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Rags in a Row (a Lesson in Plumbing) 1. That last summer illegal together, me and my stowaway roommates -their coupledom in tow- muting the stereo with every landlord slam of the porch door, anticipating that knock, that 1-2-3, polite but with its own key anyway. Lisa and Derek all July fought perfectly on my couch, totaled my machine and answered to bill collectors, neither mastering even the peephole- its distorted light trap, its dead giveaways-like me. Subletter, subletter-let me in. Not by the tail of my lease-bucking kitten. Not by the nervous breakdown of Lisa's unfinished psychology degree. Not when stoned, never before noon. 1-2-3, that polite round, and Lisa mutes and dashes into our party-mudded kitchen. 2. Sometimes so sweet, the faintest smell of shit. Shit, however, faints not in August. Through the retired heat grates we hear the landlord's goddamns attending to the sewage, basement pipes exorcised and the apartment possessed by yesterday's stank, the forgotten misbegotten, flushed off to nowhere not fast enough. We're thinking turds until the landlord knocks and why do I answer? In galoshes he bows, one cruddy boot on its toe. "Is the lady of the house at home?" 3. "No," I lie, leaning against the doorjamb, the rooms behind me rattling with air and mine just one more cheap month, "she's not." (No, she's not hiding out by the coffeepot, she's not in earshot, she only naps here, she never sleeps.) "For her," he declares, having lined up his catch on a plank: 8 washed out tampons, plain as day someone's dirty little secrets. "Quicker'n'anything-" his lecture begins, "these'll stop up your sewer, these-" rags? Ruined daughters? Unappreciated private citizens? Each on a wet shadow without a trace of red, drowned in the amnesia of plumbing where even blood gets lost. I think them teeming in our pipes, fattened with everything we disown, and now more than to begin with they are strictly hers, these "white mice," he decries them, his nemeses, banned by the lease. The mop-up, he insists with smile and pine-sol, is madame's. 4. It kept her inside 3 ˝ weeks, Lisa's master-evasion of our landlord, the infamous handler of something so intimate, so disposable… It disturbed her, his hyper-tidy line-up of them: overcast Jane Doe's, nameless but arraigned. "My mother wants to sue," she told me and Derek (who in ruined shoes kissed her cheek and called her sweetheart). She claimed to have always flushed them, to have never thought about it. Now she writes me, says there are still cramped nights when her dreams snap heatwaves of that summer's pine, our landlord setting traps all over the house.
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