ALL the drains in your apartment were clogged, and your roommate was against buying Drain-o. “I think one of my friends owns a snake,” she said, but she didn’t call them, and you both spent your morning showers with water around your ankles. And when I say morning, I mean the afternoon because it was the end of May, and everything was wrong.
Not everything, that’s hyperbolic.
But too many things.
You were in the middle of a black mood that stretched a week. Your cat was having a hard time too. You woke to her clipped meows as she tried to seduce birds through the window screen. Sometimes she’d plunge at the glass, hit it with her paw, claw retracted, walk along the ledge. Her tail flicked in frustration.
You texted your friend, who lived in a better apartment at Dundas and Dovercourt: How does my roommate always get to work on time?
Your friend texted back, SHE WAKES UP.
You’d accidentally smoked a cigarette on Wednesday night and had woken up feeling poisoned. There must have been a bad lime in my drink, you texted before going to the washroom and vomiting. Then you fell back asleep for five more hours.
You dreamt about snakes, not the plumbing kind, the kind most people are afraid of. Instead, their teeth and limbless bodies fascinated you. You wanted to give your snake a hug, even though you knew it couldn’t hug back, and its black body turned red in the bathroom and slithered underneath your desk.
It was the end of May and everything was wrong.
The things wrong were stupid. Nothing even mattered. You knew you were being extreme.
The first thing was that you’d slept alone the night before. The guy you were texting had stopped texting you back. But that was a small thing. It had nothing to do with anything. Sometimes you wondered if you even really wanted the responsibility of texting someone like that anyway. You knew it would be easier if you didn’t remember the way his hair stuck up every which way when he showered, hot water melting away his hair gel. Or that time he kissed your hand in the cab.
A strange May heatwave snuck through the wall just to make you sweat. You called for your cat to cuddle you, but she paced the windowsill, watching as clouds darkened the sky. The birds were retreating. Rain began with no sound.
On the way to see your friend, the streetcar broke down where College curved into Dundas as if the streets were two sprouting necks of a beheaded hydra, or one street trying to swallow the other whole. You walked through the rain from Lansdowne. A week or two ago, you might have called your mother to complain, but not this week. You dialed your friend instead. “What a fucking week,” you told her on the phone. “I’ll be there soon.”
“I’m getting another call. Call you back? Or just see you when you get here?”
“Well, somebody’s cranky. Can you see the rain where you are?”
“I’m in it. On the street.”
“Just listen to it. You know that rain is beautiful.”
“This is silent rain.”
“That’s impossible — believe me, I know a lot about the weather.”
And it was making a sound, like white noise from a dryer, or the noise a child makes as they sleep, air slipping in and out of their mouth in little sighs. Somehow you forgot, you’d loved the sound of rain, lying in bed, the rain making it so you wouldn’t dream, wouldn’t need to call your mom in where she’d lie beside you all night, rolling over only once, gently in your twin bed, to face the wall.
Rain plastered your T-shirt to your skin. Cars drove past you. People around you hopped into cabs, but no one offered to share, maybe because you kept scowling at the sidewalk.
You got there eventually, where your friend lived up fire escape stairs. Across the street, water poured off the canopy of the fruit market. “Do you think they sell less fruit when it’s raining?” your friend asked you as she handed you a towel.
“I don’t know!”
“Well, you should care. You should care about your local businesses.”
You flopped onto your friend’s living room carpet, which she’d nicknamed The Carpet of Existential Angst. You had gone to your friend’s house to work — she was applying to jobs she probably had no hope of getting, and you were supposed to be writing content for blogs. Blogs on agriculture, blogs on teaching, blogs on how to get your cat to stop ripping apart the curtains blogs, and blogs on do you think he could possibly like me blogs. Every blog was secretly an ad. You spent the day refreshing Facebook.
You made yourself as level as possible with The Carpet of Existential Angst. You hoped maybe she’d forget you were there and that you wouldn’t need to return to your apartment, without a working sink or tub. With a roommate who still hadn’t called their friend for a snake and who obviously thought she was better than you, as possibly everyone in the whole world did.
That night the snake was yellow. It lived in the toilet bowl. The toilet stopped flushing, the water rose and overflowed, dumping the snake onto the bathroom tile. It curled around the bottom of the porcelain. It began to twitch, as if convulsing. From its mouth, a small yellow head emerged. It darted towards you. “Look,” you said in the dream, delighted, “a baby!”
You were starting to become a little afraid of snakes.
In the sink, you studied the formation of the bubbles in the water from brushing your teeth, little flecks of food floating on the surface. You waited. Eventually it will go down, you thought. It has to.
But the water and debris stayed for hours, even after you listened to records while lying with your face pressed to the living room futon. “My life is gross,” you said to your cat who was hiding underneath the coffee table.
You went to your friend’s place again, and this time the streetcar didn’t break down, which your thought was a good sign. The warm breeze came through the streetcar’s open window and pulled at the scarf you’d wrapped around your body and fastened with a belt. The scarf had only cost $2.99 at a shop in Kensington, and now its true purpose was to clothe you when you couldn’t bear to be clothed.
You stretched out on The Carpet, while she sat on the couch and Googled your dream. “Dreaming of a yellow snake may be a call to step forward and use your intellect to resolve a situation or issues in your waking life.”
“What intellect?” You laughed.
“Is that a scarf?”
“I made it into a dress.”
“I can see your bra.”
“Good,” you said.
It was the end of May, and everything was wrong.
She came down to join you on The Carpet, and you sat cross-legged beside each other. There was always a strange ache in your feet on days like these. Your friend touched your alert bracelet, but didn’t say anything, just held your hand. A comfort in the way you were able to sit side by side, knees pressing against each other.
The second thing wrong was stupid too. It’s just that you had this unpredictable chronic illness and sometimes it flared up. You were starting to get annoyed by calls from your doctor reminding you to check your blood.
Your friend’s ceiling was particularly interesting that day, and you lay on your backs and chatted the rest of the time away and then you danced while drinking red wine. You got no work done. But you’d already lost four of your blog clients that week, and who cared about the other ones. (That made #3).
Before bed, your roommate said, “I could get used to this clogged bathtub thing. I like not needing to bend over to wash my feet.”
“I guess,” you said, but when you brushed your teeth, you could see the pieces she’d left behind in the bathroom sink.
It was the end of May, and everything was wrong.
Your roommate hugged you before she went to bed, and you waited for the end of her shower to drain, reading for about an hour on the bathroom floor. You filled the tub and climbed on in, knowing there were pieces of both of you caught. A whispering hair was stuck to your elbow. But the water felt familiar like the smell of your mother. Part of you wanted to put your mouth to the surface and drink. You picked up your phone, leaned on the dusty bathtub ledge, coated in cat hair and dandruff. Your finger hovered over H for Home, but you called your friend instead. “Guess what I’m doing?”
“I’m in the tub.” You started laughing, and you couldn’t stop for a minute, that kind of laughter that made your eyes shut and tears come out. A couple slid down your face and plunked into the bathwater, puncturing the soap grey.
“That drain still plugged up?”
“Yep. Let me tell you what’s floating around me – there’s some lovely brown hair, my hair, that looks like toe jam, I don’t even want to know what that is.”
“I know,” you said, stepping out of the tub, wrapping yourself in a baby blue towel. “Everything is.”
The snake was bigger than you. A brown boa constrictor. You still had your impulse to hug. This snake could coil itself around you and hug and hug. Leave you suffocated by scales. You approached the snake, which reared up, so you could look at each other eye to eye. You put your hands out, and instead of hugging the snake, you pulled open its jaws. You plunged your hands inside the snake’s mouth, deep down into its throat, which was cool and wet. Unseen things snagged your skin, tearing it and you weren’t supposed to get cut. But you reached deeper, you thought you could feel the clog, and you grabbed ahold, threaded fingers through hair and sludge and pulled. It resisted only a moment before allowing itself to be dragged back with your retracting arms. Hair and more hair came out of the snake’s mouth, fell into water pooling at your feet. Where was the water coming from? It dripped down the bathroom walls, through cracks in the ceiling. The hair covered your feet and the boa’s scaly body, but you didn’t stop pulling until the whole of you was covered in dark hair and mold from the drain. Something in the hair was moving, all the hair was moving, the hair was little brown snakes covering your whole body. They writhed, twisted around each other as if they knew they looked identical, as if they were trying to share the same skin.
Your cat lunged at the windowpane in your bedroom. Thump. You stared at her with sleep-crusted eyes. Thump. For once, she jumped down from the ledge heavily and came up on your bed. She pushed her face into yours. Bored with the birds.
You finally got dressed, in real person clothes, shorts and a T-shirt, instead of just a scarf. The sun was hot on Roncesvalles Ave. “How’re you feeling?” you asked your mom on the phone. The week of silence slithering in the air between you. “I mean, how’s your chest?”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’m feeling a lot better. The doctor thinks it was just a muscle spasm.”
“And your heart?”
“We’re still doing tests, but he doesn’t think it was my heart.”
This was the fourth thing, but all the things seemed to be dissolving. You still hadn’t gotten a text from that guy, but there were about three more cute people out on the street. Clients came and went, as did your focus, but you were young. You supposed you were ill and maybe that tampered with your youth, but how ill is ill? And finally the sun was out — you told your mom you loved her and hung up the phone.
You came home from the hardware store and tore two plastic snakes from their package. Black with red tips, their teeth hungry velcro hooks. The hole of the drains welcomed them. You shoved the plastic into the bathtub drain. You pushed down and down until your hand was flush with the drain’s cool metal, crusted with soap scum.
That was the hardest part, the moment before pulling up, not knowing if the teeth had snagged the blockage or if you were only wasting your time, again. The mass resisted your first small tug. But then you pulled up in one swift movement. Hair and unswept away shampoo suds clung to the snake in a mass. It rested on the edge of the tub, oozing black gunk on the porcelain. Chewed off toenails and fingernails poked out of the snarl of hair, caught.
The edge of the tub was cool. When you and your roommate first moved in, it had been white, scrubbed clean by the landlord or previous tenant. Now it was grey. Your roommate never cleaned it and you never did either, out of spite. Nothing could be worse, you thought, than not cleaning out of spite.
The snake went into the drain and pulled up more hair, more gunk. Each clump your roommate’s hair entwined your own, slick, hundreds of snakes trying to share the same skin. You scooped it all into your hand, ready to throw it away.
Here were little bits of you, curled and tangled in the palm of your hand.
You dumped it into the trash and rinsed the tub with boiling hot water. ∞
Jess Taylor is a Toronto writer and poet. Her second collection, Just Pervs, will be released by Book*hug in Canada in Fall 2019. Recently, a short story from that collection, “Two Sex Addicts Fall in Love”, was long-listed for The Journey Prize and included in The Journey Prize Anthology 30. The title story from her first collection, Pauls (BookThug, 2015), “Paul,” received the 2013 Gold Fiction National Magazine Award. Jess believes that collaboration and helping other writers is an important part of her writing practice and continues to organize events in the community. She is currently working on a novel, Play, and a continuation of her life poem, Never Stop.