Jeff was the kind of guy who was happy when the phone rang at 3 am.
“Hey, sorry to bug you so late, but this is an emergency.” said Nancy.
“No problem, what’s going on?”
He could sense that Nancy was beyond frustrated, which meant that it wasn’t a real emergency. But what can you do, the customer is always right.
“Mrs. Wallace just called, said her shower is overflowing with black goo.”
Jeff exhaled, and tried not to sound too excited.
“You can tell her that I’ll be right there.”
He packed up his tools and headed over to Mrs. Wallace’s house, which was only a few blocks away, on the other side of Main Street. He knew exactly what to bring. He’d been preparing for this call for a long time.
“But I wasn’t even using the shower!” said Mrs. Wallace, embarrassed, like most people get when they have plumbing trouble in the middle of the night.
“I know, I know... This thing is coming from below.”
She made a face.
“Yeah. It’s a fatberg.”
He started taking the drain cover off the shower. Everything was black and greasy, and the smell would have made most people gag, but of course Jeff was used to it.
“A giant blob of human fat and toilet paper and wet wipes, unable to dissolve. It’s down in the sewer, and I’ve been chasing it for years.”
He set the snake machine on the ground, and changed the head on the cable to one that drops to a ninety degree angle, so it could make those narrow turns in the pipes.
“It’s traveling up and down Roosevelt Avenue, I’ve seen it pop up as far as the Hilton on 16, but every time we try to pull it out it gets loose again and disappears.”
“Like a cat-and-mouse game!” chimed in Mrs Wallace.
“The guys at the shop think I’m crazy. Fox Hollow is not a big enough town for a fatberg, it’s usually a New York kinda problem.”
“But our city is very old.” said Mrs Wallace, almost defensively, as if Jeff suggested that New York was somehow better.
“Our sewer system is not that old. I think it came from Fruitville, must have gotten loose there and the currents pushed it all the way to us.”
“I’m gonna check on the cats.” said Mrs Wallace, which was as graceful of an exit as she could think of.
“No problem, Mrs Wallace. I’ll let you know when I clear the line.”
He knew that he couldn’t reach the fatberg from here. His best hope was to just unclog the shower and then try the manhole down in the parking lot.
But he had no luck that night. Even though the shower cleared easily, it took almost an hour to clean up all the grease. The manhole was a different story. By the time he set up and got the cover lifted, he lost his momentum. He was getting tired, and it was cold, and dark. He turned his flashlight on, only to catch a glimpse of the fatberg washing away in the sewer.
“It’s mocking me.” Jeff said to himself.
He was defeated. Normally he would’ve been angry, maybe even throw his crowbar on the ground and kick something. But he was too exhausted for that.
“I’ll find you, you bastard.” He was kneeling by the manhole, and his voice echoed down the drain. “I will find you if that’s the last thing I do.”
He slammed the manhole cover back on, just to make sure his words were understood as a threat. He packed up his tools, filled out the bill for Mrs Wallace, and headed home.
At least he saw it. No matter what the others in the shop think, he knew it was real. He was trying to imagine the city as a network of drains and sewers, everything flowing towards the water treatment plant, just south of the county line. He tried to imagine the fatberg, this blob of human waste, gliding away from Mrs Wallace’s house, to Main Street, and then to who knows where. Would it get jammed at that restaurant on the corner, or somehow pass by, defying physics, just to pop up again on the other side of town, weeks from now?
He drove around for a while, looking at the manholes as he passed them. He felt like a hunter, chasing his prey. But this trail was getting cold. All the manholes in the city were calm, and it was time to go home.
He didn’t realize that something was wrong when he opened the front door. The average person would have smelled it, but Jeff was so used to it that he didn’t even notice.
And it was too dark for him to see the trail of grease, coming from his tub, leading into the bedroom. Or the bits and pieces of tissue paper that were stuck to the walls, or the fat wedged between the floor tiles.
The next night the phone rang again at 3 am, but nobody was there to answer it.