Looming in Their Futures by Adam Giles

P L U M B  A N D  P L U M B E R

Jo is elbow-deep in thick slimy godknowswhat because her partner forgot the sewer snake at the shop. Her partner, Joe, meanwhile, stands with his hands on his hips at the living room window admiring the penthouse view.

“One day I’ll have a place like this,” Joe says.

It’s true. He will. Salary-wise, the math checks out. A hundreth floor unit is in the cards for Joe. Jo, on the other hand, earns thirty per cent less than Joe so the best she can hope for is something on the seventieth floor, which won’t be high enough to poke up over Smog Cloud Gregory, to bask in unfiltered sunlight, to enjoy spectacular views overlooking the rolling haze. Jo will wind up with a unit somewhere in the middle of Smog Cloud Gregory with diluted sunlight and fog-obscured views of neighbouring condo buildings, of other women in their unspectacular seventieth-floor units. Jo doesn’t bring up the discrepancy, the thirty-storey gap looming in their futures, because she’s sick of always causing a stink.

“You want to give me a hand?” she says from the bathroom, arm through the access panel, down into the vertical stack, grasping for something solid, for whatever got flushed from the toilet, but squishing fistfuls of oozy muck instead.

“So we can finish this job in fifteen minutes and bill the minimum call charge?” Joe says, wandering into the den, sitting in the leather executive chair, rooting through government papers on the desk. “First, when the homeowner’s not home you milk that shit. Second, when the homeowner is the goddamned Premier of Ontario you milk that shit double.”

Jo has thought of filing a pay equity grievance, causing a stink, fighting the good fight for justice. She’s tired though. She’s been fighting the good fight all her life. Since grade school. Since the science fair. When the boys claimed every square foot of the gymnasium, spreading out their bristol board displays, affording themselves generous buffers because being too close to one another would invite accusations of homosexuality. Principal Moreland, citing gymnasium fire code regulations, had the girls set up their projects in the equipment storage room amongst cages of basketballs and piles of foul-smelling pinnies.

“Speaking of our homeowner,” Joe says, clicking on the TV. “He’s supposed to be having a press conference.”

The tip of Jo’s middle finger grazes something rigid inside the drain pipe. The clog is just beyond her reach. She doesn’t tell Joe. Doesn’t want him to waltz into the bathroom, reach down into the stack with his gangly Neanderthal arm, and pluck out the obstruction with ease. He’d strut around with that shit-eating grin of his. As if biology—being born with gangly Neanderthal arms, being able to pluck obstructions with ease—entitles him to recognition and praise. As if it makes him superior.

Joe flips to the all-day news channel. The press conference is on. A graphic at the bottom of the screen reads: “Premier Addresses Infidelity Allegations.”

Joe watches the Premier read from a prepared statement: “I love women. I love women’s rights. At no time have I been unfaithful to my wife of thirty years. I categorically denounce these disgusting and totally untrue accusations. My caucus, The Fossil Fuel Party of Ontario, they stand behind me. The liberal media, on the other hand, will have you believe—”

Joe, also born with a feeble Neanderthal attention span, turns away from the TV and goes back to rooting through the desk. He finds a Playboy in one of the drawers and kicks back for a leisurely afternoon read.


B L I G H T  C L U B

Mel takes his son Mel Junior to the emergency room. Again. Second time this month. Mel Junior’s small intestine is host to yet another parasite, this latest one being notably more resilient than the last few, fighting off antiparasitic medication, feeding on the poor kid’s internal resources, leaving him withered and feverish.

All the other neighbourhood dads are there with all the other neighbourhood kids, corralled in a corner of the ER waiting room, behind a makeshift barrier: strips of translucent Polytarp duct-taped to ceiling tiles, draping down to the speckled linoleum.

The kids, the ones not crapping liquid crap in the bathroom, play together with the toy factories and oil drums and fuel trucks donated to the hospital by Shrewd Crude, the refinery they all live behind, the refinery all the dads work at.

Mel sits with Chuck, Hazardous Waste Receiving Coordinator at Shrewd Crude, and Hugh from Overnight Maintenance Crew Three. They’re closing in on twenty-three hours in the waiting room. And Chuck is still going on about unionizing.

“You think those pricks at Retro-Petro, with their hipster image and new-age management and thorough benefits coverage take their kids to publicly funded hospitals and wait for days on end to see a doctor?” Chuck says.

“The root of the problem is our elected officials,” Hugh says. “Healthcare is underfunded.”

Mel Junior drops a toy oil drum down inside a toy smokestack. It’s stuck and his hand is too big to reach in and pull it out. Chuck Junior is trying to figure out the toy wastepipe, turning it around and upside-down, looking for the button that releases the slime from the pipe into the attached basin shaped like a river. Mel smiles. At the wonderment of youth. At the boys discovering the world.

“Employers are parasites,” Chuck says, reaching into his pocket, pulling out a United Oilworkers pamphlet titled What We Argue About When We Argue About Affordable Healthcare. He waves the pamphlet at Mel and Hugh. “They take us for granted, use us up, bleed us dry.”

“Our elected officials are the real parasites,” Hugh says. “It’s scandal after scandal with these people.”

Mel takes the pamphlet, skims through it, shakes his head. “I don’t know. Shouldn’t we be a little more subtle? Like, drop hints to management that we want our coverage beefed up?”

“Subtlety isn’t going to do it,” Chuck says. “You’ve got to hit people over the head.”

“Come on too strong and you’re going to spook them. They’ll close up shop, put us all out of work,” Mel says.

Mel Junior puts an arm around Chuck Junior. Chuck Junior stops crying. Mel Junior points out the slime-into-river button at the back of the toy wastepipe and there goes the slime, oozing from the pipe into the basin shaped like a river. Chuck Junior, with the tiny hands all the Jones men are known for, reaches into Mel Junior’s toy smokestack and pulls out the little toy oil drum.

“I mean, look at this guy,” Hugh says, motioning to the TV, to the Premier’s press conference on the all-day news channel. “Truth’s going to come out. He’s got a shit storm in his future. For what? Some instant gratification?”

Chuck looks at Hugh like, can we stay on topic?

A nurse calls Mel Junior’s number and Mel shoots out of his seat, hands the pamphlet back to Chuck, grabs Mel Junior by the wrist, and stops caring about labour rights or whatever they were talking about because he and his son are onto the next waiting room, that much closer to seeing the doctor, that much closer to feeling better. Poor kid, Mel thinks. He’ll probably be on bedrest for a while. He’ll probably miss the rest of the summer swimming in the river with his friends. But sometimes you need to focus on yourself. And not worry about what other people are doing.


A M P H I B I O U S  G O R E - F A R E

“And in lighter news,” the anchor says. “Local salamander activists are at it again, forcing the shutdown of Goodenough Boulevard to let the endangered species migrate without fear of mass slaughter. As Karen Allot reports, some Goodenough Boulevard residents are expressing their frustration at what they call, quote, ‘A pointless shit show.’”

Local resident, Sam: “It’s a pointless shit show. They’re making us park our cars along a dirt road outside the subdivision and we have to walk home on foot. In this heat? So these worthless slugs don’t go extinct?”

A salamander activist in one of the Save the Salamanders hats they all wear shoves Sam out of the way and leans over the reporter’s stick mic. “The problem today is that no one gives a hoot about anything but themselves.”

Karen Allot: “Salamanders though? Don’t we have bigger fish to fry?”

Activist: “Animal rights are human rights.”

Karen Allot: “Come again?”

A second news feed, a live shot of the Premier’s press conference, opens picture-in-picture in the bottom corner of the screen. The salamander broadcast continues as the main feed.

Sam elbows the activist in the face and muscles his way back into the picture. “These parasites overpopulated. It’s their own fault. Time to thin the herd, turn these migrant eels into roadkill.”

The press conference going on in the bottom corner is muted. Tiny closed-captioned text scrolls across the screen: MY ACCUSER, A WOMAN I BARELY KNOW, CLAIMS WE SHARED AN INTIMATE ENCOUNTER IN MY CONDOMINIUM.

Three other activists in Save the Salamanders hats grab Sam and drag him away someplace off camera.

Activist: “What I’m saying is: we’re only asking these people to park down the street for a week. It’s a minor inconvenience. We’ve got an entire species displaced because of rising water levels. We’ve got smog clouds, diseased rivers, and the general decimation of habitats—and the clock is ticking. If we could all just get on the same page, if we could focus, maybe we’d actually be able to do something about it. But human beings are genetically incapable of banding together, working toward a common purpose.”

Karen Allot: “We’ll fact-check that.”

Activist: “It’s science. Remember bees? You think there was ever a worker bee with his own agenda? A rogue one that was too busy taking up a cause to serve the queen?”

Karen Allot, touching her earpiece: “I’m being told to stop talking to you.”

Scrolling closed-captioned text: WHO WOULD BE STUPID ENOUGH TO HAVE AN AFFAIR IN HIS OWN HOME?

Brawls break out along the street. Molotov cocktails fly through the air, their flaming wicks streaking like shooting stars, crashing down, exploding on impact.

Anchor: “Looks like it’s getting looney tunes down there, Karen. What’s the police presence like?”

Karen Allot: “In a word: insufficient. Looks like a repeat of last year’s bloodbath between residents and activists.”

Scrolling closed-captioned text: MY FRIENDS, I PROMISE YOU THIS: IF THERE WERE ANY PROOF I’D DONE SUCH A THING, I WOULD STEP DOWN AS PREMIER.

And here’s Sam again, out of breath, face bruised and bloody, grabbing the mic out of Karen’s hand.

Sam: “Even if you let these little fuckers cross the street, what’s to say something else won’t kill them? What’s to say Smog Cloud Gregory doesn’t suffocate—”

Anchor: “Okay, that’s all the time we have. Stay tuned for racially insensitive cartoons from the twentieth century.”



A P O C A L Y P S E  C H O W

Quarter after nine and Nash and John are already done sorting the few non-perishables that came in the day before. Fifteen minutes—and four families in need—later and the food bank is cleaned out.

“It’s like no one cares anymore,” Nash says, hanging the Closed sign.

John agrees that times are deteriorating, that people are hunkering down, going insular, and they head back to the warehouse where rows of empty shelving collect dust.

The warehouse, once alive and bustling with activity especially around Christmas when volunteers turned out so they had a good deed to brag about on social media, is depressingly still. They can’t even go door to door to solicit donations or accost people outside grocery stores like they used to, not with outdoor temperatures and air quality the way they are, rated Searing and Noxious respectively.

Nash and John sit on the festering couch in the musty warehouse supply room to continue the video game they always play to ride out the rest of their shifts. Apocalypse Chow is a turn-based food bank strategy game. The idea is to build up your food bank, run it sustainably, and extend your reach to feed the world. They like how the game mirrors their own experience.

There’s a bang at the front door, then another, loud enough for Nash and John to hear all the way from the warehouse supply room. Some people don’t take Closed for an answer.

Most of their world is parched, cartoon citizens suffering through cartoon heat wave after cartoon heat wave, dying of cartoon drought and famine. It’s December in the game—just like in real life!—which means Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is the song that’s on repeat: There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear...

The rapping on the front door gets louder, more urgent, more desperate.

The game is split screen: Nash on top, his character a rogue food bank volunteer taking justice into his own hands, raking in points, carjacking the Bentleys of local fat cats, hawking them on the black market, funneling the proceeds into his food bank, and John on the bottom, his character a law-abiding food bank HR guy fighting racism in affiliate food banks in rural towns.

Then, an explosive crash from out front, the distinct blunt-force door busting of a family in need.

Nash watches John’s straight-laced cartoon HR guy run an anti-racism PD session at Susie-Jo’s Rural Food Bank. It’s incomprehensible to Nash why John would opt for such a pointless mission, one that feeds exactly zero starving families. And the Christmas bells that ring there, are the clanging chimes of doom...

The family out front opens and slams cupboard doors, bangs around empty refrigerators, clashes grocery carts.

John’s food bank HR guy is in deep shit. Susie-Jo (of Susie-Jo’s Rural Food Bank), cartoon pistols firing in the cartoon air, runs John’s character out of the PD session, out of town. Zero points for John. Here's to you, raise a glass for everyone, here's to them, underneath that burning sun...

The family pours into the warehouse, a dad, a mom, and six kids sweaty and sunburnt and breathing heavily. They see Nash and John through the little window on the supply room door.

“Our people are dying in the streets and you’re doing a mission on racism?” Nash says.

“You’re just okay with oppression?”

“Who cares? We don’t tackle this Famine Watch there’ll be no one left to oppress.”

“All the pieces matter,” John says. “The kid who’s going to come up with the solution to the food shortage problem, the one with the unique mind to figure it out, is too oppressed to put his unique mind to work.”

The dad, the mom, the six kids survey the barren warehouse. The cold truth—that there is no food, that Nash and John aren’t holding out on them—reduces the family’s bold show of force, their energetic raiding, to vacant dismay. Some people need a smoking gun to believe.

Nash finishes roughing up another Big Oil CEO. John’s up. And there’s a whole world of Bentleys to jack.


P L U M B  A N D  P L U M B E R  R E D U X

Joe, reclining in the executive chair, feet on the desk, peels apart pages of the Playboy.

“This one looks like Tina,” he says, Tina being the only other female plumber at Service Yer Pipes.

Jo’s middle finger inadvertently pushes the clog deeper down the vertical stack, out of reach. This is officially a job for a gangly Neanderthal arm. Joe will need to take over. He’ll get credit for the unclogging. Another tick on the shop leaderboard for useless sack-of-shit Joe.

The thing about the science fair was that eight-year-old Jo had come up with the solution for air pollution. As in, all of it. Everywhere. She designed a motor vehicle muffler attachment that funneled exhaust fumes into a massive plant-based “living filter” that cars would hitch up and trail behind them. It would have been the single most significant advancement in the fight against, then Smog Cloud Agnes which, when Jo was eight, was one of the first smog clouds robust enough to be given a name. Would have been. If anyone had seen her project, the prototype model of her Automotive Emissions Eliminator. Jo and the other girls hidden away in the equipment room got zero traffic. Unless you counted the parent who poked his head in looking for the bathroom. The visiting media broadcasted segments on and awarded Super Science Shout-Outs to boys demonstrating baking soda volcanoes and pneumatic potato launchers that the parents clearly helped make.

“What did I do wrong?” Jo asked Principal Moreland, believing it was her fault that her project didn’t get noticed, that somehow it just wasn’t impressive enough.

The principal gave her work a glance. “A little elaborate isn’t it? It’s all—” he said, waving an arm around the prototype, searching for the right word. “Bulky.”

“I’m only eight.”

“How are people going haul their boats to the cottage with the trailer hitch occupied?”

“That’s just one application,” Jo pleaded. “It’s got—”

“The world isn’t ready, kid.”

Jo’s had enough: she’s sweaty, she’s sore, and she reeks of this rancid drainpipe sludge. She’s going to hit Joe where it hurts. She’s going to breach partner etiquette and tell Mr. Kowalczyk that Joe forgot the sewer snake at the shop. Which is grounds for termination.

Jo wipes her arm on her coveralls and steps out of the bathroom. “You’re up.”

Joe’s eyes move from the Playboy to Jo. He puts the magazine on the desk and sighs to let Jo know that she’s inconveniencing him. He struts past her, reaches through the access panel, down into the stack, and plucks out the clog: a sludge-covered wad flushed from the penthouse’s second-floor bathroom.

Jo washes her hands in the sink and goes into the den to turn off the TV. The press conference is over. A reporter is covering a riot in the streets.

“Check it out,” Joe says, unfurling the balled-up wad, shaking off black sludge, showing Jo what it is: women’s underwear. He holds the filthy bra up to his chest and laughs like the braindead cretin he is.

“Looks like another tick on the leaderboard for me,” Joe says with that shit-eating grin. “Stick with me, baby. I can teach you a thing or two.”

Jo returns the smile. Because she’s going to let him have this moment, let him puff out his chest and mansplain about clog removal, oblivious that he’s a dead man walking, that the clock is ticking on him. On all of them.


Adam Giles's

short fiction

has appeared in a variety of literary journals, including
Sonora Review, Riddle Fence, The Feathertale Review, and The Humber Literary Review. His stories have been nominated for the National Magazine Awards and the Best of the Net Anthology. His story “Corduroy” won the University of Toronto Magazine Short Story Contest in 2013. He lives with his wife and two children in Mississauga, Ontario. You can find him on the web at adamgiles.ca and on Twitter at @gilesadam.