For Malchicken, it was bad enough to hear the snide comments making the rounds—from plumber to car mechanic to casino dog—that the jobs at the Chicken trailer paid double-time because there was more than one hole to plunge. It was crazy enough to notice how the shirt his mother wore in the mornings had an embroidered name on it that was not similar to the embroidered name affixed to the jumpsuit the stranger in the house was wearing, not similar as in not like Richard is to Dick or Jonathan to John. It was creepy enough to see the same stranger clang knife to fork as his mother offered to pack him a lunch, placing two fruit rolls, a soda, a de-crusted sandwich, and an oversized piece of dessert into a used paper bag that was so soft and worn it made no noise as she opened it up. She would pause, one hand holding the bag while the other yanked open drawers, to find a little something, a knife, a bottle opener, a wooden spoon, anything with some kind of durable value, in the hopes that the plumber would have the conscience to return it, along with himself, later that evening. It was depressing enough to watch his mother take the green Keno pencil she’s saved all these years since the Chickens’ honeymoon in Vegas, its point a massive halberd in her hand, and cross off the listings for plumbers, carving ruts through poultry, printing, qigong and whatever else followed the letters P-L in the big yellow book. But no. What really battered Malchicken’s drummettes, what really dusted his marbles, was that his mother didn’t think the self-leveling camera was worth paying for.

Sure, she’d open up the coffers for the extra pressure, the repeat thrusts and sleek flow-through mechanisms, but when they asked if she wanted to capture the underground tunnel on videotape she told them she had seen enough crap. “What’s to see anyway?” she’d ask. “Just get that can moving.” Unlike Mal, she didn’t care to see if what was coming in was going out.

One evening, while his mother had gone to her room to freshen up, Mal asked a sour-mouthed plumber whether he had ever used one of the little sewer cameras. Without answering, he demanded, with short, Tommy-gun exhalations, to know who told him to ask. When Mal didn’t say anything the plumber grabbed him by the back of his neck and demanded to know where Pop Chicken was.

“I know about these things, and whoa, just tell me if I’m gonna have to get my fists ready.”

“?”

Whoa. Watch me.”

“…” Mal shook his head.

“If your old man comes through that door tonight, watch me if I don’t knock him flat.”

“…”

“I’m not going to play no tool.”

“He’s not.” Mal muttered, squirming.

“If he does tonight, I’ll do him.”

“Not coming.”

“Dead flat. You hear?”

“…” Mal shrugged.

Whump.”

“…”

Wham.” The plumber placed a fist softly on Malchicken’s chin.

“…”

Too-nite.” The plumber repeated, angling his head repeatedly toward the bedroom. He let go of Mal’s neck and moved his hands until they held him by the sides, and with his giant palms he pushed the tips of Mal’s shoulders inwards. There was a hint of a massage. So slight, Mal had to unclench his stomach in order to discern whether it was real. The plumber kept rubbing and said, “I know about those cameras. Oh…I know. Let me tell you what happened last time I had a run in with an angry husband. It wasn’t…heh, heh, surprise, surprise…” and now a wry chuckle passed through his lips, “due to any mis-plunging of my own…. No…It was only that I was doing my job too well.”

“…”

“See, I had gotten a house call, and I show up with my high-tech video thee-ruster ready to visualate the stubborn blockage. Here I was showing my customer the clarity and detail of the flexy-cam thee-ruster as we’re going down his pipe. It’s a beauty! But, a few feet into it, just as we get a rhythm going, whump, the camera stops.”

“Clarity and detail,” Malchicken repeated.

“We look into the monitor, right, and it was awful clear what it was. Clear as day, and I swear to you the bastard looked yellow, and I know how the picture here’s only black and white but there it was…yellow.”

“Yellow.”

“Sure as heck that bastard was clogging the pipe, along with a shitload of hair, and not far from it was the little foil package it came in. Came in…. Ha ha. It was a…you know…,” the plumber snarled, using a gesture with two fingers to encircle his groin. “One of them lubed pups. Rib-bed.”

The plumber finished the pantomime and his hands went back to Mal’s neck. Mal felt seasick and embarrassed and he started giggling, as if a skit intended as slapstick had knocked an old lady down and she was writhing in pain.

“You get my joke, do you?” The plumber laughed. “It was a clear I.D. And from the look on my customer’s face, whoa, I could tell right away the ‘lil bastard had not been a mutual purchase in this household, meaning husband and wife had not selected that piece of family planning together.”

“…” Malchicken swallowed hard.

“He stared at me and said ‘motherfucker.’ I tried nosing the blockage some more. The bastard wasn’t budging. He said to me ‘Motherfucker that fucking motherfucker.’ I said it sure looked like one. Yup. He said ‘Motherfucker it’s…I…I don’t…I don’t…no, not me. No, no, no, no, no. One does not make an ass out of me. Motherfucking cocksucker.’ I kept my nodding. So then the guy calls up his wife who was in a meeting so he leaves her this sweet little message about how there had been an emergency and could she come home at once. After that he hung up and started whacking himself with the phone. Like this. In the head. Blap. Then he got tired of that and hurled it into the bathtub. The batteries went flying everywhere and he went and pitched them one by one into the bedroom.”

“…”

“Motherfucker comes back to the bathroom and takes me by the neck. Here, like this,” the plumber said, swinging Mal around and locking one arm around his neck. “And he screams ‘Bitch! You’re dead, bitch! Dead, you hear? Bitch, you’re dead!’”

Mal gagged and tried to pull away from the plumber’s chest.

“And he kept going on, like this, saying, ‘You’re so dead! Bitch!’ And so I….” The plumber released the pressure around Mal’s neck, and reversed the set-up by grabbing Mal’s arm so that it went around the plumber’s own neck. “Here, pretend you’re him and you’re strangling me. Come on, harder. Pull.” His fingers prodded at Mal’s arm to get him to tighten his grip. “Come on, harder…yeah, harder. So he’s trying to kill me, right? So then I had to do this….” In one move the plumber twisted around and spun out from the headlock into a position where he had maneuvered Mal’s arm behind Mal’s back and bent his own knee up Malchicken’s crotch. “To save my life,” the plumber said, breathlessly. He grumbled about how doing that move against the husband, who was much larger than him, tore his knee a little. He wiggled the hurt leg, shook his head, and then he farted.

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