The Water Man
By Ursula Pflug
The water man came today. I waited all morning, and then all afternoon, painting plastic soldiers to pass the time. Red paint too in the sky when he finally showed; I turned the outside lights on for him and held the door while he carried the big bottles in. He set them all in a row just inside the storm door; there wasn’t any other place to put them. When he was done he stood catching his breath, stamping his big boots to warm his feet. Melting snow made little muddy lakes on the linoleum. I dug in my jeans for money to tip him with, knowing I wouldn’t find any. Finally I just offered him water.
We drank together. It was cool and clean and good, running down our throats in the dimness of the store. It made me feel wide and quiet, and I watched his big eyes poke around Synapses, checking us out, and while they did, mine snuck a peek at him. He was big and round, and all his layers of puffy clothes made him seem rounder still, like a black version of the Michelin man. He unzipped his parka and I could see a name, Gary, stitched in red over the pocket of his blue coverall. I still didn’t have a light on; usually I work in the dark, save the light bill for Deb. But I switched it on when he coughed and he smiled at that, like we’d shared a joke. He had a way of not looking right at you or saying much, but somehow you still knew what he was thinking. Like I knew that he liked secrets, and talking without making sounds. It was neat.
Seemed to me it was looking water–a weird thought out of nowhere–unless it came from him. He seemed to generate them; like he could stand in the middle of a room and in everyone’s minds, all around him, weird little thoughts would start cropping up–like that one. My tummy sloshing I looked too, and seemed to see through his eyes and not just mine. Through his I wasn’t sure how to take it: a big dim room haunted by dinosaurs. All the junk of this century comes to rest at Synapses; it gets piled to the ceilings and covered with dust. If it’s lucky it makes a Head; weird Heads are going to be the thing for Carnival this year, just as they were last, and Debbie’s are the best. Her finished products are grotesque, but if you call that beautiful then they are; the one she just finished dangles phone cords like Medusa’s hair, gears like jangling medals. Shelves of visors glint under the ceiling fixture; inlaid with chips and broken bits of circuitry, they hum like artifacts from some Byzantium that isn’t yet. Two faced Janus masks, their round doll eyes removed; you can wear them either way, male or female, to look in or out.
Gary was staring at them, a strange expression on his face. Like he wanted to throw up.