Indoor Plumbing

I found a gold watch in my Toilet one day. An elegant, minimalistic thing. It rested, without emphasis, on the bottom of the bowl, and I could see through the calm, restful water that the second hand was not moving. I felt a warm ball rise up into my throat—a brand new watch, how thoughtful. I picked it up out of the clear water, hesitating before doing so, of course, as the taboo of touching toilet water is always on one’s mind, though I’ve heard that toilet water is actually cleaner than most doorknobs.

I could tell right away that the watch, though of fine quality, was not water resistant; in its waterlogged state some internal mechanism had stalled. This sat easy with me—beggars cannot be choosers, and when your Toilet coughs up a brand-new watch it would hardly be appropriate to complain. I thanked my Toilet for its generosity, giving it some excited “belly rubs” on the underpart of its bowl, and it let out some warm rumbles in return. To make sure the Toilet understood my gratitude, I dumped a cup of nutritional yeast into the bowl then flushed it down, watching as it swirled around until it descended into the pipes, out of sight.

I took great care in drying the watch with a soft hand towel, then I let it sit in a bowl of rice as I made an appointment with a nearby watch repair shop. As I hung up the phone, I looked at my bare wrist and imagined the gold watch, how it would rest there in nonchalance, how its snug fit would remind me every minute of the day how lucky I was to have something in my life that cared about me. It is a lovely thing, having a Toilet—it should make one smile.

I had two bathrooms in my house: one with the Toilet and one with a different, less special toilet. I used my other bathroom for my own needs, taking care of the inappropriate business away from my Toilet, not wanting to make it uncomfortable.

Of course, my Toilet was not always such a special toilet, and before it started giving me gifts, I became accustomed to using it in the same way I used others (a memory which has since filled me with uncontrollable guilt). I remember the first time something turned up in its bowl; it was a typical morning, and when I went in to brush my teeth and relieve myself, I found a gift card for a local coffeeshop floating on the water’s surface. I remember how flattered I was, and how good that coffee had tasted. But the next time I used it after that it got mad.

After I flushed, you could hear this dark churning way down below, a sort of gargling. The Toilet seat flew open, and it blasted yellow, murky water out of the bowl, soaking the ceiling and spilling out onto the tiled floor. I had to fill buckets and dump them down the tub to stop the entire bathroom from flooding. Pretty soon its anger died away, and I walked back to it with shame and guilt dripping off me like waste from a plunger.

I asked it what it wanted, what I could do for it to forgive me. I was so stuck in my old ways, I told it, still victim to my old habits. I should have understood that my Toilet was not like other toilets. I’d pay attention next time. I’d respect its space. It took a while for it to answer, but eventually it spoke to me. It said one word in a low, drawn-out whisper: “Yeast.”

After that I started giving it at least one liter of nutritional yeast a day (which I quickly came to realize was quite expensive, though I didn’t mind): one serving in the morning while I ate my breakfast and one at night while I ate dinner. Sometimes I ate with my Toilet; the bathroom was of a conveniently large enough size to fit a wooden chair right in front of it. Sometimes I would try to make conversation by asking how its day was. It never answered directly—the Toilet, after all, rarely spoke to me in words or sentences, it rather communicated via its low rumbles from below. It might amaze one how much you can get across without words, how important gestures or little grunts might be in communicating how one feels. Sometimes I tried to communicate back to the Toilet in the same way for a few minutes, little grunts, small gestures, but it never answered back. The Toilet would just sit there, silent and brooding. I frequently worried that the Toilet thought I was mocking it, so I always gave it an extra serving of yeast to assure it I was not.

Whenever we ate together I liked to sit and listen to the yeast as it traveled down its network of pipes, imagining what it must look like underneath the tiled surface of the bathroom floor, sometimes convinced that there must be a large vat directly underneath, all of the yeast building up into one huge, neat pile; other times thinking that it probably needed an organized series of pipes running along each other, that way the Toilet could distribute the yeast as it needed. I came to settle on this last image: the pipes, I knew, were necessary. A toilet, especially my Toilet, required plumbing. I often laid awake most nights wondering whether the pipes below acted as some kind of digestive system, whether or not it had enzymes, acids, and bacteria to break down all of its food like I do. I liked to think that it did.

Eating in front of it was nice; food always tastes better when you have company. But every so often I would wish that we didn’t have to spend all our time in the bathroom, that we could go into the living room, wrap ourselves in a blanket, and watch a nice film. Or, if it wasn’t in the mood for that, we could have gone on walks along the lake, early in the morning while the mist was still rolling lazily over it. Sometimes I would fantasize about commissioning a painter to paint its portrait on the lakeshore (perhaps with a tasteful, stoic pose), but I knew that I couldn’t ask the Toilet to physically uproot itself from the bathroom floor for me; I knew that would be terribly unfair. The bathroom was enough. We could bring blankets and watch movies in there, and I could curl up in the bathtub next to it. It took me a few tries to figure out how to fold the blanket around the Toilet so it held snug; oh, and when I did, you could swear I had practiced wrapping toilets all my life.

The repair shop said they couldn’t fix my new watch; they said the water had sat in it for far too long. I scolded them, telling them that this was a very special gift, one that needed to be fixed. I told them that I hadn’t expected them to be so incompetent. The guy behind the counter just laughed and said he’d be surprised if anyone could fix it. I left without saying anything else and dropped the watch off at another repair shop a few miles away, one that I hoped would be more professional.

When I returned home, I saw that the Toilet had filled its bowl with some dark blue liquid. I chuckled, confused, but then a desperate worry set in, a worry that my Toilet was sick. I rubbed the side of its tank and asked if it was okay. I felt a pressure below me rising gently, and bubbles slowly began to stream up from below, and when they popped on the surface, I could hear the Toilet’s rumbles. It was fine; it seemed to feel rather well, actually. More bubbles came up, carrying more rumbles. The dark blue liquid was a gift—I was meant to drink it. Of course, I had doubts about hygiene, but the Toilet reassured me I had nothing to worry about, its rumbles coming up light and coaxing. It didn’t take much for it to convince me; I trusted my Toilet, after all, and I would have felt terribly guilty if I ever made my Toilet feel self-conscious or unappreciated.

It had a vaguely sugary taste, and I figured that it must be some kind of watered-down sports drink (Gatorade or Powerade, perhaps). To my surprise, I enjoyed its taste, and I ended up drinking the whole bowls-worth that day, sometimes even taking time to drink it in front of my Toilet to show how grateful I was. It loved that most of all. Sometimes I liked to think that the last few gargles after a flush were it laughing. I had a humorous Toilet. It reminded me to drink my electrolytes.

After I drank all the blue liquid, I gave it an extra serving of yeast and then I chased it with a mouthful of Vitamin Water, thinking that maybe it would like it if I returned the favor. After I flushed it down, I could hear short bursts of rushing air below, like it was coughing. Some bursts of air were powerful enough to push the Toilet seat up a few inches. I apologized and gave it some more yeast to help it feel better. I told it I wouldn’t assume what it wanted anymore.

A week later I started feeling a little sick: I woke up and my throat was sore, I had a dull, throbbing headache, my fingers felt like sausages. My Toilet coughed up two things that day instead of one. First, when I went to say “good morning” after I woke up, there was a packet of Halls cough drops, still factory-sealed and dry. I was so touched I felt as if I was going to cry. I felt a tender lump rise into my throat and I bent down and hugged my Toilet. A toilet is a difficult thing to hug; its awkward, inconsistent shape is difficult to get your arms around in any meaningful way. But my Toilet understood. It rumbled that giddy sort of rumble that it did whenever it knew I was happy. I unwrapped two cough drops (the phrase, “put a little strut in it,” was printed on the wrappers, and I showed that to my Toilet, thinking it would find it funny) and dropped them into my mouth right there. I wanted it to know how much I appreciated its gesture. They were honey-lemon flavored. I blushed.

My throat felt lovely for the rest of the day—buttery-smooth, glazed and lubricated with tastes of honey. It felt good to know that something cared about me.

In the evening, right as I was crossing into the kitchen to make myself some white tea, I heard a tiny whimper escape from the bathroom. I walked over and glanced inside, and right away I could tell something was wrong—the Toilet’s underbelly was bulging and cracking, and the Toilet seemed to be crying. That broke my heart. I rushed in to help, rubbing its side, asking if it wanted yeast. Then the rumbles and cries rose in pitch. It started shrieking. I froze in panic. I rubbed my hands together. I scratched at my face, unsure of what to do, feeling guilty in my inability to help. But then I saw a little head poking its way out from below, a plushy, pink head. I reached straight into the water and helped extract the little guy, and the Toilet’s shrieks died down, its pain subsiding, and it descended into a heavy sleep.

It was a stuffed animal, a pink hippopotamus, wearing a mailman’s uniform, and the name “Bubby” was printed on his name tag. He coughed and gagged for air. I dried him very carefully—gentle air, ginger pats—then I wrapped him up in a towel and sat with him outside until he air-dried. I knew he must have swallowed a good amount of water in the time it took for the Toilet to push him out, so I held him and patted his fluffy back to make sure that he didn’t have any stomach aches. His breathing finally became slow and relaxed, then, with watery eyes, he gave me a big hug, wrinkling up his uniform. I could see his eyes were beginning to get heavy, so I rocked him back and forth and put him to bed. He was asleep by the time his head touched the pillow, and he looked so peaceful tucked under the soft covers.

My sister came to visit a few days later. We planned to meet for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. On the way over I stopped by the watch repair shop, where they gave me the same story as the other one. I left with my broken watch without paying and I wore it anyway; and, just as I had anticipated, it sat on my wrist as comfortably as can be. My sister looked well when I finally arrived at the restaurant (a little late, but she said she didn’t mind). I ordered us a couple drinks.

She told me that she’d been doing well; she and her husband had just had their second baby. They were having some financial troubles, but she said she knew they could push through it. She just started a new job as a shift manager at a laundromat an hour or so away, which she said wasn’t too bad. I told her I was happy to hear that, but my mind was elsewhere. My Toilet was on my mind, and I couldn’t stop wishing that I was at home with it instead. At one point, I even excused myself and snuck off to the men’s restroom where I sat down in the handicap stall, just staring at the toilet. It wasn’t the same as mine, you could tell: the width of the bowl was too narrow, the bowl too shallow, and the tank had an unpleasant stain. I tried hugging it, and its awkward shape fit in my arms differently than my Toilet. It’s flush, too, lacked that sentimental gargle. Still, I sat there and, even though I knew it wasn’t mine, I tried to pretend like it was. But then the guilt hit me. It wasn’t my Toilet. Would it be upset if it saw me in that handicap stall, hugging an imposter? I straightened up right away, then shuffled over to the sink to wash my hands and straighten my sweater.

Oh, if only the Toilet could have been waiting for me at the table instead of my sister, the napkin spread over its lap, perhaps drinking a cocktail or a martini. I could order appetizers for it, flatter it, spoil it, taking no time to look at the prices, just ordering whatever it wanted, and when the meal was over, we could walk by the lake under the warm moonlight. And maybe, if the mood struck us right, I could steal a kiss.

But that was ridiculous—the Toilet would never leave the bathroom. I dried my hands and walked back to our table.

My sister noticed a lot of new things about me: she saw my new watch, my new wallet, my new sunglasses. She asked me how I could afford them. Of course, I couldn’t tell her about my Toilet; that secret was much too precious to give up. So I told her that my sunglasses and watch were gifts, and that I found my new wallet in a puddle on the street outside my house. She smiled at me; she said that I looked like I had someone special in my life, that I carried myself differently, that my eyes had a new twinkle, like I was in love. I knew she wouldn’t understand because it was more complicated than love, so I waved it off and mentioned that it was getting late, and when she tried to continue the conversation, I reminded her that she had a long drive home. We hugged and said that we should catch up again soon, and she suggested that we grab some food at a Mexican restaurant near her laundromat; supposedly, they made the best margarita she had ever tasted. It struck me then that I was truly happy to see my sister. I gave her a good smile and another hard hug and said a margarita would be swell.

I sped all the way home knowing the Toilet’s yeast was overdue. When I got there and dosed out the usual half-liter, the Toilet gave me a distracted, grumpy rumble, so I gave it a little more than usual. Then I stood next to Bubby’s crib, seeing that he was already fast asleep, and I rested my hand gently on his back, just feeling his deep, peaceful breaths.

The next morning, when I lifted the Toilet seat, I found a small slip of paper, folded in half, floating and soaking in the clear water. I carefully unfolded the paper, not wanting it to tear, and read in runny ink:

Where were you last night?”

I turned the paper around, looking at the backside. Nothing. I chuckled, presenting the note to the Toilet, thinking it must be some kind of joke. I said that I appreciated the effort, but I couldn’t figure out the punchline.

From way down below, real guttural, I could hear it growl. I stepped back, confused, alarmed. I tried to reassure it; I rubbed the side of its bowl, leaned in for a hug. It forced a violent rush of air out at me, almost like a cat hissing at a stranger. I explained to it, arms outstretched, that I met my sister the night before for some dinner, that was all. I knew that I told it about her beforehand—I was always very careful to explain where I was going whenever I went out at night.

It growled again, the rumbles coming up harsh and jagged.

I could feel the blood rushing into my face, my heart rate picking up speed. Unconsciously, I clenched my fists. I told it that I was allowed to go out and meet my sister, that I was responsible enough to look after myself; it didn’t have control over who I could talk to, who I could see. Besides, I said, it was just my sister, it wasn’t like I was throwing all of its yeast away to something else.

It shrieked at me, accusing me of something foul, of some loose betrayal. I screamed back at it through the rushing air, asking how dare it treat me like this, like I didn’t have my own free will to do what I wanted. I reminded it how perfectly I’d been treating it: all the time I spent cleaning it, all the hugging, the loving, the yeast. How dare it take everything I give it, all that effort, all that time, to only criticize me for seeing my sister?

I ripped up the note into tiny, wet bits, then dropped them into the bowl and flushed it down. As the last scraps of the paper disappeared, I heard a violent rumble building up from below. I didn’t pay it any attention; I just walked out and slammed the door behind me. Bubby was standing in the hallway when I walked out, shivering and nervous. He started to cry.

The Toilet screamed through the door, rattling it against the doorframe, and Bubby ran back to the bedroom, curling up underneath the covers. I screamed back at the Toilet through the door, scolding it for making Bubby cry, for blowing up over nothing, over a simple dinner with my sister. It was disgusting, I told it. I walked down the hall into the bedroom where I sat by Bubby and stroked his head, whispering to him that everything was okay, that there was nothing for him to be afraid of. His tiny tears formed a dark, growing circle on the bedsheets.

Down the hall, in the bathroom, I could hear the Toilet’s rage. I could hear its screaming and its thrashing; I could hear clatters and bangs as it crashed itself into the walls of the bathroom. I could hear it shatter the mirror. It shook the whole house. I had to hold Bubby until it stopped.

That night I went to sleep determined not to feed it for a long time.

The next day I woke up sore and irritated, the argument with the Toilet still hanging over me. I scoffed, brushed my teeth in the other bathroom (tiptoeing past the Toilet’s bathroom so it wouldn’t hear me), and asked Bubby what he wanted to do for the day. He said he wanted to be outside, away from the Toilet, so I took him to my favorite spot in the park, right on the lakeshore, to sit with him for a while. After an hour or so, he curled up onto my chest and fell asleep, and I rubbed his back for a long time.

He started sleeping in my bed with me every night after that, curling up next to me in his purple striped pajamas (I’d found a few outfits for him to wear at a toy store in the mall). Every day we would go back to the park and sit by the lake, and I grew to love those hours with him. It was nice to get out of the house with someone, and it was nice to not have to be in the bathroom all the time. Sometimes Bubby would open up to me while we sat on the bench. He told me about the Toilet, about the time he spent inside of it, and about how grateful he was that he wasn’t down there anymore, where it was wet and dark. He told me everything he saw down there: pipes interlocking with pipes, endless turning and twisting, and impossibly giant, open spaces with mountains upon mountains of yeast.

I imagined being down there; I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why, but the idea scared me a little. I had always thought that the plumbing under my Toilet would be clean, organized, and well lit, but it clearly wasn’t. It sounded like a cave-system of some kind, dank and maze-like. My Toilet was dear to me, yes, but how well did I really know it? What exactly went on underneath it, the place where all the rumbles came from? I cared about my Toilet, and I knew I would be lucky to spend the rest of my life with it, but if I ever wanted it to leave, would that even be possible? I really doubted it.

And then I remembered the noises that came from the bathroom after our argument, the crashing and the shattering. It sounded like the Toilet was somehow…moving around in there. But clearly that couldn’t have happened. The Toilet was firmly rooted to the ground, I had seen it myself. I knew it was simply impossible for the Toilet to actually pull itself up from the floor and move around enough to break things, though part of me had come to doubt that, too. I didn’t want to admit it to Bubby (or even to myself), but this had begun to scare me, and I consciously had to throw the idea out of my mind. And yet, despite all this, I still really missed my Toilet. I even cried I missed it so much.

Eventually, one night, a loud burst woke me up, and I knew right away that it was coming from the bathroom. Dark yellow gunk had coated the walls and floor; it slowly seeped out of the Toilet, running over the lip all the way down to its base. Little pockets of air popped out, almost like it was crying. I wept too. I told it how sorry I was for not feeding and cleaning it, that I realized how cruel I had been. I gave it a serving of yeast right away and scrubbed the entire bathroom down, starting with the Toilet, of course. And after the yeast had time to work its magic, the Toilet gave me some contented rumbles as I wiped down the floor, happy that I was paying attention to it. When the bathroom was finally clean and sterile, I hugged it tight and cried. I knew I had been selfish.

We made up, for both of our sakes, and I swore to never neglect it ever again. I said that I was sorry for getting angry with it—it was immature of me, I should have understood where the Toilet was coming from. It agreed, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But then I sensed something in the Toilet; Bubby had peeked into the bathroom from the doorway, and I felt a slight reaction vibrate the floor tiles: it wanted to see Bubby. I tried to introduce the two of them, telling Bubby that everything was alright, that he should come and meet my special someone. The Toilet rumbled when it heard Bubby start to slowly back down the hallway towards the bedroom—it was a reassuring rumble, but also, way beneath the surface, I could tell it was an angry one, as if it was saying, “come here, Bubby. Come here RIGHT NOW.” Bubby ran back to the bedroom, and I had to tell the Toilet that Bubby wasn’t feeling well, that he would come into the bathroom when his stomach wasn’t upset.

It gave me another present right then and there; it was the first time it did it in front of me since Bubby. It was nothing like what I remembered: it was gross, like it was vomiting it up; sloshing, sickly sounds, tangible, almost, with their wet expansions and bulges. A full three-piece suit came out of it then. I thanked it, wrapping my arms around it tight, then gathered up each piece of the suit and took them to the dry cleaners. But the second I walked out of that bathroom and shut the door I felt a wave of relief wash over me. There was something wrong about that hug—it made me think about those noises that came from the bathroom, the thrashing sounds. I paused when I walked out the front door and sat down on the front step. Had I cleaned up broken glass and plaster from the bathroom and not noticed? I couldn’t quite remember seeing dents in the walls (dents that matched the porcelain edges of the Toilet), but I had such a vivid image of them, an image that felt fresh. I shivered. I would have to repair the plaster to show the Toilet its expression of frustration was validated.

I paid for the cleaning then looked for any excuse to stay out of the house for just a little bit longer. I walked around the mall, bought some more yeast at the grocery store—and then I thought of my sister, and a little ray of hope shot up inside me. It would be near the end of her shift, the perfect time for a dinner and a margarita. I called her up and she answered right away. A heavy lump rose up into my throat, and a few words almost trickled out with it, but I stopped them short. I found myself shaking. Another lump bubbled up through my throat, crashing into my uvula—right there, I almost spilled it all, the desperate need to confide and confess, to ask for help. But I choked it down and asked how the laundromat was treating her. She chuckled and said it was just fine. I said that was great, and right before I could get the words out—how does a margarita sound? —an image of Bubby sprang into my mind, one where he was huddling in the corner of the bedroom, crying and afraid, wondering when I would be getting back so he wouldn’t be alone with the Toilet. So we set plans for later that week. I drove home with the radio off, going under the speed limit the whole way.

I walked back in, tense and nervous. I brought the yeast and a serving spoon into the bathroom.

“Want some more yeast?”

Rumbles in the deep, like powerful giggles.

“I took the suit to the dry cleaners. When I get it back, I’ll put it on for you.”

More rolling rumbles, and I could imagine that if it had hands, they would be slowly drifting down my back, to my waist, to my hips. In those rumbles, I could feel its hands clenching down there, intoxicated by the image of me wearing its present.

It was hard to feel like a person when I wore that suit in front of the Toilet, the way it directed me between various poses and angles. Sometimes it would growl at me, the growls coming from way deep in the pipes, whenever I was doing it wrong. I started sweating; and yes, I could see it, there was a big dent in the plaster right next to the Toilet’s tank, and the tiles around the base of the Toilet had cracked in numerous places. I swallowed hard. When I could tell that the Toilet was finally satisfied by how well it fit me, how nice it looked on me, I walked out of the bathroom and closed the door, double checking that it had securely latched. I wished I could lock it from the outside. Bubby was in the living room, sitting on the couch, shaking underneath his blanket. I started to cry when I saw him, how tiny and innocent he was, and how I was partly responsible for bringing him here. I tore off my suit as fast as I could, not worrying whether I popped some of the buttons off, and I stood, nearly nude, in front of Bubby, wishing that him and I could just leave. Instead, I scooped him up in my arms and brought him into the bedroom; it killed me when I felt him cower and nuzzle into me when I had to pass by the bathroom door.

We hugged each other underneath the thick covers, and I got up twice in the middle of the night to make sure that the bedroom door was locked from the inside. I thought about the dents in the bathroom wall and the shattered mirror, the anger in the Toilet’s  shrieks and rumbles, and I imagined it throwing its heavy frame against the wooden door, how I would hear the wood splinter from down the hall. Bubby tried to pretend like he didn’t wake up each time I checked, but I caught him watching me whenever my back was turned. I held him and whispered that everything was okay, that I was just thinking about grabbing something to eat from the kitchen, but I changed my mind when I got to the door. He only hugged me tighter, but I could tell he knew I was lying.

When I got back in bed, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was really confined to the bathroom, whether or not it ventured out at night, its porcelain frame scratching the floor, looking, probing for yeast. And that night, right as I drifted off, I was convinced I could hear that hard grating noise inching its way down the hall, something heavy and ceramic pulling itself closer and closer to the bedroom door.

My dinner with my sister couldn’t come quickly enough, and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I pulled into the laundromat parking lot. I showed up twenty minutes early.

She was in her office, which sat opposite the bathrooms, wearing a white button up with khakis. Her hair was tied back in a neat ponytail. She smiled when she saw me, then gave me a hug and said to give her a few minutes. I just grinned and said that was alright with me. Nonchalantly, I strolled into the bathroom. It was odd, but the sudden sight of the toilet in the men’s room startled me, and I let out a light yelp. After a few seconds I came back to myself—though I found myself shaking—and my heart rate edged back down as I realized that it was not my Toilet. I relieved myself and walked past the tumbling washing machines and out into the parking lot, where I waited for my sister. The increasing distance to the toilet calmed me.

She hopped down the asphalt steps a few minutes later, her leather purse slung over her shoulder, and thanked me for picking her up. I said it was my pleasure—I was happy to see where she worked. She chuckled back to me, and we both chuckled to each other over dinner, the margaritas going down real easy. They really were some of the best margaritas I’d ever tasted. A couple of those, the company of my lovely sister, and a burrito all helped me forget about what was going on back home for a little while, and that was alright. We talked about family, about work, about sports (her husband was a Cardinal fan, and they were heading to a game the following week; I slapped the table and asked her to bring me back one of those jumbo-sized hot dogs). And I found myself not really caring what we talked about, because I could have as many margaritas as I wanted, and the Toilet back home seemed farther and farther away with every drink I finished. My sister, slurring a little, asked the waiter how they made their margaritas and said that we should try to make some of our own, challenging the waiter, somehow, with the idea that we could make some that were even better. A liquor store was down the block. We laughed the whole way there. 

By the end I didn’t even remember what was going on back home, and I had a cab drop the two of us off at my house. We were planning to make a few more drinks and sit out on the back porch. Maybe this could be a regular thing, she said. I told her that would be nice. The sunset made everything feel like a dream.

Of course, after drinking other needs arise, and anyone in their right mind could have predicted where this was going—I should have been able to that night. Yes, she asked me if she could use the bathroom. I giggled and told her to go down the hall and turn left. But she didn’t turn left. She went to the wrong one. I only heard the tiniest scream, and if I had a couple more drinks in me, I probably wouldn’t have heard it at all.

I ran back inside and looked in both bathrooms. Both were completely empty, but the Toilet’s seat was propped open, and there was a tiny sliver of toilet paper on the ground in front of it. It didn’t take long to realize what happened: she was inside the Toilet, way down where it rumbles, way down where Bubby had been, down in the yeast. I tried calling her phone, tried to convince myself this hadn’t happened, punching the numbers in real deliberately, but she didn’t answer. I knew she was down there; this was clear as day to me, but I just told myself I was too drunk to know what was happening, too unaware to trust that scream I heard. She probably called a cab and I didn’t notice, I told myself, and I repeated that in my head as often as I could. And when I laid down in bed and hugged Bubby tight to my cheek, I said out loud that I was sorry, over and over, and I wished I could go back to when I saw her in the parking lot, how her ponytail had bobbled as she bounced down the steps, and how big her smile had been when she met my eyes.

I was scared to feed it the next day, but I knew I would be in worse trouble if I didn’t. I fed the Toilet some extra yeast to make sure that it wasn’t angry, to be sure that it wouldn’t do anything to me. It gave that contented rumbling after I flushed the last bits of it down, its appetite briefly satisfied. As I was rushing out the door, Bubby begged for me to take him with me, or to stay with him, anything, anything but being alone with the Toilet. I told him no, thinking of my sister. “Besides,” I said, “you’re just a stuffed animal.” He was crying by the time I was out the front door, my jacket only half on. The laundromat was one hour away. I urged the cab to speed all the way there.

I tossed a couple bills into the front seat and then I was out, on the rough, cracked parking lot, where I sprinted up the concrete steps and slammed through the front double doors. I shoved my way past the center row of washers, past the wall of dryers, past the large woman waiting to use the bathroom. But then I was at the office door, and I suddenly felt like I could pass out. The Toilet had taken her, it had pulled her in, but there was someone in her office. I had to strain my ears to catch the voice inside, the sound of the rolling washers drowning it out, but then I was worried I’d hear too much—I didn’t want to know, I couldn’t. My eyes felt hot, my ears began to throb, and then the violent flush of the toilet from the women’s restroom sent me wheeling around, running, pounding across the parking lot and into the liquor store alley where I could imagine the pipes extending up the walls around me. It knew I was there.

As I vomited into a rusting trash barrel, I wondered whether the Toilet could really swallow someone whole, or whether it inevitably had to smush and contort you to fit into those impossibly small pipes, twisting around each other endlessly. I could imagine her drowning down there, her body broken and deflated.

On my way home I stopped by Home Depot and picked up a couple of things: some wooden planks, a box of nails, a claw hammer. I boarded up the bathroom door right when I got home, trying to be quiet at first, afraid of what would happen if the Toilet figured out what I was doing, but then I stopped caring, and I hammered in the last few nails as loud as I pleased. Then I wrote, “DANGER: TOILET INSIDE,” on the door. Bubby watched me do it.

When we were laying together in bed I thought about the Toilet, and how we used to be so close. I thought about all the gifts it used to give me. Where had those come from?

I didn’t come up with a plausible answer until the next morning when I used the other toilet. Right after I flushed, I heard a slight rumbling below, a gargling. It all came to me then: visions of pipes twisting upon pipes, connecting and disconnecting at impossible angles, running underground, spreading in all directions to finally end up at a toilet, or perhaps a different toilet, or perhaps all of them.

I smashed my other toilet to tiny porcelain pieces with the claw hammer after that, then boarded up that bathroom too. I couldn’t use toilets anywhere, no matter where they were; the pipes always connected them back. It wasn’t safe to be outside at all. The Toilet was always watching. I had visions of leaving, of just picking Bubby up and running away for good, but I knew I had to be smarter than that. I had to bide my time, wait for the right moment, and I had no idea how long that would be.

On my way home from what I thought would be my last trip to the grocery store for a very long time, I stopped by the bench along the lake for just a few minutes. I just looked out over the calm, glistening water, and part of me could believe for just a little bit that I was free, that the Toilet was understanding and loving just as it always had been before. But then I felt an odd burning sensation on my left wrist; it was the watch, the broken watch, that I forgot I had on. I could feel the skin underneath it swelling, and I knew I had to get it off. My fingers fumbled with the latch, shaking, floppy, like soggy corndogs. As the idea of smashing the watch to pieces against a nearby tree while it was still on my wrist began to form in my mind, my fingers finally loosened it, and I was able to slip it off. I looked at the watch hands, feeling an uneasy, creeping horror in me—they remained motionless in the same places they had always been. I hiked my right arm back and pitched it as far as I could into the lake; it landed without a splash, like the water just swallowed it right up, and I let out an exhausted sigh as I slowly became aware of my throbbing bladder. I held it until I got home, then I did my business in a ten-gallon bucket and buried it in the backyard.

Life became more difficult without plumbing. I did the best I could. I collected rainwater in plastic-lined trash barrels, rationing that out for cooking, hydration, or to give myself birdbaths in the backyard, and that worked as well as I could have hoped. The fresh patches of upturned dirt became more and more numerous as time went on, and I began to dig the holes deeper and deeper, but eventually reached a limit that I was afraid to go past—I didn’t want to uncover a pipe, no matter what kind of pipe it was.

Once the Toilet was silent for a few days, it occurred to me that it must be in some kind of deep hibernation, like the entirety of my sister’s body had been too much for it, and it needed to take its time digesting it. This struck me as I was relieving myself in the backyard, and I tiptoed past the bathroom door over to the utility closet, to the water heater. I grasped the shutoff valve and gave it the slightest twist, just the slightest, maybe a quarter inch. That was all. I knew I had to be smart about this, I knew I couldn’t shut it off all at once or else it would notice. Maybe if I took it real slow, if I changed it so slowly it couldn’t notice until the water was completely off, it would be too weak to chase after me and Bubby. I felt a tight knot loosen in my chest, and I felt myself smile. The next morning, I turned it another quarter inch. And the morning after that.

After a week or so, I would always wonder when I got up if that would be the day I’d feel a hard stop at the end of that quarter inch. When I became convinced that it was coming close, I packed a set of suitcases and stacked them in the rear of the closet, at the ready. To pass the time, I set myself to rationing out the food, to filtering rainwater, and to comforting Bubby. He’d become a horribly nervous thing, always on the brink of a shaking fit. I would constantly lay in the bedroom and watch movies with him on my laptop, careful to find movies that limited the appearance of a toilet. The Lord of the Rings were his favorite movies for that reason. There were no toilets in them.

When I did finally feel that hard stop at the end of the quarter inch, I thought I was imagining it. I applied the slightest amount of pressure, trying to push it past that stopping point, but it wouldn’t budge. The water was shut off. The Toilet didn’t have any water. I felt my chest beat like a drumline, and I had to stop myself from doing cartwheels down the hallway. I had to remind myself the Toilet could still be awake, could still be listening. As I walked past the bathroom, I made myself take one step every ten seconds, setting it down on the wood floor as lightly as I could. Bubby was crying under the covers. I held him and whispered in his ear that it was all over, that we were going away, far away, to a place where there were no Toilets. But he had to be quiet, I said. I pulled the suitcases out of the closet and hoisted Bubby into the crook of my arm. Just wrap your arms around me and close your eyes, I said, and before you know it, this will all feel like an old dream. I tiptoed past the bathroom. It didn’t even give the slightest rumble.

And the breeze outside felt so fine as it lapped against my face and the collar of my jacket. Bubby’s pink fur ruffled in the soft, gentle wind. I strapped him into a booster seat and let the car idle out of the driveway, careful to not make too much noise. When I was block away, I sped up, the houses passing by faster and faster, the Toilet tangibly farther and farther away. I laughed, letting myself sink down lower into the seat, letting the tension edge out of me. Bubby smiled at me in the rearview mirror, and I told him that we were going to be alright. I thought I’d grab him a smoothie on our way out of town.

At the edge of town, maybe thirty to forty minutes away from the house, I thought I heard something, a dark, distant echo. My heart sunk in my chest. There was a construction crew working on an exposed pipe on the side of the road. A ruptured drainage pipe. From way deep in the pipe you could hear them, the rumbles, building and multiplying. It was furious. Powerful crashing sounds came out with the violent shrieks, and I could see the pipe visibly shaking in the workers’ hands. The Toilet had found us. I should have known it would.

I parked on the side of the road another block away and rested my forehead on the top of the steering wheel. Bubby was shivering in the backseat; he asked me to please keep driving, to just drive as fast as I could so we could get far, far away from the Toilet, far away from where its pipes could reach. Oh, and how I wanted that. I could imagine pressing down on the gas pedal harder, speeding to an airport, buying a ticket to some far away island, flying and feeling the total absence of plumbing. And I could imagine Bubby and I making a lovely, peaceful life for ourselves someplace far away, someplace where I could forget about the smell of yeast and the rumbling sound of a flushing toilet.

But I knew that wouldn’t work. You can try as hard as you like to cut plumbing out of your life; you can swear off toilets, sinks, showers, and baths forever, but it will still be there; pipes run everywhere, always directly beneath you. And I saw with horror in that moment how the pipes would expand, how they would grow on their own to find us, stretching with time, spanning even entire oceans. The Toilet would always be able to find us, no matter how far we ran. I knew, deep down in myself, that we had to go back. We just had to.

On the way back I made a quick stop at the grocery store, where I bought the largest bucket of nutritional yeast I could, hoping that a gift would curb the Toilet’s anger; then I stopped again at Home Depot, running through the aisles, my head whipping back and forth, knowing that every second Bubby and I lingered meant the Toilet was getting angrier and angrier. Bubby jumped and thrashed in his car seat, wailing, begging for me not to take him back. I tried to calm him down as best I could, but he was still crying by the time I walked him back up to the house.

I opened the front door slowly. We could hear the deep rumbles right away, the whole house vibrating with its anger. On my way to the bathroom door, I checked the valve that I had spent so long turning. My stomach dropped. It had turned itself all the way back around. I almost collapsed to the floor in hopeless shock, but the Toilet growled from down the hallway, and the urgency of it all came back to me. Bubby protested, but I cut a small hatch into the bottom of the bathroom door with an electric saw, then attached a sliding metal door—a makeshift, rudimentary portcullis.

I could hear something sliding around on the tiled floor before I started cutting, and I could hear it rush back to the Toilet when the saw touched wood. Bubby told me that I should have known better, that we should have kept driving like he told me to. I didn’t say anything back to him, I just kept thinking about what that sliding noise was, imagining tendrils emerging from the Toilet, exploring the bathroom, memorizing every detail, mapping its territory.

I knew that I needed to reach a deal with the Toilet, some kind of compromise, or else things would continue to get out of hand. But Bubby should be the one to talk to it, I said, not me. Bubby protested, but I urged him to be reasonable: he was the only one who had ever been down in the Toilet; besides, he was the one the Toilet wanted to see so badly, so I said it might help to calm it down. We stood a better chance if he went inside, not me. I eventually persuaded him to go inside the bathroom; I told him I would be waiting just outside the door, ready to raise the portcullis whenever he knocked on it.

The second he went in I lowered the portcullis and bolted it shut. The Toilet rumbled. Bubby tried to talk with it, tried to reason with it. I could hear him start to cry; he stopped, hesitated, then stepped closer. Then the sloshing sound came, and I could hear something heavy and moist climbing out of the Toilet, the rumbles and shrieks getting louder. Bubby screamed. He ran to the door and started banging on it, and I could hear the sloshing and sliding getting closer. He screamed for me to let him out.

But I didn’t.

The last traces of his scream faded away after it dragged him down into the Toilet, way down where it rumbles. At first, you could hear it echoing endlessly off the twists and turns of the pipes, but then all the echoes descended onto each other, creating a vague, white noise that trickled away so slowly you couldn’t tell when it was actually gone. I slid the bucket of yeast into the bathroom afterwards. Later, I heard it snatch it up and drag it down into the pipes, too.

When I was lying in bed I thought of Bubby. I thought of how I convinced him to go inside because I was too scared to. Yes, that was the only reason, I told myself, I was just too scared. I couldn’t bring myself to open the door because I thought whatever it was was going to come straight through and grab me. But still, a small voice kept nagging: maybe you never planned to open it. And maybe I didn’t. Maybe I had already made up my mind when I parked on the side of the road and rested my head on the steering wheel. Maybe it had all come to me then, clear as day, the idea that it either had to be Bubby or me. That was why Bubby had to go in before I fed it. I had no other choice. And now Bubby is back where he began, way down where it rumbles, down in the yeast.

I tried to go on with my life after that, and part of me became convinced that the Toilet would stay quiet forever, that it was somehow content after I gave it Bubby. I did my best to keep that little guy out of my head, but he always stayed with me. At night, with nothing else to distract me, my mind was filled with visions of Bubby being taken. Sometimes I could feel the tendrils grabbing me in my sleep, pulling me down into the Toilet, smushing me into impossibly small spaces, pulling me into a great chasm where I see Bubby, a broken thing; his uniform torn, his eyes bulging and popped, his teeth shattered and chipped; and he’ll climb onto me, holding me down, telling me that he told me so. I’d wake up surrounded by nausea, and I would have to run, panting, out of the house, away from plumbing, where I could throw up onto the grass in peace. Fresh patches of upturned dirt continued to populate my backyard.

Perhaps something happened that I didn’t notice—maybe the heater had broken, or maybe something within myself had snapped—but for weeks I couldn’t stop myself from shivering. In bed, near the couch, by the kitchen counter, my body would rock with the shivers, and no matter how many layers I piled onto myself, my whole body would tremble and shake. I tried to be as quiet as I could, anything to keep the Toilet silent, but the shivers would make me misstep, and my toe would land on a creaky board, and all I could do was shut my eyes and clench my teeth, hoping against everything that I wouldn’t hear the start of a rumble. Yet somehow the Toilet stayed quiet.

I left the house as little as I could—what if the pipes sensed that I was gone? —even at the grocery store I would look down, straight ahead, clutching my reusable bag to my side, hoping no one talked to me, that I could walk in and out without saying a word. What if the pipes in the walls heard me? In and out, back into the car, pulling into the driveway so silently it was as if my car was a mouse. In bed after those trips, I would have fantasies of huddling in some far corner and calling the police, how I would explain everything, how the operator would understand with trusting severity. And I could let the officers inside, help them pull the boards off the bathroom door, and then they would lead the Toilet out in handcuffs, and I would be free. But I knew it would never work. They would never believe me.

When the shivers worsened, I began to hear an odd humming in the walls, began to see bulges and waves traveling along the plaster. I placed my ear up against the wall, and that is when I heard it—I heard the pipes growing. It was subtle and slow, but they were growing. I threw myself onto the bed and forced a pillow over my face, anything to shut it out; but over time, my ears grew more sensitive, more accustomed, and no matter where I was in the house I would hear them, the growing and bulging of the pipes. And way down in there, way down under that grating, maddening sound, I could hear Bubby, I could hear his weeping and wailing, and my sister was screaming down there too, her cries rushing through the pipes. Just barely audible. Just enough.

Right as I was beginning to feel my sanity slipping, I felt a courage rise up in me. I found myself in front of the bathroom door with the claw hammer, and I felt an intent in my chest that was nothing short of rebellion. One by one, the nails came out and the boards came off. If I had been more in control of myself, I would have noticed that they were far too easy to extract, that the far ends that must have bitten through the door were melted or eaten down to rusty nubs. But it didn’t matter much. When I swung the door open, I stepped into a bathroom I didn’t recognize. Everything—the walls, the floor, the tub, the sink, everything except the Toilet itself, which still sat immaculate and clean—was covered in a horrible, fungal slime, and the smell that seeped past me was rotten, moldy, and corpse-like. And while every sane part left of me screamed for me to turn and run, or to tiptoe back into the hallway, or else to simply vomit up everything that I could, the weight of the claw hammer kept me inching forward, quietly enough to not wake it. An image sprang into my arms, an image of the hammer coming down in a bludgeoning blow, of ceramic shards flying in all directions. I inched closer, then closer again, shaking up and down with anger. I pulled my lips back, baring my teeth, then raised the hammer high above my head.

A tiny rumble bubbled out, and I stopped at the height of my swing. Another rumble, then another. Then an angry shriek. I felt a power surging below me more fearsome and hateful than anything I thought possible. The rumbles built, plaster cracked, floor-tile chipped, and the rumbles exploded out in a tidal wave of murky toilet water—and that is when I saw them, the tentacles, huge, pink, and gangrenous, thrashing up toward the ceiling, the suckers flexing and clenching. They dove for me, cutting through the air. And I screamed, blinked, gasping for breath—and they were gone. The Toilet rumbled. I blinked again. The hammer slipped from my fingers. I could feel something in the Toilet, some huge part of it close to the surface, hiding just out of sight, just beyond the dark recesses of its bowl. It growled at me, and I knew it was about to grab me and pull me under.

I begged for it to please, please, just please make it stop. I cried and apologized and confessed and reminisced about how we used to feel such love for each other, how we used to be so close, and how I wanted it all to go back to the way it was, when I would hug it and curl up with it under a blanket. Please just let it all go back, I said, I’ll do anything.

The Toilet only growled a low, dark growl.

“What if I get you some yeast?” I said. “I’ll just go to the store and get you some yeast.”

NO.” The word came out in a slow, disgusting gargle.

“Please, just tell me whatever you want and I’ll get it for you. I’ll get anything.”

The rumblings came up, building in intensity. The pipes were close to burst pressure. “MARMALADE.”

I barely even knew what that was. “How much?”

A long, painful inhale. “ALL. OF. IT.”

Marmalade. Fruit preserves. Much harder to get than yeast.

At first, I tried feeding it some store-bought marmalade, but it coughed it up right away, the juice piling up and seeping out from under the portcullis. The Toilet, also, did not like that I had to leave the house to get it. It thought I might try to run away. I would have to make it myself. It took a few tries to get it right, and I was terrified that it would get fed up during the first few days, tear open the metal portcullis, and come straight for me. The first time I didn’t use a big enough pan, and the melting sugar spilled and poured over the sides. It took a long time to clean that up, much too long. On the second try I cooked it past the setting point, and when I passed the mason jar under the portcullis it had already hardened into orange-flavored concrete. It coughed that up right away, too.

I’ve gotten much better at making it now; I’ve had to. Over weeks, or months, or however long it’s been, I’ve had to develop an efficient system, eliminating any excess waste of time. One vat next to the island is filled to the brim with oranges (all coughed up by the Toilet, at my convenience); then to the dull knife on the island where I slice the orange peels into three-millimeter-thick pieces; pile those into an adjoining vat next to the cooking station, which is large enough to cook a batch that will satisfy it for a whole day. It requires a lot of time to complete.

I can’t leave the house anymore, not at all, the Toilet won’t let me. I don’t have the time anyway. All of my waking moments are spent in making the next batch for the Toilet so it doesn’t drag me down like it did Bubby. In between each batch, I have enough time to sleep for four hours, then I have to get up and start all over again. Keeping track of days is difficult now. I have stopped thinking of weeks as composed of days; I rather track them in terms of marmalade batches. Sometimes I still fantasize about leaving, but then I think about the pipes, how they’ll always be there no matter how far away I go, how they could grow to reach even the most distant places.

Now, as I stand in the kitchen and finish up today’s batch, I’m having trouble connecting the dots, trouble with figuring out exactly how it all got this way. The Toilet and I used to be such good friends, but there must have been a definite moment when everything changed, but I can’t remember. All I can remember is the constant smell of oranges, and the way orange zest seems to cover everything; I can remember the feeling of constant fear, of anxious trepidation whenever I pass a jar of marmalade under the portcullis, of unwashed bedsheets that have turned a dark yellow from nightly sweats. How long, exactly, can the human body last on so little sleep? Risk of cancer increases, risk of memory loss, of heart disease, of stroke increases. Drastic decrease in the ability to concentrate…

But I’ve spaced out again, and I forgot to set the timer. I turn off the stove. Hopefully I haven’t cooked past the setting point again, because messing up a batch means no sleep, and I’ll have to wait another day before my four hours in bed. Have to stay awake. Have to stay aware. With so little sleep everything starts to feel a little unreal, a little disconnected, and sometimes when I go to sleep, I’m convinced that it’ll all be over when I wake up, that this is all just some incredibly lucid nightmare that is going on for just a little too long. But it is real, and so I have to get up to start the next batch.

I fill up the first jar with the overly sweet marmalade (the Toilet likes its natural sugars) and walk it over to the rusted metal portcullis. There’s a small spot on it that hasn’t quite rusted over yet, and sometimes I catch a brief glimpse of myself: long nails, pale skin, long, oily hair, droopy eyes that don’t seem to focus anywhere, skin that sags; but I know it too will rust over soon, and that’s just as well. Better to forget I can’t recognize myself. I pull open the portcullis and slide the first jar in, then there’s the sloshing sounds, the wet crawling, as it grabs the mason jar and pulls it way down. It rumbles. This batch will do. But I’m too exhausted to be happy that the batch is over, much too exhausted to feel excited, or feel proud, or look forward to something, or to even be scared.

As I walk back into the kitchen, I catch a glimpse of the backyard through a window. I sigh. Those are my favorite moments out there, the times when I get to dig a fresh patch of dirt; I find myself looking up into the sky, sometimes closing my eyes so I can focus on the absence of oranges in the breeze. But I won’t be going out there anytime soon. The Toilet knows how full the bucket is getting, it knows I have another day or two before I have to empty it.

I feel my eyes start to close on their own, and I can feel myself start to tilt, to lean over my center of gravity. I almost let myself fall, but I dart my hand out toward the island to stop myself from toppling over; I catch the island, but I can hardly hold myself up. All at once, as I’m thinking about the bed, about sleeping forever, about how I can’t remember what it feels like to wake up feeling rested, the smell of the fresh marmalade becomes overwhelming. I struggle to breathe. My hands clasp at my throat. My tired legs drunkenly carry me outside where I collapse down the stone steps into the soft grass. I dig my hands into the dirt, taking deep breaths. I’m too exhausted to stand up, too exhausted to stop myself from weeping. I feel the dirt on my cheek. Just let me have this moment, I think, just give me a few minutes. I weep harder. There is the faint odor of manure and fertilized soil in the wind.

The rumbles come spilling out the kitchen door. It’s still hungry. It calls me back inside for the next jar, violent undertones clinging to the deep rumbles and growls. I know better than to beg for a few more minutes; it would only make it angrier. I push myself up into a kneeling position and wipe the tears away from my dirty cheeks. Just a few more jars, a few vats to clean, and then I can sleep, I tell myself.

Then I take one final deep breath, feeling the breeze on my face, and look up to see the fresh patches of upturned dirt filling the backyard, stretching on and on, as far as the eye can see.

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