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Song Beneath the City – Lightspeed Magazine

Revealed in July 2019 (Concern 110) | 2410 phrases

© 2018 by Micah Dean Hicks. Originally revealed in The Adroit Journal. Reprinted by permission of the writer.

For many years, the 4 plumbers had answered the name of previous widows who’d dropped jewelry down their drains. Typically, the plumbers unscrewed the U-shaped lure beneath the sink, knocked out its splat of tobacco-colored crud, and fished out a golden ring. But other occasions, there was no reclaiming the lost diamonds and gold. They tumbled blind via the maze of pipes under the metropolis, by no means to see the sun once more.

Each time the plumbers left a home, the widows would ask, “Do you hear it too? The singing that comes rattling up from the pipes?”

The query made them uncomfortable. They knew pipes, their rust and fittings, their wet metallic odor and black oozings. However in all their years, that they had never heard a pipe sing, only gurgle or wetly retch.

The plumbers stored an index of every little thing that had been lost down the drain: coins, diamonds, earrings, rings by the tons of, bullets promised for enemies, the occasional tooth. By the plumbers’ tally, hundreds of thousands of dollars had made their approach via the pipes, slowly tumbling down via the earth to the lowest reaches of the metropolis. They deliberate for years, taking a look at maps of the metropolis sewer system, touring its waste remedy techniques, making secret forays into subterranean development websites. The town had been burned down and rebuilt in layers, and centuries of pipe have been linked collectively beneath. Who might say how deep the water fell? They decided to seek out out.

The plumbers attired themselves like astronauts. They wore headlamps, respiration masks, rubber boots and gloves. They brought compasses, Chinese dictionaries, football pads. Considered one of the plumbers, not understanding how lengthy they might be gone, introduced a winter coat.

“It will be like another planet,” one stated. “There will be dangers. Curtains of black mold that colonize the lungs. Pockets of burning gas. Fields of shit writhing with rats. Snotty orbs of fungus. To fall will be to die.”

“And what of the creatures?” stated another. “The blind scum gators? The drain snakes? The metal-mouthed centipedes?”

“And the people,” stated one other. “Every sad, angry, abandoned person, carried down here by the rain while no one noticed.”

“We can’t even imagine what it will be,” stated the fourth and youngest plumber. “It will defy our every expectation.”

They followed the subway rails, snapped open a locked tunnel with bolt cutters, and ventured into the dark. The sounds of the city—honking and shouting, snicker of water tumbling from taps, roar of hundreds of flushing bogs—pale until they might hear only their alternating heartbeats. They listened to their 4 hearts, and their hearts stated, want, want, need, hope.

The older three chuckled at the fourth’s naive, hopeful coronary heart.

Beneath an historic and abandoned wastewater remedy plant, they found large sewage tunnels that ran by means of the city like bones. The plumbers broke open a rusty access door and climbed inside, the black water flowing scorching and thick round their legs. The odor made them choke, and the darkness here was thicker than any that they had ever seen. They dropped into it, following the tunnels down, down, down, to the very backside the place each heavy thing got here to relaxation.

The pipe opened into a natural cavern. There was mild right here, and their eyes stung. Not the murky yellow of city lights, or the sharp blade of workplace lights, however daylight, warm and purple as blood. The way it received there, beneath miles of earth and pipe and water, the plumbers did not know, but they imagined it too had tumbled down the drains in small golden items, until it piled here.

Out of the mild and dense black soil, timber grew, urgent towards the excessive roof of the cavern and curling alongside its rounded celling. Leaves and flowers fell into a clear pool in the center of the cave. The plumbers heard a low, unhappy singing echoing over the water. This was the music the widows had advised them about, and the plumbers realized it had all the time been with them, faint beneath the ringing of their hammers and the scrape of their pliers.

In the pool, four mermaids with silver scales swam and sang. They have been laden with gold and silver. Had rings on each finger, bracelets up their arms, their ears pierced sixteen occasions. Their lengthy, black hair was heavy, plaited with diamonds and gold. The plumbers’ four hearts pounded, need, need, want, hope.

“How did you get here?” certainly one of the plumbers asked.

“There was once a channel that flowed under the city from the sea,” a mermaid stated. “We swam here looking for treasure when we were young. But the people above drilled and poured concrete, and the tunnel closed behind us.”

“Can you take us back to the sea?” one among the mermaids asked. “We miss the open water.”

“Of course,” stated considered one of the plumbers, promising too shortly and smiling at the others. “Of course we will.”

Every of the males hoisted a gold-heavy mermaid from the water, careful to not bruise her tail, and carried her out of the cavern.

“I told you,” the youngest plumber stated. “It defied our every expectation.”

“We expected treasure,” stated certainly one of the others, “and treasure is what we found.”

As they climbed by way of the earth, the noises of the metropolis turned louder. Honking automobiles, crying youngsters, the lip-tripping velocity of ads, and the patter of lie upon lie falling.

“That doesn’t sound like the ocean,” stated one in every of the mermaids, her hair rattling with gold.

“It’s very close,” stated considered one of the plumbers. “I can almost hear it.”

They carried the mermaids into the grey city above. There was no water here, only dry brick and concrete, warmth rising from the asphalt. The plumbers every took a mermaid again to his condo, ten tales above the floor, and put her in his bathtub.

“Where are my sisters? Where is the sea?”

The plumbers introduced them telephones to call their sisters and cans of chopped tuna. They opened their home windows so the mermaids might see the metropolis far under, and then the plumbers sat down on their bogs to stare at the mermaids’ naked, captive magnificence.

“When will we go to the ocean?” requested every of the mermaids, every single day, as days became weeks.

“Tomorrow. If the weather is good,” stated every of the plumbers, daily, as months was years.

• • • •

The plumbers bought the mermaids’ jewelry, quitting their jobs and shutting themselves away in their loos. They have been mesmerized by silver scales, seaweed-dark hair, luminescent yellow eyes like lamps burning underneath the water. The three older plumbers climbed into the tub and sat behind the mermaids, plaiting their hair and massaging their slick pores and skin with tough, bushy arms. The mermaids’ lengthy tails frolicked of the tub, their fins rising brittle in the air. The plumbers kissed their necks and ran their arms over their scales, and the mermaids sang their unhappy music.

When three of the mermaids gave start to daughters—infants with slim legs, webbed fingers and toes, the similar darkish hair and glowing eyes—the plumbers asked, “Do you love me yet?”

The mermaids answered, “If I said yes, would you let me go?”

The youngest plumber didn’t touch the mermaid he had introduced residence. Not often did he converse together with her. He would go into the rest room to pee, and turning to her, he would ask, “Do you need anything?”

“Let me and my sisters go,” she would say.

The young plumber explained that he was making an attempt, however the older plumbers didn’t need to give the mermaids up, no matter what he stated. “What can I do?” he asked.

“Go away,” she informed him. “That would be the very least.”

For years, he cleaned himself with a washcloth at the kitchen sink. At night time, he lay in his bed and listened to the mermaid, on the telephone together with her sisters all night time, singing in the small toilet, her voice rising in one lengthy sob.

• • • •

There was a storm. Rain and ocean surge coated the streets with water, and the radio advised individuals to remain inside. The previous widows referred to as the plumbers, complaining that water was backing up into their sinks, filling their basements, flooding their lawns. The plumbers stated, “We’re out of the business. Call someone else.”

The 4 mermaids hauled themselves as much as the small window and watched the city fill with water until asphalt vanished and the buildings rose like spars of island or reef. The mermaids wept and referred to as one another. “Can you see it?” they asked. “The sea has come.”

Their daughters peered down at the water via their moms’ thick hair. It was like the sky had come down to satisfy the earth, every part open and broad. They felt their moms’ eager for area.

“If you jumped, you would die,” the three older plumbers stated, their arms like chains around the mermaids’ waists.

In his condominium, the youngest plumber might see that the mermaid was getting ready to jump, to throw her physique down ten stories into a couple of inches of water. She would die and develop into only a memory, like the sea in her mind.

“It isn’t deep enough,” he informed her. “Not yet.”

She checked out him for a very long time, and the plumber felt small and ugly underneath her eyes. Lastly, she stated, “There is something you can do for me.”

The plumber took the elevator down, fought the wind and water in the parking zone to get to his truck, and located a rusted pipe wrench and hammer. He drove by way of the flooded streets in his tall truck, breaking hearth hydrants open one by one all the approach from the ocean to the condo constructing. The hydrants opened their pink mouths and spewed free the city’s water.

The four mermaids watched the water rising and whispered to one another on their phones. Their youngsters ran over the rest room tile, slender and quick as fish, begging to go play in the storm.

“No one is going outside,” the plumbers stated. “Without you, what would we be? Only plumbers.”

When the fourth plumber came back up, the mermaid stated into the telephone receiver, “Now.”

They turned to the plumbers, opened their arms, and stated, “I’m afraid.”

The four plumbers rushed into their arms, their slippery gentle pores and skin, the damp hair lying over their shoulders. The youngest plumber cried into his mermaid’s hair, telling her that he was sorry. Their hearts throbbed, need, want, want, hope.

The four mermaids flicked their muscular tails and flung themselves from their home windows, carrying the plumbers with them. They fell by way of the open sky, spreading their arms and straightening their spines like they hadn’t in years. This was what swimming in the sea felt like. The water rushed as much as meet them, they usually turned their faces to it.

The eight of them crashed into the water, the plumbers clinging to the mermaids. Three of the plumbers pulled the mermaids’ hair and climbed their shoulders, preventing to rise up for air. The mermaids rolled in the water, pressing the plumbers’ bushy faces to the wet street, holding them beneath the water until they have been full of it.

The mermaids’ daughters dropped down from the sky, knifing by means of the water with their tiny our bodies and grinning at the lightning flashing throughout their faces. The present swept them down the road, they usually linked palms so that they wouldn’t lose one another.

The youngest plumber fell together with his mermaid and went limp with sorrow. She held him close beneath the water, taking a look at him together with her lantern eyes and bringing him just to the fringe of drowning. His coronary heart despatched its message via the water, and she or he heard it for the first time. Indignant and unhappy in any respect the years he’d taken from her, the mermaid shoved him away. With dolphin leaps, she flew down the road to hitch her sisters, dashing into the arms of the ocean.

The youngest plumber was swept towards a tree, the wind battering him. He shouted by way of the storm for the mermaid to return again, but she was gone, and his voice was small towards rain and wind. In search of her silver tail, her river of hair, he saw as an alternative the mermaids’ daughters clasping their webbed arms struggling in the current. Earlier than he might reach them, the women have been swept right into a storm drain, vanishing by means of the pipes and falling towards the bottom of the city.

The last plumber turned away from the chortling thunder. He let the current push him into the sewers with every different misplaced thing. He went deep into the darkish, pushing by means of mud and shit and rats, calling out for the lost women. But the city was massive, the pipes roared loud, and he didn’t know any of their names.

• • • •

For years, a gaggle of previous widows had listened to singing echo up via their pipes. They held telephone receivers to their sink drains, asking one another, “Do you hear it?” And when the widows dialed up their listening to aids, they might.

They’d referred to as plumbers, hoping to know, but the plumbers advised them that there was no music beneath the city. Unable to stand the thriller any longer, they raided their closets for flashlight and batteries, worn mountaineering boots, their lifeless husbands’ strolling canes. They put on their strongest prescription eyeglasses and went into the sewers, blushing at No Trespassing signs and pressing forward.

After a very long time, they reached the backside of the metropolis. Right here, they found a grove of timber in a sunlit cavern. It was fall, and the timber had turned a bloody orange, their leaves masking a deep pool. In the pool, three younger women swam and splashed, kicking their finned legs. On the bank, a bearded and filth-covered man slept near them.

“Is it you?” a widow stated. “Singing the sad song that echoes through our pipes?”

The women shook their heads. “Sorry. We don’t sing. But the plumber does. Every night, the same sad song.”

The widows nodded and sat on the grass. “That’s too bad. We had hoped it was our husbands’ ghosts, singing their love for us.”

They watched the daylight in the cavern dim. The women grew quiet, and the plumber stirred, rising on the bank and blinking his rheumy eyes. The widows turned up their hearing aids and listened, waiting to have their hearts damaged again.

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