“Raise your hand if you are here to have sex with my wife,” said Bertram.
Most everyone waiting on the Kildare’s front lawn raised their hand, including several young men wearing one-piece grey jumpers that signified they were in the repair industry, and several wearing blue chambray shirts that signified cars. All of the women raised their hands, causing the men to exchange high-fives and meaningful head-nods.
“Okay, now raise your hand if you are an actual plumber who is not here to have sex with my wife,” said Bertram.
One hand went up in back. Bertram tried to peer through the crowd to find out who it was, but the people gathered on his lawn were too densely packed, and too agitated with anticipation. Slowly, the hand worked its way through the crowd until Bertram and the hand’s owner were eye to eye on the Kildare’s doorstep.
“You are a plumber,” said Bertram.
“Yes sir, I am,” said the man. He was in his sixties and squat without stooping. He had a clean shave but it looked completely out of place, as if somebody had stripped all of the bark from a tree. His forearms turned out from his body, and his shoulders had a curl to them from years of bending and straining while crouching and reaching. His nametag said “Stu,” and his eyes were so far apart, and so lateral, that his blind spot must have been the size of two coffee cups, side by side. There was a pipe wrench dangling from a loop on the side of his jeans like something obscene.
Stu kept his hand raised until Bertram motioned for him to lower it. Stu’s thick hands were so dark and stained that they didn’t match the rest of his skin. There were so many scars and contusions that it looked as if he had dipped them up to the elbows in hot oatmeal.
“Stu,” said Bertram. “I got to take a dump like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I reckon I might believe it, considering the line of work that I am in, and considering the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen,” said Stu.
“It’s not only that,” said Bertram. “It’s my wife. She’s got to use the bathroom herself, only she won’t say what kind. And she’s awful mad at me because she thinks I stopped up the toilet, and she won’t listen to a word I’m saying. I couldn’t have stopped up the toilet -- that just doesn’t make any sense -- I go once a day, and I haven’t gone yet.”
“Sounds like an amount of marital strife that could break a man,” said Stu.
“I’m glad you understand,” said Bertram. “Only that’s not all. The other thing is that my wife and I invited over an orgy team to have sex with her while I watch and masturbate. I posted her picture on the internet, and some video of her holding up a team sweatshirt, and they agreed to send folks over today, if they were in the area, and could get the time off from their jobs.”
“I don’t know what to say about that,” said Stu. “I don’t reckon I understand what you are saying in any sense that you could find on God’s green.”
“Anyway, we can’t get started until we get the toilet working, for hygiene reasons,” said Bertram. “And in the meantime, I’ve got all of these people waiting on my lawn, you see. I can’t really step outside and do my business in front of them without them wondering if that is part of the scene, which is not something that I specified. And the wife sure as hell won’t do anything like go inside a bucket, or do her business in the bathtub and pull the shower curtain. In fact, she’s been cleaning all day.”
“How do you like that,” said Stu. “It’s a real paradox. A real puzzle.”
“So if you wouldn’t mind,” said Bertram. He stood out of the way and opened the door wide enough so that Stu could duck under and get inside the house. Stu raised up his toolkit in a friendly manner as a salute and walked under Bertram’s arm and into the foyer. Bertram said something to the crowd that made them cheer, and then shut the door.
“Got to keep their spirits high,” said Bertram.
“A place this big ought really to have more than one toilet,” said Stu. “This is a big place.”
“Yes, well, I’m a hard worker, and we took this place to fix it up,” said Bertram. “But we haven’t finished remodeling the whole thing yet, and so we only have the one working commode.”
Stu set down his toolkit and put his hands alongside his head. He squeezed, snorted, and then nodded.
“That figures,” said Stu. “Only, if you are in a real bind, what I could do is get one of those unremodeled toilets working for the time being on a limited basis. I could get the water flowin temporarily,’ anyhow, and you could do your duty, and then I could shut it off and come back tomorrow when it’s not such an emergency.”
“I’d rather just get it taken care of now,” said Bertram. “After all, we are about to have guests.”
“Oh yeah,” said Stu. “I didn’t figure that.”
They went up a flight of stairs that had been draped with a clear plastic sheet. Another clear plastic sheet was on the floor of the upstairs den, where Dee Dee Kildare sat on a couch, smoking a cigarette and glaring. She was wearing an orange pair of shorts that had the texture of a dishtowel, and a halter top. She jostled her legs and smoked her cigarette without inhaling, popping the filter in and out and letting smoke trickle from her mouth as if the smoke was confused where to deposit its nicotine, like a delivery man with a heavy package who wasn’t sure about the address. Her legs jostled against each other with cloth clunks, and she did not get up when the two men came upstairs.
“You’d better just be the plumber,” said Dee Dee, shooting her husband a dangerous look. “What the hell took you so long?”
“Your street is one way, ma’m, and I had a bit of trouble finding a place to park legally,” said Stu, also looking to Bertram. “I always park legally. I had to keep circling round, and finally I parked at the church and hoofed it.”
“Well, the bathroom is in there,” said Dee Dee, lifting one leg to point with a flexed toe toward the only door. “Leave the door open so we can hear you work, and so we can hear if you try to steal anything.”
“I’ve taken two showers today because I can’t find my deodorant anywhere,” said Dee Dee. “It was stolen. I’ve looked all around, and I’m NOT using yours.”
“Dee Dee,” said Bertram, pained. “Stolen?”
“No, I understand all about it, and I am in no ways offended,” said Stu. “Not everybody in my line of work is an honest man, and there are many who try to take advantage.”
“You are about to be offended,” said Dee Dee, as Stu hunkered down with his tool kit in the bathroom, and sat down in front of the running toilet. There were dimples in the surface of the water that rippled like flinching eyes, and Stu could visualize the obstruction based upon where and how deep the dimples were. He took out his toilet jack – a hand-crank-driven length of stiff cable that could burrow into a pipe and take care of even the most stubborn obstruction. He was about to start cranking when Dee Dee’s head snapped around the doorjamb, and the bathroom filled with her smoke.
“You are about to be offended,” said Dee Dee again. “Because you are about to come into contact with one of my disgusting husband’s disgusting toilet-stopping bowel movements. He is a fiend, and he is destroying his colon with his obsessive diet, and his obsessive bathroom habits. He eats bran and beans – huge bowls of disgusting bran and beans – and only avails himself of the facilities once a day as if he were running laps, or brushing his teeth.”
“I brush my teeth twice a day,” said Bertram, joining Dee Dee and Stu in the tiny bathroom. “And I already told you, it can’t be one of mine because I haven’t gone today.”
“This is very embarrassing,” said Dee Dee. “But you should see these things. They are the size of a tennis shoe. My mother was down here for Thanksgiving with her little terrier, and she started screaming one day because he had backed up the toilet, and she thought it was her terrier in the bowl – drowned and dismembered.”
“She is exaggerating,” said Bertram. “Her mother also thinks that marshmallows are harvested in the Lousiana swamps by trained pigs.”
“They are not, though,” said Bertram.
Stu put his toilet jack down and put his hands in his pockets.
“You know, ma’m, in his defense, there ain’t a whole helluva lot to recommend the modern flush toilet,” said Stu. “It was invented ad hoc, you know – really as a gunpoint compromise between an outhouse and a vacuum cleaner without much thought given to design or functionality. There have been attempts to revolutionize the way your modern toilet works, but they never go nowhere. People got to have the same toilet they trained on, you see. They got to have it. So toilet innovation is always twenty or thirty years behind, especially for a beans and bran man.”
Bertram put his hands in his pockets too, and stood next to Stu with a smile on his face. He leaned in close to Stu and rocked back on his heels.
“I know what it is, although I haven’t said, because I didn’t want to say anything,” said Bertram. “But it is one of HER tampons. You aren’t supposed to flush those things, but she always does. Well. Now one has finally got stuck, and she can’t take it, even though I have told her time and again. It’s even on the box! Did you know that, Stu? It’s even on the box!”
“I am awares,” said Stu. “I try to stay on top of all plumbing-related product recommendations.”
“You can both just go to hell!” said Dee Dee. “You don’t know anything! You can both just go to hell, and stay there!”
“Well, hell,” said Stu. He put the lid down on the toilet and sat down. He put his head in his hands. The Kildares both looked at him.
“What’s the matter?” asked Dee Dee. Stu didn’t say anything. He sat there with his head in his hands, thinking. Finally he stood up, tossed his toilet jack aside, and held up his pipe wrench with a proud smile. He bent down and turned off the valve to the water. The toilet stopped running and the dimples disappeared.
“What are you going to do?” asked Bertram.
“Most of my tools are going to push whatever is stuck in there out the other side, and you’ll never see it again,” said Stu as he began removing bolts from underneath the toilet. “There was a time when that was the best I could offer you, and you would just have to deal with that. But I am older now, and I realize the importance of resolution to a marital spat. Some people would tell you that you would be better off not knowing, but I don’t cotton to that line of thinking. So I’ll tell you what. What I’m gonna do is take the whole u-bend off, and then I’m gonna dunk her in the tub, and we can settle this thing to everybody’s satisfaction.”
“Fine,” said Dee Dee. “Perfect.”
“You are being more than generous,” said Bertram. “And I thank you for it.”
The Kildares watched with intense curiosity as Stu worked. He was quick, and at a nod,
Bertram began filling the bathtub full of water. After a few minutes, Stu managed to get the u-bend off without spilling the slightest drop of toilet water onto their floor. He harrumphed, and Bertram got out of the way. Stu dropped the u-bend into the water, inserted the toilet jack, and looked up at Bertram and Dee Dee.
“Do it,” said Dee Dee.
Stu began to crank. The Kildares loomed over each of his shoulders. Their faces glowed with anticipation in the harsh play of the lights reflected on the bathroom’s primer-colored walls. Finally, there was a pop, and something squirted from the end of the u-bend into the bathtub water, and sunk to the bottom.
It was a tube of “Lady Fighter” brand sweat-activated deodorant.
Bertram’s eyes went wide.
“I must have knocked it off the counter top when I was shaving,” said Bertram. “Well, what do you know about that?”
“No, I must have knocked it off,” said Dee Dee. “And anyway, I shouldn’t have left it out like that when I was done with it. What could I have been thinking?”
Stu laughed and stood up. He replaced the u-bend with extreme haste and gathered his tools. Dee Dee and Bertram took turns using the bathroom while Stu figured up the bill and presented it. Bertram paid in cash, and included a rather sizeable tip.
“For your decency,” said Bertram.
“I’ll just be on my way then,” said Stu. “I’ve got a refrigerator magnet with my number on it you can have.”
But Bertram no longer paid him any attention. He only had eyes for his wife.
“I want to make it up to you, sweetheart,” said Bertram. “It is so stupid when we fight about such piddling bullshit.”
“It’s my fault,” said Dee Dee. “I get so twisted up about who is right, and who is wrong.”
“I want to make it up to you,” said Bertram. “Or better yet.”
He held up a finger and then ran down the stairs. Stu followed bashfully, trying to wave goodbye to Mrs. Kildare, but Dee Dee wasn’t watching Stu at all. Her legs were curled up underneath her on the couch and her eyes crinkled around the edges in a nasty smile.
Bertram threw open the door downstairs and Stu slunk out, chuckling to himself. There was a huge roar from the lawn, and a mighty “Huzzah!”
“I’ll let THEM make it up to you!” shouted Bertram, fumbling with his belt.