” I turn around but Al is gone. I didn’t even thank him. I run to the entrance door to see if his van is still there but find my wife’s SUV in the driveway instead.
                Here she is, walking toward me.
“Hi, hon!” my wife waves at me, smiling, as if nothing happened. How much would I give to see that smile every day of my life? All I’ve got, that’s how much.
                I startle her with a huge bear hug. She nestles at my chest. “Listen, hon,” I start, “did you really dump me for that mountain climbing donkey-dick lawyer?”
                My wife pushes me away, making big eyes, and gives me a long stare.
                “You’re not making any sense. What dick? You need rest, hon. I understand you’re super-busy with setting up that international ATV competition but . . .” 
                “Yes, I agree. Hey, princess, you wanna fool around?” I interject, offering my hand. “Ah? Wanna wet your whistle? What are your plans for the next hour or so?”
                “You mean right now? You're so full of it, Brian! An hour? More like five minutes!” Her eyes crinkle as she laughs happily, taking my hand. “Ten minutes, tops.”
                “So is my ten minutes okay with you?” I ask.
                “Perfect! Wouldn’t have it any other way, hon. Come on!” laughing, she pulls me toward the house.
                 From the corner of my eye, as we are entering the house, I see a Roto-Rooter truck unhurriedly lumbering by. I don’t see the driver but I wave and smile just in case.
You never know. 

By Michael Priv
© 2016 Michael Priv. All Rights Reserved.

“Gran’pa Baltazar, tell us a story! Gran’pa Baltazar, tell us a story-y-y!” the little ones nagged shrilly, tugging on the old man’s tunic.
“Well, alright, my little pigeons, gather ‘round!” Old Baltazar eyed the small fry affectionately. His four grand children, all daughter’s stock, nestled excitedly at his feet by the fire in the Great Hall.
“What story would you like to hear, my little fishes?”
“Diego story!” yelled Augustine, eyes ablaze with excitement.
“Well, I don’t know. Do you really want to hear that old sailor’s story again?” Baltazar shook his head in mock disbelief.
“Yes! Sailors!” the children shrieked ecstatically.
“Alright, alright. Ready, my little flowers? Well, okay then. This story began a long, long...”
          “Time ago!” Little Freda’s squeak was immediately drowned out by the other children’s menacing “Shhh!”
          “Time ago.” Baltazar agreed amiably. “I was still young then, and your beautiful mother had not even been born. It was that long ago.”
          “Ten years ago?” Augustine asked.
          “No, Augustine, more like forty years ago. Maybe more.”
          “Wow! That is very long. Are you that old, Gran’pa?”
          “Yes, very old, much older even than forty. Anyway, in those days, I was a hand on a ship, the Santa Maria, a carrack exploring the Atlantic Ocean. A good, sturdy bunch of homeboys from Andalusia, we were all experienced sea hands, held in check by Bartolome, the boatswain. Our captain, Cristobal Colon was a wily businessman, a scoundrel and a mean drunk, like all Portuguese. But the pay was good. We were looking for the faraway land of India. But that’s not what the story is about. This story is about our master-at-arms, a fellow by the name Diego de Arana. I remember him well, a handsome fellow, fair in demeanor, always smiling and good at keeping peace. Diego was invincible, as if under the divine spell. He would magically walk away on death again and again. Nothing could kill him. Nothing could harm him. Nothing!”
          “Not even sharks, gran’pa?”
          “But why?” Children heard the story before, but held their collective breath now, awaiting the revelation.
          “Because he owned a magic statuette of the Virgin Mary. It was protecting him from all harm.”
          “Yes, it was! That statuette, an ancient alabaster figurine of exquisite beauty, was blessed by the great Saint Thomas Aquinas himself, and the rumors had it, it possessed powers of true magic.”
          “What did it do, gran’pa?”
          “Oh, pure magic and the examples abound. But it had to be kept hidden from the human eye as much as possible—hidden in a small velvet sack with a silk rope. It was of God and so it was only God’s to see.”
“Was that little velvet bag like yours, gran’pa?”
“Yes, kind of like mine. But mine’s black and his was red velvet. As the master-at-arms, Diego kept it under guard with the arsenal in the guns locker. Not even the captain was allowed to see or touch it by the Royal Decree.”
          “A Royal Decree?!” The children eyes were big in surprise.
          “Yes, my little sparrows, by the order of His Majesty, the King. Before we sailed, Queen Isabella came aboard accompanying His Majesty. We all mustered on the deck amid-ship after an all morning cleaning, wearing Sunday shirts, all brass shining and some of us even shaven, spurred into virtue by the sternest of warnings from the captain himself. The harbor had a good chop rolling in that morning. Imagine our horror when the wind blew queen’s silk shawl off her royal shoulder! Up and around the shawl went, flying gracefully through the air, carried by the wind...”
“Did the queen loose her shawl?”
“No, no, of course not. It got caught on the mizzen rail. Without a word, Diego climbed the mizzen webbing like a monkey, stepped on the rail and walked four meters on a skinny rail, unassisted, despite the rolling seas and high winds, to retrieve the royal shawl. He bent down there, high up in the air over the frothing chop, freed the shawl, turned around and strolled back to the webbing. Queen Isabella fainted. She was known for that.
          “The king ordered Diego flogged for his audacity, but the queen, when she came around, immediately changed king’s mind for him—she was known for that, too—and summoned Diego. She questioned him closely and he explained with his usual smile, staring boldly into the regal face, that nothing bad could ever befall him, for he had in his possession the magic statue of the Virgin Mary. The Queen asked more about the figurine and then told the King to order the safe keeping of Virgin Mary for our success and safe voyage across the Great Ocean.                
           “And so our little flotilla sailed off into the rough August seas. Many a time were we saved by Diego’s statuette—close calls with heavy objects crushing down, dysentery and storms. I held many a guard duty at the guns locker where Virgin Mary resided, watching over us.
          “One time, after two months of endless seas, the sailors started a mutiny, aiming to bully the Captain into turning back. Diego confronted them calmly and told them to disperse. A big bully Domingo, the cooper, queried with amazement that the Captain sent only one man to quench their riot.
          “Well, you only have one riot,” Diego explained with a grin.
          “Domingo laughed heartily and so did his bullies and dispersed smirking, shaking their heads and slapping Diego on the back.
          “We finally reached solid ground, found the mysterious and wonderful land of India, or so we all thought, and then we returned home safely—blessed be the Virgin.
Diego later went on to leading expeditions of his own, traveled the Atlantic to map the coasts of Cuba and the Caribbean. He lost ships to pirates and storms, walked the plank and was even abducted by cannibals once, as the rumors had it. He was married more times than he could count and now dozens of good people all around the world proudly call him “Papa.” Nothing, but absolutely nothing, could ever harm him. Until the day he discovered that his precious statue was stolen. The story goes that he caught cold and died not even a week later—a rich man, with his boots off, surrounded by his weeping wives and concubines.”
          “Somebody stole his statue?!”
          “Yes, somebody did. That killed poor Diego but that was many years later.”
          “His statue was stolen later?”
          “No, no, it had been stolen many years earlier—before he discovered the theft. Unbeknownst to him, somebody switched the statue in his velvet sack with a rock, but he was always certain that it was still there.”
          “How do you know, gran’pa? How do you know it was stolen much earlier and he didn’t know for a long time?”
          “That’s just how I heard it. Okay, little grasshoppers, time to sleep!”
          “No! No, gran’pa! Explain!”
          “Off you go, kiddies. Inez, come get the kids!” old Baltazar yelled to his daughter.
          His lovely daughter, surrounded by maids and nannies, made her entrance, illuminating the Great Hall with her smile and gracing all with her presence.
          With the kids gone, old Baltazar stretched closer to the fire comfortably, reminiscing. He did well, very well, indeed. He certainly had come a long way from the deck hand he once was on Santa Maria. Those days were long gone. He had put together quite some capital in the Caribbean. The golden days of honest piracy. He had lost several ships to the various Navies and to other pirates. He fought shoulder to shoulder with the best of the best! All died young. None survived. But he... Nothing could ever harm him, as he was under the protection of the divine eye. Then he settled down, invested quite heavily in gold and spices. Things went well.
          It was getting late. Time for some untroubled rest for the old bones. Baltazar, still smiling, got up heavily and strolled to his chambers for his nightly retiring ceremony. His Bed Master, Dress and Stool servants as well as the Chamber Boy were immediately at hand, as if magically brought in by the puff of fresh air through the stained glass window, slightly ajar. The sweet smell of orange blossoms filled the air. What a wonderful, magical night! Old but still strong, Baltazar had probably good ten years of this paradise left in him.
          The servants undressed and changed Baltazar into a silk sleeping robe, served the chamber pot, prepared his bed, tucked him in and departed with reverent bows.
          “Braulio!” old Baltazar called after the Bed Master. “Give me my bolsa de terciopelo!” 
          The velvet bag. It had been years since he beheld the divine and exquisite beauty of the sacred Virgin Mary. They had been good years of great health and prosperity.
          Baltazar fondled the soft bag lovingly, reached inside and pulled out not the smooth alabaster masterpiece, but a roughly molded chunk of dry clay.
          His Virgin Mary was gone! Stolen!
Baltazar bellowed “Sound General Quarters! All hands on deck!” as in his old pirate days, jumping out of bed and half-expecting to see his brutes mustering all about him, muskets and pistols ready, sabers ablaze, ready to board or repel boarders, kill or die on his command. Alas, no. They were all dead, all taken by a battle or a drunken brawl, tucked deep into the Old Man Sea’s locker or hung by the neck in the cold faraway land of the Brits.
He was alone. Baltazar staggered from sudden sharp pain in his heart, clutching his chest with his right hand as his left was suddenly paralyzed by terrible pain.
          The magic was gone.
          The Chamber Boy discovered the dead body of old Baltazar only a minute later, alarmed by the screams. Baltazar was lying on the floor, vomit on his face, dead eyes staring blankly at the broken pieces of dry clay, where they had fallen from his dying hand.