Jeff Phillips: Hydrophobe


The Law-Educated Radical rehearses before his deposition, the one he’s nervous about. He records himself using an old VHS camcorder that still works but has to be plugged in to an outlet because the battery is shot. He starts recording. He lifts a pitcher of water in offering to the lens, his audience. In the other hand; Dixie cups.

“Water, anyone? Quench the thirst? Stay hydrated?”

The Radical pours water for those he imagines are interested. He brushes crumbs from the table in front of him and leans against it. He reaches off screen and fiddles with a can of gasoline. He turns around and opens the window, retrieving a t-shirt that has been hanging in the rain. He wrings the t-shirt and with his mouth, sucks. The water seeps out from the soaked fabric.

“When I used to enjoy showers, the long comfort of dripping warmth, I would sometimes gaze down the drain, in a self-induced early morning trance, in wonderment of the process of sewers and treatment. Frothing foams of soap from my shampoo and body wash swept away, trickling with the oil of my skin, dead skin cells, loose hairs, dirt and germs that had accumulated. On lazy mornings I would allow myself the opportunity of urinating in the shower. When I was particularly phlegmy, I would hack up mucus and spit it down the drain. And sometimes, my sensitive stomach would take to heaving vomit to slosh down with the rinsing of the soap.”

He sucks again from the wet shirt.

“This was a fairly daily additive to the sewer system from my end. Add to that a few shits. A few other pisses. From the toilet. Being flushed. Dirty dishwater with rotting food particles, sauces, beer dregs, dish soap, grease, all draining away. The occasional shot of Drano to unclog what I had done to the sink would also take leave to the pipes. Not to mention the occasional bloody nose I’d have, that I’d let drip back into the sink. Sometimes I’d clip my finger nails into the sink and then wash them down.”

He squeezes a Dixie cup. Then flattens it.

“I have similar habits to the population at hand. Multiply this by a city block. By a neighborhood. By a ward. By Northside. By Southside. By Westside. By the entire city limits. And we have our sludge. The sludge works its way back to the supply we drink. The bacteria festers in miles of pipage. Intermingled with the piss and shit of rats, maybe the body of a bum or two, decomposing, joining the mash of a city.”

He squeezes the shirt and water drips into the Dixie cup he’s holding. He misses because his hands are shaking, he’s nervous, and the mouth of the cup has been warped, long and thin now, because he’s been pressing it with his hands.

“When it works its way to the water treatment facility, the mash is transformed. First it is screened of its larger fragments, sticks and large chunks are blocked and then brushed away. Air bubbles inject bacteria to break the particles down. A brown foam is skimmed off. The remaining liquid is strained through a filter, a gravel chamber where the grotesque remains are trapped. Then into another chamber where chlorine and fluoride are trickled into the rush, to kill off the infused bacteria before it goes back into the Great Lake, where our children swim, and the water makes its way back again in pipes, to go through a similar treatment, and into water towers, into our homes and faucets and into the cups you are now drinking from.”

The Radical drinks what little drops collected in his Dixie cup.

“Showers have immense benefits in theory. Throughout the day we accumulate a positive ion charge in our bodies from computers, lights, and electronics buzzing at our jobs, from cars and trains and buses, from TV when we watch it at the end of the day. Our bodies absorb this, and can inflame. I always made an effort to shower at the end of the day, or take a bath. Water is conducive to electricity, and important to grounding these ionic charges.”

The Radical bites his wet shirt and makes noises of delight, like one makes to placate a learning chef.

“My chemical nature has changed over the course of seven years. When the City of Chicago sold its water supply to the private company Begovenit Industries, another business benefited. And I’ll tell you all about it.”

The Radical sucks the last drop from his shirt and tosses it aside.

“Begovenit Industries gained a good reputation after it purchased Angus Springs in Montana and bottled it for sales at a convenience store near you. The packaging included graphics of tranquil beauty and mountainy freshness.”

The Radical pulls a brief case up from under the table, slaps one side on the surface, opens it, and removes a file.

“What I have here is proof of a business plan wherein the City of Chicago purchased not only stock in Begovenit Industries but Begovenit Industries purchased stock in Wypo Pharmaceutical.”

The Radical removes a vial of water from the briefcase. He holds it up for the camera, and with a remote control, tries to adjust the zoom. He doesn’t know if it is in focus or not, but that can be checked later.

“Taken from the faucets you drink from, this sample contains a sodium-phosphate virus hybrid with the power to scatter the genetic makeup of the brain tissue bridging the hemispheres of a man’s mind. Long story short, over time, you develop a new form of epilepsy. Boom on the floor you go, but you need a wicked stimulus. Seven years it takes for the complete rewiring of neuroreceivers. Seven years after the sale of the city’s water supply, the Wypo-Hoffman Tower was built to overwhelm the loop with a constant light show from bright LCD signage. Not only did Wypo make gain by owning the property of this fantastic building, the steep rent, and from its ad sales…but from the thousands of residents whose mental hemispheres were ripe, that dropped to the street in a seizure induced by the magnificent lights.“

The Radical sighs and puts away the vial of water.

“The afflicted, those insured of course went to the doctor, cat scans and MRIs were done alongside a series of other tests. And it came to light that they suffered from Type B – pseudo left/right misalignment Epilepsy. They were sent away with prescriptions to the new drug developed by Wypo Pharmaceuticals – Simmerone, to combat such an infliction. Wypo also owned the patent on the cranial DNA structure of those with Type B – pseudo left/right misalignment Epilepsy. Wypo not only gained from the sale of its medicine but by the large scale lawsuits filed against the inflicted for having this patented gene. And Begovenit profited from its large investment in stock in Wypo. And the City benefited from its investment in Begovenit.”

The Radical removes an 8×10 print of the Mayor posing for a picture with businessmen. This time he doesn’t bother with the remote control and the zoom.

“Notice how you only see the Mayor drinking bottled water from Angus Springs. Same with the executives of both Begovenit and Wypo? The motherfuckers spiked the water supply and orchestrated their investments so it would all play out like a hopeless liquid chess match. So they could pave the way for their own private financial kingdom, with all of us flopping on the floor, their gnarled serfs.”

The Radical waggles the picture at the camera.

“Look at the fucking picture. They were afraid to drink the city’s tap and for good reason. A Hydrophobic Consulate comes to order in an America ever ready to sell its back to a bigger back.”

The Radical again fiddles with the gas can, and thinks about how far he should go in this rehearsal. He decides to go for it, for what he’s been planning, this is the take. He drenches himself in gasoline. From his pocket he pulls a book of matches, protected in a plastic bag. He removes the covering and prepares to strike.

“Don’t you dare douse me with water. You know how I feel about that shit.”

The Radical lights the match.

1 Comment

  1. This is a powerful story. It puts you right in the room with the Law-Educated Radical, and far enough into his head to understand him. You build up the tension with the recitation of facts, and bring it all to a startling conclusion. Excellent work!

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