Mark’s day was mostly spent in the gutter beneath the basement, repairing faulty pipes that spewed sewage onto the building’s less fortunate tenants. Kenny’s was spent administrating comfortably from his desk upstairs.
Kenny was not blue collar handy like Mark; he preferred a skill set that provided hedonic luxuries: an air conditioner, a reclining chair, a view of the homeless coalition across the street. Mark never checked his work email. The wrench was his keyboard.
There was once a time when Mark tolerated Kenny professionally, and the feeling was mutual. They understood and respected each others differences, and only spoke when their jobs demanded it, which was rare. But their working relationship became strained by a silly work argument between Mark, Kenny, and the now deceased Chris, and escalated when Kenny demanded that Mark and Chris suck on each one of his balls. Given the nature of the argument Chris conceded that they deserved such angry demand.
But the unrelated massacre that followed changed everything.
Amid the companies post-massacre restructuring, Kenny was forced to keep a special eye on Mark and his team, which took the form of some really awkward, daily micro managing conversations at the end of each day. Mark unfairly saw Kenny as a roach, the apocalypse’s only survivor, and wrongly sensed that there was still some strangeness in the atmosphere. In actuality, Kenny was just doing what his new job demanded. Kenny never asked for this automatic promotion, but begrudgingly took the baton of power, tripling his administrative responsibilities; it was now his duty to lead the company.
Mark took a gulp of his soda and keyed into his playroom, the hairs on the back of his neck became taut as tension rippled through his spine. Kenny stood right behind Mark, noticing his neck hairs slicing into the humid air that hung in front of the play room door.
“The air in your play room is suspiciously humid today….” Kenny hinted as Mark spun around. He didn’t give Mark any room to squeal.
“…almost as if there was a shower illegally installed back there…”
Mark gulped nervously.
Kenny continued: “Anything going on after work today Mark? A group shower perhaps?” Mark returned a glare of pure hatred. Kenny’s voice was firmly enfeebled. He hated getting involved in everyone’s business like this.
Showers do not just clean the body, they clean the soul. In the weeks following the tragedy Mark had secretly toiled on a large shower for his playroom for the purpose of making transparent and comforting the uneasiness of his team.
“You have a pleasant evening Kenny,” Mark said facetiously. He edged Kenny away, shutting and locking the playroom door as Kenny tried to peer inside.
In the aftermath, when Mark and his crew came back to work, the smell of death still hung in the air. Chris’ blood seeped through the floor’s new paint job. Kenny cracked his knuckles and typed into that computer screen all day long, and Mark was suspicious of everything.
“How did Kenny know about the shower?” he thought. “This door is locked all day.”
Davone was the first in the playroom, sitting at the lunch table, scrolling through porn on his phone. Kenny could be heard scratching at the other side of the playroom door with his yellowed fingernails.
“I don’t know who he’s working for, but he’s not very good at it.” Davone said.
In the center of the playroom lunch table was an ominous black cube surrounded by crude sketches.
Eli sat dumbly with his jaw open, his doll-like gaze staring vacantly at the floor as drool slid from his bottom lip.
Marcus was dressed in multiple layers despite the heat, nervously stationed in the corner, checking his watch.
“We don’t have a second to lose,” Mark said, berating himself.
“Could’ve been a mole,” Davone muttered indifferently, not looking up from his endless porn gallery.
Mark spun around, bewildered. He sensed a strong presence in Davone, who had magically guessed Mark’s paranoid reason for building the group shower.
“Where’s Lou?” Mark demanded. “He’s late.” Though his voice sounded firm he was actually quite nervous. He could still smell Chris’ blood.
“Look’s like it’s about that time,” said Marcus, as he made an exaggerated stretch and yawn before glancing at his watch less wrist.The theater was not Marcus’s true calling.
“You’re not going anywhere Marcus,” said Mark. “Take a seat.”
“But it’s ten after five. I’ve already stayed later than—“
“I said take a seat.” Mark didn’t like this game. “You know damn well how important today is. I haven’t been slaving over that new shower so you could take one at home.”
“But Mark, I’m exhausted,” Marcus complained. “It’s been one hell of a week.”
“It’s Tuesday,” said Davone.
Eli sat numbly at the table, staring at the empty space between nothingness.
“Sit down and relax Marcus, you’re on the clock for this. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Marcus continued to lament. “Yeah, well last week never really ended for me…what with the kids screaming and running around all weekend, and never getting any help from Jennifer….I barely had a chance to sit down.”
“I get it Marcus, trust me I do. I can’t spend even a minute taking a shit alone at my place,” offered Davone. He still hadn’t looked up from his phone porn. “I work all week to put bacon on the table, and I never get to see a crumb of it for myself…my wife gives me lunch money.”
Mark had to be blunt. “I know you’re not in no rush to shove off to see your family Marcus, so you either got a date with a prostitute or you’re working with Kenny.”
Marcus slumped down in his chair, defeated. With his arms crossed and his lips forming a pout he reminded Mark of an angsty teen.
With perfect timing Lou burst in through the door and relieved the tension. Everyone laughed. Eli smiled and clapped joyfully.
Lou couldn’t get a word out that wasn’t a gasp or a squeak, and his panting resembled a smiling puppy entering a room full of new strangers.
“I hope I didn’t miss the shower!”
“Lou, you mad goofy sometimes. Of course we wasn’t gonna start the shower without you! Look at yourself, you’re sweatier than a pig!”
“That last hallway gets longer everyday!”
“Alright boys, Lou’s here… time to strip down and get in that shower.”
Lou wasted no time stripping off his paint splattered overalls. The play room door was left slightly ajar, and as Rachael walked by she spied Lou’s clammy, naked body through the crack in the door as Mark closed it tight to keep Kenny from joining in.
Eli stood slowly and wordlessly began to disrobe, moving like a zombie to the shower and turning on the faucet. His love of showers required no training from Mark.
The hiss from the fountainhead splashed on his back and he moaned with ecstasy. He scratched his back with yellow fingernails.
Mark’s first crew boy, Eli may have been half dumb, but he was imbued with the importance of a group shower among co workers. It was the ultimate expression of trust. And now more than ever was trust between the boys mandatory.
Lou and Eli were both moppers, but Lou was hired to specifically mop the longer halls, but he never complained. Complaining wasn’t in his spirit! He was just happy to save some money so he could buy a microwave. Lou didn’t mind the load, and didn’t want to trouble the weaker man with splitting up his longer hallways. Besides, Lou was going to become big and strong the longer he worked. His positive attitude made it impossible to feel badly about anything.
“I shouldn’t have to lecture you on the importance of family, Marcus… It’s extra important that we all show one another just how special and important we all is to each other.”
“I suppose that’s what the shower is for, huh?” remarked Marcus with an attitude.
Mark had never been more suspicious of Marcus: none of the other men needed goading to nakedness. This wasn’t high school, but Mark was forced to play the coach to Marcus, urging him to strip down after practice and scrub it out with the team to prevent any outbreak of ringworm.
Lou finally got his breath back. “Do I have time for my noodles?”
“You didn’t break for lunch? That ain’t right,” said Davone. “Pour yourself a hot cup and take it in the shower.” Davone was undoing his belt, ready to take off his pants.
“Ow, I burned my mouth on the cup!” laughed Lou.
This shower thing was a great idea. So convenient! Lou would be clean and fresh by the time he got home to his family.
“Ha! This guy’s naked before me! Look, he’s already naked! You guy’s aren’t waiting for me, hah!” Lou’s accent was thicker than Puerto Rican cream.
“Come over here Lou, the water is warm.” The muscled Davone waved Lou over to the spigots as Lou blew on his hot noodles.
Eli was very interested to watch his man colleagues hose themselves down.
“Man, this guy is giving me the fucking creeps,” whispered Davone to Lou. “What a crazy bird!” Lou replied.
The three of them were all wet and naked now. Lou was laughing and splashing Davone with one hand and holding his cup of noodles with the other. Davone yelled back at him through the spray. “Careful Lou! I don’t want to get it in my eyes! It’s still too hot!”
“Lou, turn your heat down before you go splashing Davone! You two act like you’ve never showered before.” Mark felt like he was raising two rambunctious teenagers.
Still dry, Mark stood naked on the floor of his office. He was losing patience with Marcus. “I don’t want to lecture you Marcus. The longer you wait, the longer it will be before this five minute shower is completed.” Mark stepped into the shower while Marcus painstakingly took off a single sock.
“Come on Marcus, we all got dicks, as much as you don’t want to think about it.”
“Yeah, Marcus! Show us your dick,” splashed Lou.
“Marcus,” said Mark solemnly, “How can we trust you if we can’t see your naked body?”
There was a blackhead on Lou’s back that couldn’t be reached, and though Eli desperately wanted to scrub that spot to help Lou prevent future breakouts, he was too shy to speak up.
“Why don’t you trust me?” asked Marcus. “Is it because I’m handicapped?”
“Marcus, I think you are beautiful just the way you are.” said Lou. Marcus blushed. Lou always made people feel comfortable with their bodies.
“Now take those pants off and get in the shower with us!” Lou finished.
“Be a man,” said Mark. “And be proud.”
Naked, he clutched his testicles so that his coworkers wouldn’t look at his dick as he stepped into the shower.
“This is some hippy bullshit,” said Marcus as he let his grip soften, his limp genitals spilling out from beneath his palm.
Though each man had a vastly different body, hardened in its own way from the tough workload they were forced to endure on a daily basis, nothing was ridiculed. Not Mark’s protruding belly that was covered in splotches from the acid flecks, not Eli for his birth growth on his left shoulder blade. Not Marcus for his missing front tooth or his missing eye, not Lou because he was pale and scrawny, not Davone because his bloated arms sagged from the synthol injections of his youth. Each man’s body was unique. Marcus was obviously a little bit ashamed of his body, and Mark insisted that this was not a roast…this was a support group.
“You have a dick just like me and Lou,” said Davone. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it? Nothing to be afraid of.”
Once naked the men began to wash themselves. Though the shower wasn’t completely finished, there were four working faucets that sprayed hot water, and Mark ran to the grocery store during lunch to grab some persimmon scented oils, soaps and fragrances.
Eli watched Marcus wordlessly, pulling on his groin to feign cleaning it. This moment was alive with Eli’s dark fantasies.
The massacre’s perpetrator was the good Christian Carl, the least likely candidate. Carl, whose giddy laugh could not be contained. Carl, the hardworking family man. How could it have been Carl? His workplace indifference was mistaken for grumpiness by newcomers. In reality he wasn’t shy and he wasn’t bitter. Work was a place he tolerated; nothing more, nothing less. Reading into Carl was a past time for those beyond boredom. Obviously Carl’s concerns were his family, which he never discussed. There was some trouble with his disturbed junior but he never let it out. He liked to talk about others; gossip was his outlet.
And Carl was Chris’s outlet.
“I don’t get the clues,” said Mark pointing to the desk.
“Them shits on the table are clues?! It’s like like a puzzle with half the pieces missin’.” said Davone.
A black cube. A pile of handwritten notes smeared by feces. Hundreds more sketches without feces stacked in another. When analyzed by someone who was not Mark, they would be revealed as sketches from three different parties, despite the wrongfully sorted two pile system: one by Carl’s recently institutionalized daughter, another by Chris. Mixed secretly into each pile as red herrings were sketches by the mystery of fame.
Mark had no insight, but it wasn’t his fault. He felt like he had to take the lead since he was boss. Just as he had a right to be suspicious of Kenny, Kenny had every right to be suspicious of Mark. After all, Mark only lived because the bomb in the basement that killed so many tenants detonated while he was lunching. And how did Mark know to take lunch for two hours in the middle of the morning? In all likelihood Kenny, having witnessed the most bloodshed, would be suffering endlessly. For psychic mending to succeed no man could be left to himself.
At his desk in the next room Kenny’s head shot up like a rat sniffing for pork before swiftly swiveling in all directions. When his name satellite lost it’s signal Kenny’s eyes settled at his office window, where he observed institutionalized men loitering on the corner, draped in blue sweatpants and sweatshirts. He missed Chris.
The men were naked and soapy, not even the breath of the excitable Eli could be heard over the sound of the running water.
Eli started the gossip:“It wasn’t a secret that Chris had a crush on Carl.”
“I thought it was kinda cute,” chimed Lou, ignoring the human source of the topic. Eli secretly sought to divide the boys.
“It was more than a crush,” Davone reminded them.
“I think it was love” said Mark.
“This is really gay,” said Marcus.
Mark ignored Marcus and continued. “That guy Chris would fuck anything…but that doesn’t mean he should die for it.”
“Chris never fucked Carl though,” said Davone. The water was loosening his aching muscles. He was trying hard not to shit himself the water felt so good.
“Chris fucked everybody in the office !!!” Lou was cute when he was goofy. “Everyone but Carl.”
Marcus was beginning to feel the spirit of investigation, but it was really a new respect for gossip.
“Pass me that soap Davone!” Lou smiled.
Eli was letting the hot water soothe his body. He was all done showering but he wanted to be naked with his coworkers for longer.Besides, he had to be dismissed by Mark.
“….Carl was at the top of the fuck list, but he loved his wife too much to get fucked by Chris.”
Lou nodded his head. “Chris was quite irresistible. But we shared love notes too. When I make morning coffee I put a little note in it to Chris that say ‘goo manning! have some lovely coffee today plase! ”
“I never fucked Chris,” said Marcus. “I don’t fuck guys.” Everyone ignored him. They knew he was lying.
“Chris was in love with Carl though, Lou. They were such both nice guys….”
Davone agreed on the niceness of those guys. “Yeah, Chris was warm as a brownie. He’d never tell a guy off.” There were no change in their personalities to explain Carl’s actions, just the notes on the table.
Carl needed a good friend to help him through his home life, he needed a shower to cry in, but he didn’t want to invest emotionally at work. He took a vow only to fiercely tolerate it. His was a carefully balanced coping mechanism that could have tipped in any direction…fate chose the bloodiest outcome.
Carl couldn’t be with Chris, but Carl would never have killed Chris. Except that he did. Ugh! Nothing made sense!
“Maybe he was defending himself.” pondered Davone. Until now Davone was not very interested in opening up his own investigation with Mark, but when given some shower time his natural, skeptical inclination kicked in.
“Yeah. Carl was soft like a soul…he wouldn’t have killed anyone because he believed that Jesus loved us all equally. He had to be defending himself…from a threat that was never expected….”
They were silent. The dailies portrayed Carl as a vengeful homewrecker, a wound to Carl’s memory that could never heal.
Eli drooled. Davone seemed right.
Though Mark was fascinated by such conspiracies, and troubled by one that was so close to home, he was inept at producing anything solid. The shower was his guidance.
“Maybe a ghost?” pondered Mark. “What do you think Lou?”
Lou claimed to be the son of a medium. Eli didn’t believe any of that shit.
“Ok, yeah. Like a forest. The ghosts in my village, they exist in the woods between the churches. Many children are eaten every year.”
Marcus whistled unintentionally through the gap where his tooth used to be.
Davone let the warm water splash all over his body. “This was such a great idea Mark,” he complimented. “Sometimes I doubt you, like, if you wanted to hear the truth why not make us some tea. Treat us like adult. If we are being honest—“
“These things happen,” interrupted Marcus, rationally. Why not be honest? He was naked after all. The shower made them feel like brothers. “Sometimes this is a part of life. It was a random act of violence and we were lucky not to be in the office when it happened. We don’t need to figure out why it happened.”
“We do if we want to prevent it from happening again!” rebutted Mark. “People are dead! Their murders have been covered up!” He was unwinding. “I want to know who else was involved!” His heart was good but his look was bad.
Kenny was really missing out.
“What are some of your dreams?” Lou asked Marcus changing the subject but not the mood.
“My dreams? Like, my goals?” Marcus hadn’t been asked that question in many years. “I’ll never do anything with my life” he concluded, sadly.
“Don’t say that!” sad Davone. “You still have your looks. You can do anything you want.”
So this was becoming a support group after all. The shower was not just a place for the men to discuss Mark’s theory, although he was the boss so they had to talk about what he wanted, at least for a few minutes.
“I don’t want to work here forever, but I need the money so badly right now. If I leave I won’t be able to support my family. My family comes before my happiness.” He thought for a second. “I love them more than I’ll ever love myself.” A tear ran down his cheek, but the shower washed it away.
He felt it was only polite to return the question, but he was also genuinely interested. “Do you still have any dreams Lou? Are you following your dreams, I mean.”
“I never gave up on my dreams! Yeah!” said Lou. “Never give up on your dreams. That’s what I always say! I’m one of the happiest men in the world. I love my mother and I care for my mother. That is my dream! To care for my mother the way that she cared for me.” He was reshaping his balls. “My mother loves to drink, and I let her have one beer, but she is on anti-depressants, and she has to be careful.”
He opened his arms wide and smacked Davone in the chest. “But I let my mother have one beer because she did so good to me!”
“Maybe you should grab another cup of noodles Lou.” said a condescending Davone.
“This is what my dreams had in mind for me,” concluded Lou.
Mark looked at Lou and his lips trembled. Such tenderness. There was a reason he did so well on the entry interviews. He had a kind spirit.
“How is your home life Marcus?” Mark asked. The shower had worked. Marcus was opening up.
Marcus couldn’t help but melt. “It’s Jennifer…I caught her stealing from my wallet again.”
This was no ordinary shower. The hot water was more soothing than even Marcus expected.
Eli’s wrinkly skin scratched his writhing birth mark.
“I’ll give her what she needs, I don’t want to steal from me…but I’ve been withholding her allowance because I know she’s lying. I know how she spends it. she…” It was hard for him to get the words out. “She…she claims that she can’t breathe without cocaine in her nostrils…that she needs it to live. I know this isn’t true, but I cannot afford her habit, no man can. No man on my salary anyway. I’m worried that she might leave me for a man that can get her what she needs. What she thinks she needs. Pretty soon she won’t be able to take anything from my wallet. There will be nothing there….I don’t know what to do….I love her so much, but….”
Lou stepped in and held the softly sobbing Marcus.”She needs her family….why isn’t her family enough? Why am I not enough?”
Except for Eli and Kenny the men embraced one another. A moist bubble appeared in the crevice of Davone’s eyes, and through it he finally saw Eli’s eerie aloofness as a mark of suspicion.
“How could anybody be unaffected by such a sappy scene? Next time we should invite Kenny instead of Eli.” he concluded. “Kenny needs someone too. After what he’s seen…”
When pressured by life, secrets can erupt, but a shower among friends can release that tension. The shower was a fountain of hope, and if treated to a shower, maybe Carl wouldn’t have snapped.