by Andrea Ruggirello
The bathtub had not drained properly in over a week. The basin was slimy with soap that sat there for hours, and Charlie could make out a faint dark outline snaking the walls of the tub. He finally took out the plunger one Sunday afternoon when he nearly slipped taking a shower.
Naked and still damp, he pressed and lifted, pressed and lifted, the satisfying slurp of the plunger filling the silence of his apartment. Finally, after the fifth plunge, with a quiet burp, something came out with the rubber head.
A clump of hair. He pulled it off the end of the plunger and studied it in the light. The thick black web was peppered with bits of scum and gravel. It looked like Jana’s even though she had never even been to his apartment. But maybe somehow it was. He imagined her hair streaming down her bare wet back, and swirling into the drain of the tub they once spent half a day in, eating pizza and drinking beer, limbs entangled, skin wrinkled and spongey. In his mind, the hair clump floated through pipes like a jellyfish, through the city, across the Hudson and up into his own Hoboken tub.
Charlie ran the strands under the tap in the sink carefully, cleaning them until they shined gunk-free. He ran the black comb from the medicine cabinet through them, raking at the knots, then brought them into his bedroom.
He picked up the doll he had taken from the last visit with his daughter, Lila. Lila’s Barbie collection had nearly doubled in size since the divorce, and he figured she wouldn’t miss this one, a brunette in blue jeans whose leg kept falling out of the socket.
He draped the hair over the doll’s head, angling it for a while to make it look as natural as possible. He sat on his bed and propped the doll up against the ivory lamp on the nightstand so that it faced him.
“Are you happier now?” Charlie asked the doll.
Big brown eyes stared back at him. A white twinkle had been painted into one of them. No. But I’m not unhappier either.
“Do you miss me?”
Her lips were piglet pink and curved at the corners. Yes, often.
“Have you slept with anyone new?
Her plastic arms were bent at the elbows and cranked forward so that she looked like she was holding an invisible box. Yes, but it was empty. We had nothing to say in the morning.
“Do you think we have a shot at getting back together?”
Her skin was shiny and tan. A long strand where the plastic had joined together trailed down each limb. Anything’s possible. But few things are probable.
“I hate it when you talk like that.”
I thought you liked it. I thought you liked my big brain and my anxiety and my questions. I thought you liked my philosophies and my conversations with God. I thought you—
“I did! I did.”
Everyone’s born evil or good, and life is just a constant battle against yourself. God would like it if we had more sex. The very bottom of the deepest part of the ocean is where the most powerful natural resources are. Survival of the fittest is bullshit. Society is a delicate balancing act of trusting that others know more than we do. How can we—
The doll suddenly lurched then fell over as its leg slipped out of its socket. The hair slid off onto the nightstand. Charlie scooped the hair into his palm and cradled it for a moment. Then he got up and held it over the wastebasket by his desk. No, he needed to get rid of it more permanently. He went over to the window and opened it, a blast of artic winter air smacking up against his bare chest. He held the hair out, then opened his fingers and watched it float away, a feather caught in a breeze to someone who didn’t know better.
He would return the doll to Lily’s collection the next time he visited. And when Jana returned from whatever she did while he was there, errands, or work, or dates with men who had nothing to say, he’d ask her what’s been on her mind lately. Just because he wanted to know.