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THE PIPES by E.M. Stormo

Mom doesn’t let me drink from the pipes. “Don’t be a dog,” she says, but I can’t help it. All I hear is “Be a dog.” On the outskirts of the city, there’s a pipe that flows all day long. You have to squat in a ditch to drink, but it’s worth it. At night, nobody bothers you. Giant women make neon eyes from the city, but that’s it. The pipe-water tastes fresh, although Mom says, “It’s probably sewage.” I hear her calling me home from miles away. My ears itch of worms, so she must be saying my name. There are more pipes on the way, but the one near the outskirts is the best. I stop at a few of them. My name grows louder. The syllables carry on the wind like small-breasted birds. When I get home, to what city-folk call a “hole in the wall,” Mom is waiting for me, door ajar with the smell of soggy spaghetti. She is about to say my name again when she sees me. Right away she inspects around my lips, under my nose, and the back of my teeth. “Where were you today, my little dog?” She already knows. I bow my head and groan confession, “At the pipes,” but it isn’t loud enough, so I cough out the last drops of pipe-water stored in my gums and shout “At the pipes!” She hears me this time. The entire neighborhood hears, all the neighbors in their holes. I was at the city pipes and my withered lips tell the tale. My mouth doesn’t deserve her spaghetti, but she fixes me a bowl anyway. I am not invited to the table but instead eat my dinner on my mattress in the corner of our room. “I love you,” she says between slurps, “even if you drink from pipes.” Drink from pipes. Mom secretly commands me to do it. Even with withered lips, she kisses me goodnight. The smell of pipe-water doesn’t stop her from cradling me to sleep. All I can smell is soggy spaghetti. When I stir in the small hours, she attempts to feed me water from a bottle, but I spit that out on the floor.

The next day I’m back at the pipes. There is a subtle soy flavor in the water. They must have had Chinese recently. City folks are always sending out for food. If they have spaghetti, it’s from a fancy Italian restaurant miles away. The further the distance the greater they value the food. You can see them walking along the road in shoes not much different than mine. Mom could’ve made these city shoes. They walk for miles to get food. But who am I to say? I walk for miles to drink from their pipes. I don’t eat Chinese or Italian. We both wear mom-shoes, so maybe we could be friends. If they drink from pipes, we definitely could be friends. After taking my fill, I wait for them behind the road cage. Not even dogs can disguise themselves as good as this. Mom begins to call my name softly. My earworm itches. The giant women make neon eyes. My name grows louder. The position is awkward, but I don’t have to wait long. A group of city friends eventually show up. They have oily bags of some food I can’t determine by smell alone. I jump out onto the road, but I don’t mean to scare them. I am a humble animal. Bowing my head as my rear goes up. Without words, I befriend them. I turn over to reveal my belly. The purest friendship. My mouth leaks pipe-water. They toss scraps to me. It’s Italian! One of them leans down and asks, “Are you lost, buddy?” I don’t answer, but nod unconsciously. They bring me into the city. There is a color there that wasn’t visible from the outskirts, a neon waveform that surrounds every home, all neatly stacked next to each other. Our holes in the wall are random as rats in comparison. Everything in the city is fully intentional. The giant women stand among us, careful not to step on anybody’s home. A fishnet leg, the size of my mattress, is close enough to touch, but my hand goes straight through. My new friends laugh at my confusion. I don’t understand their fancy city-colors. A girl shows me how to gyrate with the waveform. I try out a gyration, but they laugh at me. One of my friends owns a real dog, a long-haired mutt. He performs a better gyration than me. He also eats Italian. He is a city dog, more so than I’ll ever be. A good dog, he shows me the ropes. He leads and I follow. We head to the pipe at the heart of the city. He demonstrates a superior method for pipe-drinking. Most of the city favors neon, its homes and women, but this pipe is golden. The water that flows is also golden. He looks at me like How does it taste? It tastes golden, buddy. Once you get a taste of the city and a feel for its waveforms, it’s impossible to leave, no matter how loud my name, how itchy my worms. I spend the whole night in the neon dirt by the golden puddle.

Mom is asleep when I get home, or pretending to be. The spaghetti was left out overnight. I wouldn’t call it Chinese or Italian. I’m not hungry either way. I drank too much. I’ll eat some in the morning for her amusement. From her bed, she moans, “Goodnight, my big city dog.” Her voice is sore from calling my name through the night. I don’t answer her because I don’t want her to smell my mouth, but she knows where I was. I am a big city dog now.

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