Click to listen to Benjamin Henry DeVries read "Basinkingship."
On hotter days she sits in the bathtub until she cools down.
"Ice, please!" she calls.
Dutifully I bring in a tray of ice, crack it over her, and she winces as the ice cubes shower down, breaking the surface. The dimples they leave in the water level out. I sit in a chair by the tub and watch the ripples etched in sunlight bash against each other: )))((( The ice cubes float up and she toys with them. She's the designer of their paths. Her hands beneath the surface pay homage to the arctic currents. Eventually, the cubes melt and she has nothing left to play with. Then she looks up and realizes I'm still there. So she pulls me in. I compromise the stillness of the water. But she knew what she was getting.
Our weight in the water is negated by a stronger presence between us: the mysterious system of attraction. There are magnets inside her. They lie under her flesh at various sites: hips, bicep, cheek, forehead. We don't understand why the magnets resonate so much stronger in the water. There's not much science to this. We just squirm around in the water together and try to understand by the feel of things. The magnets rush the inner walls of her, crowding, wanting OUT, OUT, OUT. So she stands up in the tub, presenting herself. At my eye level, droplets trickle from her bush.
With her unspoken blessing, I dig into her flesh with nails and teeth. My teeth are so sharp she feels no pain. A surgical affair. I excavate the magnets. I inspect their shape as I drop them one by one into the sink, within arm's reach of the tub. Three little pitted pieces like the bones of the inner ear. I run the water over them and a foam seeps from their facets, tiny bubbles hissing audibly. Curious reaction. Cut the faucet off. Foam sinks down the drain. Water stagnates. Fish the pieces out with my fingers feeling heavy in solution. The magnets lay in my outstretched palm.
It's time for me to towel off. She stays in the tub.
"Think these might be worth something?"
"Mind if I go see?"
"See what? See where?"
"At the pawn shop. See if they're worth anything."
"Oh. I've never been to a pawnshop."
I pause. Her silence I take as an answer in the affirmative. Settled. I'll hock her magnets.
"We should go sailing next weekend," she says.
"We don't have a boat."
"We could borrow Sam's maybe. He has a boat."
"Oh yeah. I remember."
"Last Fourth of July."
"Yup. We never went sailing. I was frustrated. It was hot and Sam just didn't have his shit together. Too many cigarettes in the heat. Waiting. You have to plan for a sailing trip, I guess."
"Sam's a poor planner."
"He is. You know, I don't really know how to sail. I mean, I've seen it done, but I'm not sure if I could just get the hang of it right away. You need experience and know-how."
"What do you need to know how to do?"
"Well, tie knots, for one."
"You could learn that."
The sites of my excavation on her body have already healed. The system of attraction at work; her utter wholeness wins over the punctures of my prying nails and teeth. Skin joining skin joining skin, on hips, on biceps, on forehead.
Leaving her in the tub, I dress myself. Ride down in our very slow elevator, patting myself down to assure I left no keys behind. The elevator's descent feels like lying in a bathtub while it drains. I assume she's feeling just the same sensation right now.
I catch a bus. The bus lumbers gracelessly. Look out the window. As we travel deeper into the outskirts, the bars grow thicker on shop windows and cracks run deeper in the sidewalk. Recent rains seep down through the cracks, down into the sewer, and flow to the ocean where the fishes drink it and remark about what a strange, unsalty drink it is.
Pawnshop smells of sawdust. A deer's head looms above the door. I produce the magnets from my pocket.
"How much they worth to you, Boss?"
Pawnbroker inhales from a cigarillo.
I inspect the weapons behind the counter as he fetches tools of measurement. Samurai swords. Pistols. Switchblades emblazoned with thugs' initials. It is next to the weapons where I find my treasure: a nautical picture frame depicting examples of knots. I must have it. To learn to tie knots, of course. The end goal: sailing. Yes, the picture frame will be mine. Suppose there will have to be bargaining. I think about my asking price . . . Pawnbroker drops the magnets down on the scalebed. Needle springs to life. 4.5 grams. I don't trust the pawnbroker's scale. But he pays precise attention to where the needle points, so I guess that bodes well.
"Nineteen dollars," says he.
"How much for the knots?"
The knots rush at their glass divider, begging me to take them home. Their strands flow to me. I am their magnet. I must have this menagerie of little rope serpents. Serpents crowding the window at the zoo when the old naturalist who displaced them from the jungle comes by with his grandkids; they can taste the fogged glass with their tongues . . .
"Don't they look lonely in there?" I ask.
"They most certainly do, sir," he lowers his voice and extends his neck to me, "And if I may speak confidentially, this collection is priced to sell."
Sold. So I return to her with an even exchange for the magnets grown in her body. But when I return to the household, the little serpents have ceased their animations and become ropes again, just little ropes tied in knots. She is less enchanted than I about the little knots, so I convince her:
"These knots can teach us. We'll be sailing soon enough."
She picks up the frame for inspection. Frowns.
"How does it open?" she asks.
I run my fingers along the back: no screws, no seams.
"You're breaking it!" she commands. So I carry the frame to the bathroom and balance it on the rim of the sink over the basin. Bring my fist down hard. Shatters the glass, down into the basin. Other shards cling to the heel of my hand. Blood rushes to wash the shards away. I pick a knot out of the broken glass. To my dismay, the strands are glued together.
"Oh, this isn't what I bought," I call to her from the other room. I walk out, hand dripping blood, holding the dead little serpents.
"We've been tricked. The strands are fixed together with epoxy. How are we supposed to learn to tie knots if we can't unwind them?"
"I suggest a good soaking in the sink," says she.
Solution. I return to the sink. Run the water once again. My hand's well dripping now and the blood droplets fall into the sink and dilute. The knots absorb the blood and grow bloated and pink. As the glue loosens, the knots begin to wriggle and squirm.
I call to her: "Come here, it's starting!"
She seems to be asleep, so I alone watch the knots untie themselves in the solution of blood and water. At first, I'm disappointed because I gain no insight as to how to tie a sailor or a bow. But that soon ceases relevance as the knots perform for me. Unconfined, they propel themselves through the water with agitation. Then they swirl synchronously. And finally they rush for the drain. But they are all caught at once like little serpent stooges. The drain groans. Bubbles rise. Water stagnates.
I call a plumber, but I'm put on hold. She stirs.
"Drain's clogged," I inform her.
"Can't have that."
"I'm on it."
She starts on the affectionate facial licking. She loves to lick. Still on hold, I have muzak in one ear and her tongue in my other. Distraction. Plumber picks up.
"Mr. Szadek, my drain is clogged."
"Drain? What drain?"
"The bathroom sink."
"Yes, I see."
This Szadek's a pro, I can tell. He feels the clogged drains of the city in his own veins and arteries. He's Eastern European, from what I can tell from his voice. I can imagine that voice orating toasts at drunken weddings.
"I'll be soon."
She and I argue over whether she should put clothes on for the arrival of Mr. Szadek. We agree on a bathrobe. My bathrobe. When he arrives I offer him tea. He accepts. I watch the kettle. She interrogates.
"How'd you get into plumbing, Mr. Szadek?"
Szadek sifts through the contents of his toolbox.
"When I was young I bore witness to a great flood," he begins, "My father. He build boat on top of the high hill. He love his boats and he . . . he dowse."
We nod in affirmation of his word choice. He's worked for this language. But soon our engagement with his story exceeds mere patronizing attention.
"I remember his workshop: the hulls of his boats lying on racks. They rush like beasts to the light of the open barn door. When the flood come, we sit in one of his finest boats and wait for the water. We ride along swollen river to the dryer town. We pass under bridges. Lay down flat in the boat to pass. We look up at the keystones of bridges and my father complain of the wild nature of water and how it should be controlled. He complain and complain until we reach the dryer town. He teach me: civilization was built on control of water. So I become plumber."
We pause to let the story sink in.
"Do you know how to tie knots, like, for sailing?" I ask.
"Do you dowse?"?She asks.
"I have rejected dowsing," he says, somberly, as if it were a denouncement of faith.
Kettle screams so I walk over to the kitchen to grab it. In my absence, Mr. Szadek sticks an instrument not unlike a forceps down the drain. Szadek pulls the pink serpents up. They wriggle in the grip of the instrument. Szadek holds them high above his head. At their apex, he smiles an open mouth of strong teeth. He's about to laugh when one serpent wriggles free of the forceps's grip and plops down into his mouth. He gags. But the serpent has already entered him. I emerge from the kitchen with his tea. He grabs the mug from my hand.
"I'll scald the fucker!" says he. He chugs the steaming tea and screams. She runs off to bed and hides under the covers. She hates loud noises. I'm stuck in the bathroom with Szadek, steam pouring from his mouth along with violent curses of his mother tongue.
"Mr. Szadek, what happens when you ingest something like that?"
"The tea could kill me."
I can barely understand him. His tongue is entirely burned. Tears overwhelm his eyes.
"My insides will burn up and die. You will bury me."
"No I will not."
"Won't you want a real funeral? Do you have a will?"
"No one can know I died on job."
"I don't understand that . . . well, what about the other thing you ingested?"
"What was this thing?"
"It was an unraveled knot, swollen with blood and water."
"Sailor, I think. Hard to tell."
With this, Szadek's features begin to change. His eyes stretch out catlike, just like mine, and his mouth twists into my dishonest leer of a smile. Leaning over the toilet, he tries to vomit, but can't. His nose grows bulbous, like mine. Sweat pours from Szadek. Somehow, I am not so surprised by his metamorphosis.
"You're beginning to look a lot like me, Szadek."
"I'm hot, but I think . . . okay."
"Why do you look like me?"
"Get me something cold! Ice!"
"Well, I think the worm has brought your blood through my veins."
By now, I speak with myself. He has ceased to be Szadek.
"Honey," I call. She emerges from the quilts, timid still.
"Which one is me?"
"Oh, I don't believe in doppelgangers,"?she replies.
"But look at him, he's here, plain as day. Used to be a plumber. Now he's me."
"It's all smoke and mirrors."
"Where's the mirrors?"
"Where's my smokes?"
"They're in your purse, I think."
"Then it's you. You're the real one. He's the doppelganger. He wouldn't have known where my smokes were. Plus he's still wearing his plumbing clothes."
She lights one.
"Good point. He's still Mr. Szadek."
"But we can't have two of me. We'll have to bump him off."
"I'm not killing anybody."
"I'm not killing anybody either."
"I do not want to be killed."
Mr. Szadek washes his hands in the blood solution. To our surprise, his hands dissolve away in a thin, pink murk. The drain feasts on his liquid hands.
"What's happening, Mr. Szadek?" she asks.
"I'm returning to solution," says Szadek. He lacks hands. My hands remain.
"Maybe it's better that way," I say. I say it loudly. I don't know if he can hear me still.
"Well, it does not hurt."
Last words. Mr. Szadek sticks his head in the basin and splashes water in his face. The skin, hair, and bone of his face become the pink murk. As the solution drips down his shirt, he loses his solidity with the terrifying speed of a waterfall.
"Get in the shower, you're making a mess!" she says.
He obediently steps into the shower and becomes a puddle of pink in a jumpsuit. She and I look at the puddle. The drain laps it right up.
"I guess part of that slop is you."
"Most of it."
"Honey, let's hope you don't poison the water," she says.
"Well, It will be Mr. Szadek's fault too."
The last of Mr. Szadek (and I) find the drain and flow down to the sewer and out to the ocean. My essence, diluted with all the water and cess of the city reaches the ocean and a cod swallows it and remarks, "My doesn't that taste strange!" Then his fish eyes grow catlike and he gets a leerish smile on, just as he's caught. A fisherman brings him to market and the monger says, "My what a strange looking fish!" But the fish gets sold, nonetheless, to a chef. And the chef cooks the fish. And the waiter serves it to a diner. And when the diner starts eating its tail, he feels his features grow to look like the fish's face. And seeing this, his date remarks to him, "Honey, you are what you eat!" But they love one another. So later that night, his date swallows his seed. She feels her features growing more like his, more like mine. He laughs.
We rifle through old Szadek-puddle's wallet. Not much cash, but two tickets to a movie. Of the Blood Bath franchise. The movie's not 'til 8, so we go check out Szadek's apartment first – we have his keys.
Until the first of the month, we make sporadic visits to the place. We pace around, fuck, then cuddle on the hard floor. I always suggest we should bring a blanket but somehow we never get around to it. The apartment is bare but for a sink rising on a column of competing iron pipes from a round hole in the bare floorboards. On the floor, chalk lines trace where pipes run underneath. We never turn the sink on because she fears a flood. She suspects the sink will unleash an unending stream that will capsize the world and we'll die with the fishes smiling their leerish smiles in our faces. I entertain this possibility, but don't go to bed with it. I like to think that if the city flooded, the fish would band together and ferry us away through the water to a dryer town. We'd pass safely under the keystones of bridges.
About the author:
Benjamin Henry DeVries is a New Englander currently residing in Brooklyn. His fiction, film essays, and sneaker reviews have appeared on the internet and in print. You can hear him rap on recordings by LIONSHARE.
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