By Nolan Devine
I’m looking out my window, passing time, when what looks like a refrigerated milk truck slowly bumps over the sidewalk and knocks my mailbox down. With this it stops. The door of the truck swings open and an old man, dripping wet, steps out.
I open my front door and see a set of watery footprints that end at the man who is now only feet away, still dripping water. Skin hangs down off the bones of his face. He wears a plaid suit, round brimmed hat, and carries a black suitcase splattered in yellow paint or mustard.
I say, “We canceled our order. Please leave before my wife becomes upset.”
“Order? You haven’t bought anything.”
“Wait, who are you?”
He tips his hat and begins. “Sherman Ducharse, traveling shower salesman.”
It is only then that I notice the words bolded onto the square white box of his crashed truck: SHERMAN’S SHOWERS. NO SOAP NEEDED.
“Sherman, you have damaged my mailbox. And you are quite wet.”
“Yes. I must apologize. I seem to have dozed off.”
“Yes Mr. Runkis, dozed.”
“You know my name?”
“It’s painted on your mailbox.”
“Oh yes, of course.”
“Mr. Runkis, could I interest you in the purchase of a shower?”
“Yes. A shower.”
He sets his briefcase on the top step of my porch and opens it towards me. Inside are nine chrome showerheads. Each is set in individual molds, ordered left to right, shortest to longest, like that human evolution chart, you know, the cavemen. I crouch down to the briefcase and run my hand along its edge, my fingers come back yellow.
A hand that drips both water and skin motions to the case. “Go ahead. Touch.”
I lift the sixth showerhead, Neanderthal Man, and cradle it in my hand gently. But soon put it back.
“I sell all your showering needs, top to bottom, heads to drains.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Ducharse but I already have a shower. I live in a house you realize.”
“Yes, I hear that a lot these days.”
He snaps his briefcase shut and I offer to walk him back to his truck. Three or four days worth of mail has spilled onto the sidewalk: junk flyers garnished with a dozen colored envelopes — sympathy cards I‘m sure. I look to see my wife peering out the window from my former vantage. I try to kick the colored mess under our front hedge. She moves out of sight.
“I apologize for your mailbox Mr. Runkis.”
I pick up the box and pole and both seem fine. “No damage here.”
“Still I apologize. I must have disturbed your sitting. Perhaps I could buy you a drink.”
“A drink?” I’ve been dry since my wife went to the hospital and I sat at home trying to wash fresh blood from our mattress with vodka. “Sure Mr. Ducharse, a drink sounds fine.”
Walking inside it seems I should ask my wife if it is ok to leave. I go past the shuttered door–that grave–and to our bedroom. I try the handle. Locked. She does not answer when I call her name. Walking away I call out, “I’ll be back before dark. Don’t worry.”
I lay a towel on the passenger seat of my SUV. For being so wet he is actually quite unclean once you get a close look at the flaps of his skin. I wonder if beneath them grows barnacles. In silence I drive myself and this man to a bar a few blocks down. Upon arrival I realize I’m wearing my pajamas.
He sets his briefcase on the bar counter and orders whiskeys for us. They taste good.
“So how long have you been selling showers?”
“Nearly fifty years.” He seems to have dried up. He drinks his whiskey.
I ask him about his slogan. “NO SOAP NEEDED.” To me, no matter how you much you scrub something, its residue sticks forever. He claims the showers he sells work so well that a person doesn’t need soap to emerge fresh, to be renewed. His smell is nearly hazardous.
“Your wife. I noticed her in the window. She is quite handsome.”
“Oh, uh yes. Yes, thank you.”
“Why didn’t she come? We could’ve all rode in my truck.”
I motion the bartender for more drinks. “She’s tired.” And now I need deflection. “Do you have a family yourself?”
With as much of a grin as his hanging face will allow he says, “Of course.”
“Oh, do you see them often?”
“Sundays. Only on Sundays. The Holy Day. Or when I’m lucky, in my dreams.” He lays both hands over his briefcase. “And you Mr. Runkis, do you and your handsome wife have children?”
I take two quick shots before replying, “I’m not sure how to answer that.”
“I see Mr. Runkis. And do you dream, too?”
“Dream of children you mean?”
“What do you care?” This is a bad topic but the drinks have embalmed my feelings.
“I find that I often have the most intimate dreams of family in the shower, a liminal space where things imagined go lucid, become real.”
I scratch my thumb along the side of his case and bits of yellow flake off. “I’ve had too much reality lately.”
We sit for a while and listen to the rump slap of pool balls, the broken jukebox slowing the wet hum of life down to three-quarter speed. I continue my embalmment but the old man has stopped.
He tips his hat at me and asks, “Would you care to dance?”
Would I care to dance? I guess I would.
We get onto the dance floor and he starts to do what I think is the Mashed Potato. I try to step in rhythm but have too much drink in me.
He’s really getting down. Through the music he asks, “Do you eat in the shower? It’s quite nurturing.”
“No, can’t say I do.”
“The novelty of the experience is best when eating food that shouldn’t get wet, like a sandwich or fried chicken.” The skin of his face dances up and down with the rest of him.
I think of flesh growing on tiny bones, only to be ripped away; a vagina that waits so long, only to birth a skeleton. “We should head back, my wife expects me.” I really must be drunk.
In the parking lot my key won’t fit the SUV. The old man keeps an eye as I give a singing homeless man $20 to put a rock through my window. The bum hurls the stone with all his street trash worth and a crater forms in my door. The next stone goes where it is supposed to. I then realize this isn’t my vehicle.
Mr. Ducharse buckles me up snug and drives me home. My clothes absorb the dampness from the towel. His truck is still eating up half the sidewalk. He tells me I should bring my wife out, he has something to show us.
Inside I move with haste past the shuttered door, the room that until days ago was supposed to hold what would keep us occupied for a few more decades — what was to save us — and bang on the outside of our bedroom wall until my wife finally comes.
“Gil, Christ, what do you want?”
“That man who hit our mailbox, he said he had something to show us.”
“You’re drunk and I don’t need this.”
I grab her arm, with a little force, but then ease my grip. “Please, just for a minute. It seems important.”
She sighs and follows behind me, though not in my regimented zig-zag. I drip, and her nightgown tosses in the wind.
Mr. Ducharse is standing at the back of his truck and has opened, outwardly, the two big doors to the back. A hazy yellow light shines down on him and when he sees us he tips his hat, a proud man.
“Come and look. Come and have a look-see.”
We walk over to stand beside him, my wife keeping a few feet back. Lining the inside walls of his truck box are shower stalls, all encased in clear glass, and in the back corner sits a bed. I try my best to count and think I come up with nine stalls total.
Four on the side with the bed, five on the other.
“This is my pride and joy. Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed, she takes a while to digest.”
“What is this shit Gil?”
I turn to the old man for an answer. “Climb in,” he says.
I follow his command by getting half over the box ledge and then rolling myself the rest of the way. I face out to my wife and motion for her to join me.
“I’m not getting in that.” She seems to mean it.
“Please Mrs. Runkis, you might find that you quite like it.”
I’m waving her in with both my arms and with a sigh she approaches. I grab her arms while the old man boosts her up by the back of her legs. She disengages her hands from mine.
“I’ll let you two have a look-around.” He disappears around the side of the truck and we hear him open and close his cab door.
“Christ Gil, you get me out of bed for this?”
“It’s only seven.”
“And you’re already drunk.”
I suggest we look around. In a contrast to the cool night air, it feels warm and moist in here. My wife steps inside a shower stall, closes the door, and sits down on its bench. I go to the bed opposite her stall and peel back the dirty blankets. They are wet. The mattress is bare but damp, covered in mold and mildew. An old battery radio lies next to the spoiled pillow. I reach for the radio and everything comes to life in a roar.
Before anything can be made sense of the truck bounces off the curb and now out through the back the street is moving in a rapid blur. Within seconds my house has disappeared and the truck makes a sharp turn, bouncing me into a wall. With a squish I land on the bed as my wife screams from her container. I pound on the front of the truck box wall and tell Mr. Ducharse to stop, that we are still in here.
The truck speeds up now. Dizziness, my wife‘s distorted figure behind glass, it‘s a blur. I ask if I can come in and her image haze nods. As I enter the stall the truck slams around another corner and I fall hard into my wife. So clear now. I’m pressed into her chest.
“Gil, I’m scared.”
“So am I.” It’s nice to share something.
The shower turns on with a cry of the pipes and warm water hits us. Looking up I notice that this is showerhead number nine, Modern Man, fully grown like we‘re supposed to be. I stand up and caress its side for a moment. It cries more. I take my wife’s hand and pull her to a stand facing me. She looks up at me, at number nine.
The water comes out of its crying eyes.
“Gil, are we going to be ok?”
The vehicle eases to a stop, and as water pours onto the street like afterbirth, the outer truck doors bang open and shut. Peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo.
We’re so far from home. I stand behind her and pull her shirt up. Rubbing her stomach I knead her flesh, a gardener plucking weeds, getting ready to plant again. I cup handful after handful of water and splash it against her navel. Please work.
Your Humble Author, GABFRAB
P.S. This is a story I wrote for a class last year. I have a few more, but only this one and another are good enough to post. I’ll try revise the old ones and write some new stuff. I can’t figure out how to indent on here, so apologies for the incorrect formatting on that. Anyway, what I’m saying is that I’ll sprinkle in a bit of fiction now and then to this blog but will still mainly be focusing on autobiographical stuff.