By Jennifer Brennock
(Reader advisory: Graphic imagery.)
“Well, how big is your crap?” she wants to know. “Is it overly large crap?”
In my landlord’s German accent, the word has no comedy. I shift the phone to my other ear and fumble to answer her while reaching for rags under the kitchen sink. Yes, his crap is extremely big. Shockingly gargantuan in scale. Is this what I reply? The sight makes you wonder about the natural capacities of a sphincter to widen. He’s seven now. Already a prodigy shitter.
When he clogs her low-to-the-floor European commode this time, there are bits of stool and toilet paper on the tile floor, on the hardwood, and running down the stairs in a slick. Our overflow is sliming through the upstairs floorboards into the crawlspace, making its way through the Halloween costumes and my grandmother’s Christmas ornaments. The unfinished garden plans, the toolbox I bought at a yard sale. Over my new saw and hammer, through toddler clothes I couldn’t bear to throw away. Jumpers with white spouting whales. His favorite Curious George T-shirt. Over the cardboard boxes containing papers from the divorce and my student loans in default. I try to save my photos. I can’t.
My son stands immobilized with his back against the wall as I run back and forth. He knows his shit is too big. I cannot stop to help him feel differently right now.
Just before, I was standing in the kitchen counting slices of bread and calculating if the loaf would last until payday.
Is my crap overly large? Tell me: who has the correct dimensions? My librarian? The guy at the DMV who took my picture? The nice lady making priest lunches at the rectory at 5 a.m.? What size is her waste? Is it flushable by a Swedish-made, low-water-use toilet?
After I slop up all the feces gravy, I throw the bucket of rags on the burn pile out back. I toss the mop on top whole.
She tells me she won’t get a plumber.
I do not scream. I do not break anything. I slip out the back and hide next to the woodshed where he can’t spy me from any window. I roll a joint and a cigarette, alternate drags from each hand. I wait for the heat of fury to leave my body. I see my home, the world-class vacation destination of Orcas Island, as if I am not here. It is a supple, serene corner of nowhere vibrating life in perfect temperature. I try to feel it, then realize I am trying. Before, I didn’t have to try.
I lie on the grass. I feel the moist and poke of the plant on my skin and through my clothes. I try to take it in despite the shitload inside.
This is the learning I need to do—how to shoulder it all without collapsing. With working all-nighters and bouncing grocery store checks and facing the clerks again the day after. Living by coffee and ibuprofen. Without reprieve or comrade. I need to pick up the heady scent of blackberries ripening in late summer even though I am alone and defy the belief that happiness is only real when shared.
But I don’t know how.
From the ground, I see only what is directly above. A million humble leaves shimmer gently and woo me like a San Francisco soul singer. The canopy of evergreen makes a low rush in the breeze. I want to ask the man who does not exist, “Do you hear the sound of a waterfall too?”
The next day, I bring my kid to the hardware store. He follows me past Housewares where they keep the lady plungers in sea-green and mauve. I go to the back of the store. Plumbing section. I select a big black job, a tool that’s not fucking around. I hold it like a torch. I shake it in the air and make a war cry. He laughs and copies me.
At home, I spray paint the plunger gold. It is power. It is money. It’s the magic of Greek goddesses, and I fantasize it is worth the weight it now appears to be.
Yeah, landlady. I got a lotta crap. Oversized. It’s heavy. But today is another, and so far I still have my shit together.
This is an excerpt from Jennifer Brennock’s “Real,” a memoir in-progress about adoption, single motherhood, and “The Velveteen Rabbit.” Her nonfiction can be found in Pitkin Review, Line Zero, Minerva Rising, Shark Reef, Involutions, and Becoming: What Makes a Woman. “I busk street poems on my typewriter and make naughty, satirical zines about living on Orcas Island that hopefully my child will never find,” Jennifer says. “I create open forums for artists and believe art that pushes boundaries is the most useful for social change. I write in all genres and teach at the tiniest community college in the world. I sign the cards of all baby shower gifts like this: Congratulations. Parenting is hard. It is probably best to underachieve.”
Editor’s note: I met Jennifer during a visit to Orcas Island, when I sat in on a writer’s workshop that she was leading at the public library. We met later for coffee, discovered that we’d both grown up in Northern California and, of course, bonded over the written word. She is passionate, strongly opinionated and endlessly resourceful.
Tomorrow: “What is” by Tammy Ellingson
Oh man, oh man, oh man. This is delicious writing – even considering the topic. Love this and would love to meet her and take a workshop from her. Superb work that has inspired me.
“Delicious writing.” Phrase of the day. Jennifer is the real deal. Google her name and “Rough and Rede” and you’ll see her past submissions to VOA. She writes with a boldness that is honest and fierce — and memorable.
Crossing my fingers that she will be able to attend this year’s meetup.
Brilliant writing. Made me twinge uncomfortably at the thought of the dripping sludge. Good luck, Jennifer. I applaud you in your laying it out there.
If you can write so poetically and with so much humor about a subject like this, you can write about anything!
“Without reprieve or comrade. I need to pick up the heady scent of blackberries ripening in late summer even though I am alone and defy the belief that happiness is only real when shared.” I am impressed with each paragraph in this story but the above image touches me at every level. Thank you for your imagery and honesty
Yes, what George said – your writing impresses me and embarrasses my attempts to write. That you busk poetry is a level of awesome I could never inspire to. And cleaning up human fecal material, aka shit, is just one of those things we have to do at times in the literal and figurative sense. I never thought I could do it, but under different circumstances dropped to my knees and cleaned and cleaned so the dying man would not have to worry about such things. It’s life – we all shit.
Excellent: I love when a piece circles back to the beginning, for starters. And I dig the terms “prodigy shitter” and “feces gravy ” Hope you can hide this piece from your son along with your Orcas stuff (until he’s in his mid-20s, personality dependent)! Cheers to the gold plunger.
Thank you, all!