The row of mailboxes in front of the Tewa trailer park in Tesuque, New Mexico, reads from left to right: W.C., Mr. & Mrs. Chicken, Joy Vanderloo, T.J. Apodaca, Santi Chun-Mogul, the Orcistas, Esquibels, Benscooters, Justice, and E. Eagle. An “E-normous” and wholly intact spiderweb extends from the plastic lip of W.C.’s receptacle and connects to the corner of a cinder block several feet away. Shoved inside the cinder block’s cool arches are the spider’s previous attempts to conquer the distance, balled-up practice sessions of dry, white discharge. At least a million fire ants roam the park, slinging gravel, dead ants, and food. The surrounding yellowed soil is stained with miles of their invisible language. Sagebrush, chamisa, and other brittle-stemmed shrubs bend upon contact and perfume the air, but otherwise the flora shows no signs of change from season to season. Only E. Eagle’s mailbox, swaybacked and half ajar, gives an indication of the passage of time. The mail carrier stacks E.’s weekly magazine, sheathed in black plastic, on top of his box, and since E. Eagle collects his mail but once a month the pile-up is a good indication how far into the month it is. On the Chickens’ mailbox, the letters “+Mal” have been scribbled on the face in a harried stroke, as though something special would fail to be delivered if written any slower. The Chickens’ box, as well as the Benscooters’, is missing the red flag for outgoing mail.

By order of his mom, the neighborhood is off-limits for Malchicken, even though she secretly lusts after all of it—the whole eight blocks from Roget’s to Sven’s—for she knows every man there is wearing a jumpsuit.

Beyond the Chickens’ trailer park is an empty lot that marks the beginning of what locals call “Auto Row,” where what started several years ago as one store selling leather conditioner and piñon-scented car freshener gradually turned into an entire community of auto repair and auto parts/junk shops. By order of his mom, the neighborhood is off-limits for Malchicken, even though she secretly lusts after all of it—the whole eight blocks from Roget’s to Sven’s—for she knows every man there is wearing a jumpsuit. Each shop along the Row has a different animal mascot, and a fierce competition takes place thirty feet above ground, in neon. Roget’s badger wears a black beret, and he’s smoking an unattached mouse’s tail in one hand and strangle-holding Marson’s little mouse head in the other. Every time the badger pumps his biceps, the mouse’s bent whiskers light up in sequence. Malchicken’s dad used to say the proximity to Auto Row was a good thing, and that the lights were there to make ordinary days seem like holidays. His mom used to argue that it was so bright she could see the screws coming down on the lid of her coffin.

The buzzing from Roget’s neon sign stings the back of Mal’s head, just underneath the wide cup of his skull. A similar tone comes out of the television speaker when Malchicken’s mother shuts off the DVD player but forgets to power down the TV. The screen turns gray, and the letters DVD appear in mainframe green, matching hue to tone. Malchicken doesn’t have to be in the room to know it’s on. The two sounds together make his skin feel like it’s being pulled off in sheets.

Recently, Marson’s Lube and Oil has installed a new neon sign in which his French mouse, donning an apron and smoking a thin cigarette, is clubbing poor Roget’s badger with a rolling pin. The fall of the badger in lights is beautiful to watch—a crumbling arc of green and brown dotted with droplets of blood—but the real treat is watching the three doughnut-shaped puffs of dirt rise as the body collapses on the ground. Malchicken has heard that Marson originally wanted the badger to fester into little shapes that curled into croissants, but the sign company said it was too difficult. Though Malchicken loves the new sign, he’s harboring the hope Roget will fight back with something better, if not a little quieter.

Using the same kind of rolling pin as the mouse, Mal has created in the kitchen a miniature city made of puff-pastry cylinders. As heat penetrates the structures, the layers of dough will rise to towering heights with anally plumb walls, barring any shortcomings in craftsmanship. The Chickens’ oven does not have a light and as the pastry swells, the glass steams over, preventing even the faintest glimpse of how the construction is going inside. On the bottom of the window is etched the word PERMA-VIEW, and the glass is cracked from top to bottom, which produces a fragment the shape of New Hampshire. Or Vermont. Mal can’t quite remember the ditty he learned from Lernie the Online E-tutor at school about how to tell the two states apart. Which one points up and which one points down. Sealed tight inside the turrets of puff pastry, Malchicken has installed a savory stew made of chicken and beans. It’s wet-battered and egg-glazed so the surface will finish on the rich side of amber, the girlie side of brown. Though he’s added a few cherries for color, he knows at the end of the line the stuff is going to come out brown. The bowel end of the line. The brown end. Auto-chromatically. Brown, brown, brown. And now he’s got the mini camera to prove it. It’s regal, it’s pizzazz, the way it works, and real spirit-fueling.

At the sound of a hiss in the oven, Malchicken begins to fret. He knows the sound is telling him that liquid inside the pastry is drilling its way outward and falling to a carbonized hell. It’s a sign of shoddy workmanship. Working with previously frozen chicken parts and dried beans, it’s hard to control the moisture. The hissing may also be a wicked ploy taunting Mal to open up the oven door—do it do it do it—a reckless action that will release the heat trapped inside and end in disaster. It’s a bread-knife-to-the-sternum type of experience, the hissing, the wanting to know, the splintery edge of sawed bone. His best bet is to leave the kitchen and let the baking run its course, to retreat to his room’s darkness, disturbed only by a lukewarm moon. Setting the egg timer, which sounds out each painful second, on the sill, Mal pulls open the curtains, spraying beads of condensation diagonally across the glass. He takes a shy finger to the window, outlining shapes and cross-hatching them in with fat little squiggles. Freshly moistened dust tickles his nose. The bleating of the egg timer is steady.

Malchicken takes his head to the pillow, unbuckling his pants as he reclines. By the side of his bed there’s a wire he can pull which causes a mobile hanging above his head to spin. His body is a doughy exaggeration of an obese child’s. Born without the well-sectioned Chicken neck, Mal’s head-to-torso slope makes him a true pyramid-shaped American, according to FDA standards. Golden brown hair from his long pin head graces the tops of his shoulders, where the tips bounce with princely charm. His wads of fat are segmented and move independent of each other, colliding to form peaks and valleys. The color of his skin is that of unfired porcelain with undertones of scarlet and lavender. Next to his skin the threadbare fabric of his underwear appears velvety, sophisticated, and magical in hue.

With a yawn, Mal rolls over and pulls out from under the bed a jimmy-rigged little VCR and B/W monitor. The two are connected to each other via a fat black cable that he fondles awkwardly. The video he’s about to watch is a Malchicken masterpiece. It was shot using a mini self-leveling camera now tucked away inside a flannel pouch he keeps on his nightstand. The camera’s original use—fastened to a metal skid and attached to two hundred feet of cable, through which was pushed twelve gallons of water per minute from the back of a Santa Fe County sewer truck—was to go headfirst into clogged sewer systems and record the journey into darkness. Mal considers sending the camera into the kitchen to peer into the oven and laughs. He would be single-handedly responsible for improving the camera’s worldview. It’s perspective. From poop to pastries. He cups his head between his hands and sets the video to Play. Seconds pass before an image comes into focus.

The Chickens’ septic system had always been a “ball breaker,” and the way it “worked” had all three of them practicing the ancient art of inhalation and retention before crossing the threshold. Even without the contributions of Mr. Chicken over the last few years, the tank “kept its own way of thinking,” and Mrs. Chicken tried everything (short of liquefying the load before sending it down, and Malchicken had to threaten her with a kitchen knife before she conceded to let go of the blender) to keep the flow moving. She learned how to tighten up a loose-lipped plunger, and the importance of a flexible rod. Again and again she replaced the water-stained poster behind the seat showing two hands clasped in prayer and the words “Easy Does It” written underneath. Yet still the rebellious commode had difficulties swallowing, and a string of plumbers started coming up the aluminum steps of the Chicken trailer, until one by one they started to stay—later and later—until they showed up at breakfast taking their coffee black and their toast dry, their rolls having been slickly buttered all night.

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.

The following morning, under a one-ply cover, Malchicken discovered the plumber’s discarded vessel of man-flow in the bathroom trash. It was ripe, yellow, and cautiously seeping.

When the Chickens’ toilet finally ceased all activity, not even a limp bloop or a minor glug, Mrs. Chicken grabbed her Keno pencil and skipped to the end of the plumbers’ section. The minute Harold Zamcochyan’s boots struck across the living room floor, Mal started perspiring with excitement. This guy wasn’t going to fart around, literally. He didn’t blink at the sight of the water damage stains on the floor, and didn’t recoil when his steel-toed boot took a dip near the base of the toilet. Most important, he told the puffy-faced and flirtatious Mrs. Chicken that he was going to send in the camera or else he wasn’t taking the job. She chewed on her sleeve and considered her options. “Will it take long?” she finally asked. Malchicken stood behind her and peered at the plumber through the long O of his tightly curled hands. The plumber’s jumpsuit was embroidered with the name “Hobie.”

Before setting his knees down to work, Hobie moved aside the purple gingham toilet paper cozy and tugged at his pants several times, hooking his fingers deep into the belt loops. But, as head went to hole, the denim slipped and the curved tip of his vertical crack popped up and said yes’m. It was, to Mal, an impenetrable, onerous pit—and here he had to snigger—a pit probably a lot like the one the man was himself facing head on.

Without turning around, the man muttered something indiscernible; his breath rippled over the surface of the bowl like a scrunched-up sheet of plastic food wrap. Mal watched the darkened wet patch on the knee of the man’s pant leg spread upward to his thigh and across toward his ankle at the same chilling rate. One of the plastic caps intended to cover the toilet’s unsightly bolts had been knocked off and now floated toward him. Inside, there was something colorful resembling chewed peas and carrots, with dried clumps of hairy matter. It tried to dock on his shoe so Mal shuffled over to let it pass into the hallway. The water level was high enough to carry it over the threshold and whump, up and over it went. The sewer man again barked something and moved aside invasive clumps of clotted toilet paper with the back of his hand while he prepared the cable. He had hairless, dimpled skin on his back, and—hunched over as he was—a scruff of neck-meat so large Mal thought that if at that very moment the Tsunami was to come into the Chicken trailer, without a doubt Mal would need both hands to grab hold of Hobie.

Three hours later—having sent in the camera, viewed footage of dense video grain, retracted the cable, and shook it near his ear several times—the plumber got off his knees and sent out a request for the two Chickens to come into the room. He spat into the bowl, sending a sheet of honeylike liquid over the edge. A dry spider scaled the edge of the crumpled toilet paper cozy and dodged in and out of sight. Mal (who had never left) poked his head into the hallway and called for his mother. She came, nearly tripping over the cheap gold molding missing a cheap gold screw, one hand lifting a sweaty lock of hair from her cheek and the other holding the prodigal plastic cap. Hobie glanced from one Chicken to the other, panning for a visual clue that would explain what was wrong with their pipe.

The Chickens looked at each other and then back at him. Malchicken leaned into the monitor and examined his reflection. Mrs. Chicken whispered, “Problem?” and handed him the plastic cap. The sewer man turned his gaze into the hole and said very slowly and very loudly, as if addressing non-English speakers. “What…all did you throw down there?” In his voice was the hope that one of the Chickens would fess up to jettisoning a weird exotic baby animal or a portion of unfinished potato salad, but no go. Mrs. Chicken looked to her son for a response. Mal was busy wondering if shaking his head would be a bad answer or a good one. The plumber growled with impatience. Mrs. Chicken started to nod and then changed it to a no, and then nodded.

“Honest Injun. No. Nope. Nothing. It’s just…just…well. That’s it. Just us. Down there.”

“Well,” the plumber said, without conviction. “I am blasting water like the dickens through there and can’t move this thing a friggin’ inch.” He wagged the cable at them.

“Broken?” asked Mal, reaching for the camera.

“This here video camera attached here is supposed to light up and show what’s going on down there. These guys here are led lights.”

“…”

“Look at it here, they’re on.”

“On.”

“I send it down, and they don’t work.”

“Here?” asked Mal, tracing a circle around the lights and watching the reaction on the monitor.

“It’s totally black once you get down in there.”

“Down in there,” Mal said convincingly.

“Without the lights I just can’t see what the devil is in your pipes.”

“See…See?” Mrs. Chicken muttered, throwing her arms up. “I just don’t know what there is to really look at.”

“And there’s nothing that’s moving it. I keep hitting it, hard.”

“Hard.”

“Three hundred pounds of torque on this skid.”

“Hard,” Mal repeated, spinning the camera.

“Penetrating nozzle with thruster jets.”

“Thruster jets.”

“And two thousand pounds of water per square inch, and I can’t move your matter?”

“Moof.”

“Christ, you’re an annoying kid.”

“Moof.”

“…”

“…”

“If you really need to see…”

“…”

“I’ve got a flashlight in the kitchen,” Mrs. Chicken said.

“Swell.”

“How about some coffee?” she asked, tucking the sweaty lock behind her ear.

The plumber grunted. “Great. That should really teach this toilet a lesson.”

“It’s decaf,” Mrs. Chicken whispered, placing a proud hand on her hip.

“Christ.”

“…”

“…”

“Is that a yes?”

“Lady, what did you throw down there?”

“I told you. Nothing. It’s just us. And besides, I don’t know what there is to see, really.”

“Shit.” The plumber replied, unscrewing and tossing the led self-leveling camera into the corner.

Mal’s video begins with a ridge of soft bumps that form the letter M. The camera then backs up until it’s obvious there are teeth on both sides and the hot presence of a tongue. Retreating further, it passes lips and emerges into broad daylight to move up the greasy length of a nose. The lens tickles the tips of eyelashes and stares down an unflinching eyeball. Then Malchicken’s whole face appears, alongside its reflection in a mirror; chin-to-chin, there’s a tantalizing view up all four nostrils. His face goes through surprise, happiness, anger, confusion, frustration, and contemplation. Look—here’s his mother, a slanted doorway, and a hand goes up to block her face. Out in the living room, there’s a matchstick swizzled in candle wax and a partial fingerprint marring a photograph of a large crowd cheering a car race. The velvet backing the photograph is the darkest black there is. Suddenly there’s a hot flash of fluorescence, followed by an examination of the faceplate of the light switch, its screw heads perfectly vertical. Droplets of moisture define a half-destroyed spider’s web, shown with the light on and then off. On. Off. On. A painful minute focused on the spider’s leg, jerky, electric, disco.

A close-up of something sways like a worm, and when the camera pulls back it’s a loose thread from the elastic cuff of Mrs. Chicken’s shirt. The tulip pattern on the fabric. Suddenly the camera is jerked as if hit by something hard; it’s Mrs. Chicken’s rings as her hand wraps over the camera’s head. Mal’s hand peels hers away. The camera tumbles to the ground.

The latch of the bathroom door going in and out looks like a darting fish. The cheap gold molding still looks cheap in black and white. Inside the bathroom, there are mineral deposits clinging to the showerhead, the bleached corner of the bathtub where the soap lives and slowly decays, dark patches of grout between linoleum squares from spilled iodine or hair dye. There’s a tangled wad of hair near the corner of the tub where the caulking is riddled with spots of mold. Up near the lunar surface of the ceiling, there’s a vertiginous moment where the self-leveling camera wheels around violently, followed by a millisecond flash of Malchicken’s face, off balance.

A crack running along the bottom of a picture frame merges into the etched image of a perfume bottle and its pebbled aromatizer. Below is the scribble of the artist’s signature, and then a high-contrast shot of the angle between the back of the frame and the nail holding it to the wall. From there, the camera moves to the toilet paper cozy and peers through the veil of its lace waistband to the bathroom window and the stippled Tesuque sky framed inside. An image of the sink draining (stopper missing) precedes a stunningly abstract view of the raw, threaded end of the faucet and the good twenty seconds or so it takes to form a drop of water and release it. Form and release. Form. Release. Form. Release.

There’s a teasing of dust from the medicine cabinet’s hinges as it opens. A survey of the cabinet shelves ends in the corners where the vinyl shelf-liners bunch up and no longer stick to anything. The mercury in a thermometer reads well below 98. A quick zoom shows a tube of toothpaste called Numsalve, its lower half curled like a snail and its cap dinged with tooth marks. The paste, on camera, sparkles. A length of beaded chain leads to a bathtub plug and here, the camera stares up into the rush of oncoming water. The lens collides with pieces of grout before showing the hot water tap turned on its side. A puffy scrubbing sponge with its rope leash. A string of bubbles floating off screen. Long, tedious shots of skin, hairy and hairless, a forearm. An inventory of freckles near the navel, ten little toes refracted under water. A piece of sock lint escaping. The camera traverses hilly terrain, glides down a soft inner thigh, and exposes the poetry of pubic hairs roiling with the tide. Underwater, the self-leveling head spins, pushes against flesh, and dives bravely. There’s something overhead, like a blimp, casting a long shadow. Fingers, two of them, pointing up, pointing down. There’s several seconds of turbulence, a fractal burst of light, and then total darkness.

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