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Vertebrae : Jennifer Natalya Fink
I. Bad Plumbing

Tanya's walls spurt piss. The yellow bleeds daily from the walls' recently painted pores. Between dinner and bedtime, while Tanya is in the kitchen or playing out in the yard, the walls piss all over the room.

A plumbing problem, something to do with the basement pipes backing up, their father assures them as they swallow down breakfast. It's a Sunday, so he is in Mr. Fixit mode, eager to devise the perfect experiment to track the wall piss to its origin. Blue dye #3. The solution, he announces over bagels and lox with a smile, is blue dye #3. This house has always had crappy plumbing, he says with authority. But we're gonna fix all that with the help of our trusty blue dye #3. By noon the two bathrooms are rigged with blue food coloring, every flush turning the bowl into a tropical ocean floor.

Tanya's walls spurt blue piss. Her white furniture is spattered in it, the walls unevenly coated from ceiling to floor with spirals and drips. Something angry is written in the script-like twists of the spatter, its patterns too thorough to be random. Unmechanical.

Her perfect white dresser took the brunt of it, as though a pipe full of blue dye #3 had opened its veins directly onto its thickly painted top. Tanya figures that adding another color to the mess won't matter, so she polishes the white nobs of the dresser's six drawers with Maybelline Frosted Peach. The chemical-coated perfumes of the nail polish mix with the piss smell. Tanya puts on a second layer, the frosted peach nobs turning a deep orange, noticing as she leans close to the dresser to prevent drips that the blue is shot through with green. It's okay; green is my favorite color, she practices saying to them as she inhales.


II. Bad Back

"Kiss me."

"Just one kiss. Or a hug. Just one."

I'll tell. Tanya shrinks away from the imploring eyes, the sugary voice stained with an acid aftertaste. She backs into the orange counter that divides the eat-in kitchen, her lips not quite forming the two words. I'll tell.

"Well then at least you can walk on my back. It's so sore, you can't imagine, like every muscle is mixed up with the bones like some hideous malformed rock. Pleeeze? Come on -- the Doctor says it's good for the scoleosis."

Breccia. Tanya removes her sneakers but not her socks. Jane collapses on the floor face down, arms outstretched, ass waving fat and high. Breccia rocks contain both igneous and other unrelated rock formations. Tanya imagines the nerves twisting between the vertabrae, gripping each piece of bone. Jane's back is splayed beneath her, stiff as a balance beam, but snaky. Tanya practices her gold medal routines on it, stretching her arms and pointing her toes with a graceful Nadia Comenici smile for her fans. Her toes wobble in the space between the vertabrae. She tries to detect the twist of scoleosis under her feet, the exotic islands of bone clumped together amidst the muscle tissue, deviating from a straight line.

"Kiss me."

Begging even as Tanya's heels dig in between the uneven segments of spine. Begging until she's hoarse. Tanya unanswering, her soles feeling the little pimples and rough dry patches sprinkled across Jane's back as she does exaggerated arabesques, smiling with all her big teeth toward the invisible Olympic judge's box. I'll tell.

"Ow!" Jane is shaking with pain, back crumpling beneath Tanya's gyrations. Tanya mouths it as she continues her routine, not looking to see if Jane can even see her. Her feet pounding it into her with every turn. Not needing to say it out loud. I'll tell.


III. Bad Foundations

The two girls stand outside the house beside their mother in identical coats printed with fake Incan rug patterns, topped by matching fuzzy angora berets knitted by Aunt Susan. Jane's coat and hat are pink, Tanya's as always are green. Mom's hat is beige, almost the same wheat shade as her tightly curled hair and her well-worn rabbit coat from which she pulls loose hairs as she rambles on. "OK girls, let's be calm. The house is contaminated but we're safe out here." The girls are silent, letting her pretend that it is they who need consolation. "We'll wait here until Dad comes home. Everything will be fine in no time." Tanya rubs her soft green head, fingers remembering the glamorous satin feel of Susan's long hair.

They are outside the house, watching it for signs of flood or fire. Only minutes ago Tanya and her mother were driving home from Tanya's ballet class. Only seconds ago they were pulling into the garage in the red Volkswagen station wagon with its peeling "Pollution Stinks" bumper sticker, Mom ready to prepare dinner, Tanya anticipating a clean shower in her remodeled bathroom. Only nanoseconds between entering the living room, smelling it, and pulling Jane from her bedroom out into the driveway. The blue has spread to the living room, Tanya announces. It could carry germs, e-coli, bacteria. It could be flammable. Tanya watches her mother and sister watch the house, imagining how a photo of this moment would look, all three lined up with matching hats and eyes all staring straight into the house.

Their mother stands erect in the remains of the bunny coat, looking more cow than rabbit now that the fur is patching off, leaving stretches of tanned skin colored the same brown as her big eyes. Tanya snuggles closer, rubbing her cheek against a big patch of furless leather. The house has all the lights on, abandoned in the middle of its evening with the dishwasher still running. Another family might be inside now, just out of sight, making use of the light shooting through the house's sockets, exhaling carbon monoxide, shedding skin and hair in microscopic quantities with each passing second. Perhaps the house needs such minute human waste to function, Tanya thinks.

The juiced-up bright green Volkswagen Beetle drives up. "Why are you guys outside?" he asks. The blue has spread, their mother explains. Oh Daddy, I'm scared the house is sick, Jane says as she grasps his hand. Tanya walks with him to the door, protesting when he doesn't let her come inside with him to investigate. You girls wait in the car. We'll clean up this mess and go get a pizza.

It's that damn foundation, he tells them over the mushroom and eggplant pizza. It's shifted again and screwed up the plumbing. The foundation can't support the weight of the house. I don't even want to bother to fix it; it'd be like operating on a sore knee when you have a spinal cord injury.

The house's back is broken, Tanya tells herself that night.


IV. Bad Target

Seated on the floor reading Dickens, Tanya feels her enter, not raising her eyes from Little Nell. She likes to read on the floor, no distracting fabric to root her to the outside world. She practices keeping her back perfectly straight while she reads, lining up the vertabrae like neat stacks of undershirts, folded and ready to be put away. Stack, stack, she uncrunches as she reads. She is being watched and targeted again. She looks up and sees the hands raised, the clear glass pitcher of blue piss-water clutched behind the head, the knees slightly bent. Ready, aim, fire. Their eyes meet. Tanya returns to the book, extends her neck and lets the house swim away as the blue spatters against the wall. Tanya doesn't watch as Jane heads for the bathroom to wait for the blue to finish flowing.

The nobs of the dresser are spattered with it, but the bed with its green-and-white checked cover took the brunt this time. Gallons of blue piss saturate the bed straight through to the mattress, leaving it sponge-like to the touch. Tanya pokes the bed in the center, watching a small pool of blue liquid accumulate around the concave depression.


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