My bathtub's full of eyelashes and toenails. Felton says we should burn them in the backyard. We've washed them down the drain, shoveled and flushed them. We've tossed them out the bathroom porthole. Each morning the eyelashes and toenails reappear. The toenails are pink and lined with thin strands of blood that smell of rotten eggs or bad chicken. Failure to remove the eyelashes and toenails may lead to a bathroom-full, an apartment-full. What if I leave town for a day, a week? To visit the Washington Monument, for example.
Felton draws schematics for a conveyor belt that will continuously cycle the eyelashes and toenails out the bathroom porthole.
"Will it work, though?"
"I'm an engineer."
We get our landlord to inspect the schematics. She's very small with towering black hair. "Okay," she says. "You pay for any damages."
While Felton installs the conveyor belt, I clean the apartment. I vacuum along the thick gray carpet. I open all doors. I dispose of leftover crusts and bones and wrappers. In black yard-waste bags I place paper plates, paper cups, plastic sporks, pizza boxes, Twinkies, other things. I scrub the walls and ceilings with steel wool. I leave buckets of soapy water in each room. I empty the closets. I pile towels and clothes and books on the kitchen table. I use lemon-scented ammonia on the kitchen floor and on the counters and around the sink. It's barely dawn and I've sweated through my pits and am shivering from the cold of it.
"Almost done," Felton yells from the bathroom. "Fucking perfecto."
I look for a new shirt on my bed and toss the old one in the corner.
"I've fucking got it," Felton yells.
Beneath my discarded shirt the carpet's stained darkly. The stain reaches into the closet and I realize the closet also is full of eyelashes and toenails.
"Felton," I say. "Felton," I say again.
The stained carpet shreds at my touch. I tear it from the floor. I make piles of shredded carpet. It reeks there in the corner and my hands become oily and black. I brush hair from my face and the black oil smears on my checks and around my ears.
"It's done," Felton says, standing over me. "What the hell's going on here?"
"I don't know."
Eyelashes and toenails tumble from the closet.
"Is that a door?" Felton wonders.
"Beneath the carpet."
I continue shredding the carpet. Felton helps and we're both covered in black oil.
"We should call the landlord?" The black oil's dripping along my forearms.
"What's she gonna do?"
There's a metallic rattling from the bathroom. The conveyor belt device is smoking. Sunlight peeks through the bathroom porthole and refracts around the smoke.
The landlord appears behind us, her towering hair tufting and leaning and pointing in all directions. "What have you done? This'll cost millions?" She walks room to room. "There are stains everywhere. Why have you torn the carpet? This was industrial grade carpet. This is definitely a violation of your lease agreement." She bumps the kitchen table and knocks it over, spilling my possessions into the creeping black stains. She punches the refrigerator sideways, denting it. In the bedroom she overturns my bed and crawls along the floor, jerkily tearing at the carpet. "Why did you, why did you?" she mutters. She eats the carpet and pulls at the door beneath the carpet which opens silently. The landlord crawls headfirst through the hole beneath the door, legs kicking behind her, as in vigorous swimming, or a seizure. "Why did you?" she wants to know, but faintly as her body is now beneath the floor.
"Should we help her?" Felton says.
"I'm not going down there."
We hear grunting and a low-level scream, then three screams each fainter than the one before, rapidly, incrementally.
The black oil has seeped through the carpet and is climbing the walls. The closet door bubbles with it. The ceiling creaks above us.
"I think we have to follow her," Felton says.
"Okay," I whisper. I stare at the ceiling and the ceiling bubbles.
"You first," Felton says. "You're smaller and you can tell me if I'll fit."
I crawl through the floor into a dark and wide shaft. It's earthy and lined with roots and worms. There are no lights. I crawl forward without hope or expectation. Felton grunts behind me, his head occasionally bumping my butt. We crawl at a consistent downward angle, the walls of the shaft narrowing until I'm pushing into the soft earth, into mud, until the mud's clutching my face and I'm only wiggling, until the mud's in my eye sockets and mouth. I try to speak but can only gurgle and wriggle, gurgle and wriggle. There's movement but no direction. The roots massage us. We're bleeding a little. When I think we're finally trapped, I break carefully into light. A field at night, behind the apartment building. I wriggle into the tall grasses and roll there, grunting, until Felton appears. The apartment building pulses and contracts, pulses and contracts and shadows itself. Felton moves his mouth to speak and mud falls in clumps from it. He tries to speak more but only mud, clumps of it, piling in front of him. He points. I turn and gasp, mud clumping from my mouth. The landlord there, walking circles through the tall grasses, muttering, "why did you, why did you," while clumps of eyelashes and toenails fall from her mouth.
< Nicolle Elizabeth
Ras Mashramani >