The Legend of Al’s Plumbing (short fiction)

Divine Misfortune


Al recognized Cloacina’s work. The overflowing toilet, the dripping faucets, the rattling shower head, he’d seen it all before. Too many times.

“You should’ve called me earlier,” he said.

Steve, the homeowner, said, “I called several other services, but most wouldn’t come once they found out about the goddess.”
The gods might have grown more civilized over the centuries, but wise mortals still feared to tread in their domains. Al, however, stepped into the stagnant water of the broken bathroom.

“They said they couldn’t do anything about it,” said Steve. “That if I had a complaint, I should take it up with the Board of Deity Management.”

“Yep, you could do that.” Al ran his fingers across the rusty sink. “Or I could take care of it for you.”

“You can?”

Al adjusted his belt. “It’s going to cost you though. You invited a goddess into your home, and now you’re trying to get rid of her. Cloacina is going to wreak havoc in retribution.”

“She can do that?”

“Didn’t you read your terms of service?”

The toilet clattered, spitting up a gallon of brackish water.

“I glanced at them,” said Steve.

Al shook his head. Yet another mortal thinking they’d taken the easy way. Find an ad on the internet. Burn a few dollars to the goddess of the sewers. Everything works better than ever. Never bothering with the fine print that mentions when the tributes stop the retribution clause kicks in. The bursting pipes, flooded rooms, the water damage, and the stench. Gods of sewage had some nasty wrath. Al had almost grown used to it, but even he might gag when Cloacina was feeling particularly vindictive.

Something thick and green dripped from the bathtub faucet. The noxious slime bubbled and made Al’s eyes water.

“Are you certain you can fix it?” asked Steve.

“Fixing it is easy enough,” said Al, “but it’ll break again. And again. And again. Until the goddess either decides you’ve suffered enough or gets bored and moves on. But I can keep it working well enough until she does. But like I said, it isn’t going to be cheap.”

“Fine. Anything. I don’t care.”

Al went to his truck to grab some tools. Cloacina was waiting. The goddess was short and stocky, and, while pretty, not especially beautiful. She wore a pair of stained overalls and leaned nonchalantly against his truck.

“We need to stop meeting like this,” she said.

He pulled his toolbox from the back of his truck. “They seem like nice people. Why don’t you go easy on them?”

“It’s not up to me,” she said. “You know that. There are rules. I don’t want to smite them, just as I don’t want to smite you. But wrath follows its own laws.”

“You have your job,” he replied. “I have mine.”

Cloacina shrugged. “It’s the rare mortal that will stand up to the gods.”

“Uh huh.”

“Be seeing you, Al.” She transformed into a puddle and disappeared down a storm sewer.

He fixed the toilet. It wasn’t easy, and if a poet had been there to witness the epic struggle of mortal versus god, there would have surely been a story worthy of legend. But nobody wrote poems about plumbers, and he didn’t do it for the glory anyway. He didn’t even do it for the money, though the money was good. He did it because somebody had to.

“It’ll work for about a week, if you’re lucky,” he said as he gave Steve his card. “Call this number, day or night, if there’s an emergency. We’ll get you through this. One day at a time.”

Steve smiled with relief. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Al walked out of the house, tossed his toolbox in his truck. He needed to use the bathroom, but he never used his client’s. Every toilet he used clogged. Every shower broke. Every bathtub leaked. But it was a price he willingly paid. He bore the wrath of the gods so others wouldn’t have to.

He started his truck and headed onto his next call, waging his neverending struggle against the cosmic forces of the universe.

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