Southside Gods

This is his element: water.

* * *

Holloway has come to repair the Goodwins’ washer. It chokes and sputters and burps suds across the laundry room floor. 

Mrs. Goodwin apologizes for the mess, for the heat, for the mangy cat that glares from the shelves above. She offers him fresh iced tea. He accepts and hikes his jeans up, for her sake.

When she returns with the full glass, the floor is clean and dry, and the washer hums and churns like a hive of honeybees in spring.

Her eyes widen; her lipsticked mouth falls open in surprise. She tips him generously, and asks him if he can repair the air conditioner, too.

He cannot, he tells her. He blames it on his education, but HVAC is for the gods of wind.

“Oh,” she says. “That’s a pity. I haven’t been able to get ahold of anyone to fix it.”

* * *

This is his realm: from Oakview Avenue south to Jones Road, between 18th Street and 53rd.

Within these lands, he is every plumber in the directory; he is all search results for toilet repair and leaking faucet. He is the alpha and omega of pipes, a small god of irrigation.

He takes pride in his realm. Within it, the water is clean, and the elements are in balance.

Until now.

* * *

“I could recommend a repairman, one that specializes in–ah–home ventilation,” he tells Mrs. Goodwin.

“Could you? I’ve scoured the phone book. No answer, anywhere.” Her lips pucker in disapproval. “No one takes pride in their profession, these days.”

He excuses himself and steps outside. The August air is thick with dust, stagnant and broiling.

He dials the local god of wind.

The call goes to directly to voicemail, where “Ortega’s HVAC Servicing” promises prices that will blow the competition away.

* * *

This is his weapon: the 18-inch straight-handle pipe wrench. The body is ordinary aluminum, lightweight and solid. But the jaw, it is forged steel–part carbon, part fragments of iron scraped from the colossal trident of Poseidon himself.

But Poseidon, long may he rest, was a god of kings and conquerors. Holloway is a god of suburbs and slums, of working women and men.

* * *

Ortega lives at the west edge of the realm, in a ranch home with wind-shredded awnings.

His lights are off.

Holloway knocks twice, but loses patience. He slams his wrench through the paned-glass front door and lets himself inside.

The house is quiet, the air still. It is several long minutes before he finds Ortega in the closet.

Holloway has never seen a god weep. He’s humbled by the sight, by the realization that even Ortega has water within him. He’s never questioned the air in his own lungs.

He stares at Ortega. Ortega stares at the wall, and wipes his sleeve across his face.

* * *

These are his foes: mercury; unrestrained effluvium; herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers; second-hand oil that flows out of leaking filters and into the bedrock, into the soil, into the aquifers beneath.

* * *

“I’m done,” says Ortega.

“Suck it up,” says Holloway. “The Goodwins need AC. You wanna see an old couple cooked alive?”

“You see that sunset last night?” Ortega’s voice cracks.  “They said it was gorgeous–all pinks and oranges.  Hell, it was even on the news. You know what that was?  That was a sky full of pure filth, from all those factories, from all the millions of cars.  And they all thought it was divine.”

Holloway shrugs. “Clean it up.  Make it even more beautiful.  Blues and whites.”

Ortega shakes his head. “Too much.”

Holloway holds out a hand to help him up. Ortega accepts, reluctantly.

* * *

This is his ally: sweet, unfiltered rain.

* * *

When Ortega’s on his feet, Holloway lays a solid punch across his left cheekbone.

“Screw you!” shouts Ortega. “The hell you do that for?”

Holloway doesn’t answer. He throws another punch.

Outside, clouds roil.  A storm breaks. Raindrops fall heavy as stones onto the blocks between 18th and 53rd. The water scrubs the street clean, sweeps grime and leaves into storm sewers, feeds the summer-starved lawns and trees.

“Pull yourself together,” says Holloway.  “You’re a god.  Act like it.  Don’t complain.  Fight.”  He swings again.

Ortega spits blood into his hand, and glares. 

Outside, the wind picks up.

* * *

This is his mission: to guard, to keep safe, to keep pure.  To keep taps running and brooks flowing.  To unleash the rain, to roar with the wind, to chase the lightning and wash through the bones of the earth.

Within his narrow realm, to cleanse.

* * *

The storm shatters windows and tears down tree branches and doesn’t relent, not for a moment, until long after daylight has fled.

But the sunrise is clear as fine crystal and crisp as fresh laundry. The Goodwins’ cat gnaws the wet grass, then scurries up a tree. The leaves shiver in a clean breeze.

Mrs. Goodwin watches her cat climb. It’s well enough he’s slipped outside, she tells her husband, since the AC technician will be here soon–yes, the one the plumber recommended.

His name’s Ortega. 

He’s promised the repairs will be quick as the wind.



Originally published in Intergalactic Medicine Show, September 2013. Reprinted here with permission of the author.