I was told the pipes in the basement had been painted crimson so that people would see them and wouldn’t bash their heads on them. Not that that had been a particular problem for me, at my height. But I had seen others do it enough – Chris, for example, forgetting himself and clunking his forehead something wicked, his long curly hair flying all directions as he grabbed his skull in shock and pain – to learn to respect the pipes. Now faded to a dull reddish-brown, they hang low and unnoticed and full of spiders, silverfish and centipedes.
A veritable ecosystem.
Occasionally, the bugs fall down onto the boxes below, their tap-tap-tapping sounding like raindrops. Hundreds of them: boxes and boxes waiting to be processed, waiting in that cold, dank basement.
Occasionally, a smell of rotten eggs and sulfur, of funk and regret and defeat will seep from the pipes, filling the corridors right outside our workspace, invading our nostrils, assaulting the senses. We’ve complained, nobody listened.
It’s an old, old building. What can you do?
Make the best of it. Lemons and lemonade.
Polish that turd.
But it was the pipe below. It was the pipe below, embedded in the concrete floor beneath our feet, which proved truly dangerous. That neglected pipe, that ancient artifact and all that backed up sewage, all that compacted shit and human garbage, striving for release. It was only a matter of time.
Then the hallways began to echo.
The women did it.
I know who supposedly and positively said it. His booming voice, affected, operatic, bouncing off the thin walls that, miraculously, still held the building together. Nothing I can prove. It’s just a rumour.
But the echo reverberated, repeated itself as it moved form floor to floor, from mouth to ear to ear.
The pipe, four-inches wide and running the great length of the floor of the basement, had been clogged, the echo said, absolutely glutted, the echo repeated, with tampons and female sanitary napkins as the landlord himself had apparently and absolutely shrieked back down the hallways and corridors of the building.
Never mind the age of the building, ancient by anyone’s standards, never mind that the building’s sewage system remains connected to still others all over the city block, never mind the 500 feet of bloated toilet paper the plumbers found down there, after the fact, never mind the daily, repeated abuse of the downstairs bathroom by those with booming voices and those searching a reprieve from heavy lunches and fatty office snacks. Never mind.
The women did it.
The adult women, obviously, who need now and again to be told by more rational minds not to flush their tampons and female sanitary napkins down the toilet, down the drain, to refrain from jamming up the pipes with their vile, bloody woman mess. There is a lot of wagging of fingers at this, a lot of nodding and some grunting.
There is to be a meeting, I’m hearing from the walls, sometime next week. Ladies only, to discuss our lady problem.
Ladies. Ladies, ladies, ladies. It will dribble down to us from a stern face, it will wash over us like a red tide of admonishment. There will be no meeting, we’re hearing, for or with the men.
Obviously then, no wonder. All that shit. No wonder the pipe exploded, no wonder it erupted with such force as to put Vesuvius to shame, lifting the metal drain in the centre of the boiler room clean out of its socket, making it land haphazardly beside the gaping, emptied out maw of the pipe. Something truly to marvel at.
MIGHTY POOSUVIUS! Spurting forth from deep down below, destroying that severe atmospheric tension in its reeking cataclysmic fury! MIGHTY POOSUVIUS! Trembling beneath the surface, bringing with it terrible liberation from all notion and pretence of civilization. All that shit.
A veritable metaphor, an absolute reality.
Oh, though. Did you hear? I should tell you maybe that I didn’t see any tampons in the white and brown and black maelstrom that ravaged the basement that fateful day, when I was down there, after the fact. Just wads and wads of toilet paper and sopping gobs of human feces. That real metaphor caked to the floor, splattered some on those echoing walls.
OK. OK, OK, OK. So that’s not entirely true.
I saw one tampon, still in its applicator, planted there like the spotless knife at a crime scene. A smokeless gun. One among the mounds and mounds of distended, utterly ruined toilet paper. And poo.
There are, of course, rumours of how and why and if that would be there.