There are some things we just don’t talk about

Written by Chris Jones

We grew up in the country. So we had a septic tank. For those of you who don’t know, a septic tank is a giant tank in the ground that fills with everything you flush down the toilet. Sometimes it needs to be pumped out, otherwise: trouble. It’s just simple, awful physics.

One day, our toilets stop working. Tank needs to be emptied. This is not a DIY project. This is a job you employ others to do. Our local pump truck was called the Honey Wagon. Guy shows up. Super gregarious, given his profession. Let’s call him Hank.

For reasons that remain unclear to me, my Dad and I stand on our deck to watch Septic Tank Hank do his work. (This is pre-Internet. I was 17, I’d guess.) He cuts away the greenest grass in our yard, digs up the tank, finds its lid, and lifts it away. “JESUS,” Hank yells.

I look into the Great Pit of Carkoon now behind my house. The smell is ungodly. But—more—I’m not even sure what I’m looking at. There’s enough hair to make a rug. And these… blobs. So many strange blobs.

“Septic tank jellyfish,” Hank says, sagely.

“They’re… alive?” I asked. No. They’re condoms. Dozens of condoms have bunged up our tank. My dad looks at me, still standing beside him. His head turns so slowly, I can hear the sound his neck muscles make. “Dad,” I say. “I wish they were mine. They’re not mine.”

(They really weren’t. I knew they weren’t mine, because—well, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons at the time. My favourite character was a dwarf thief named Jack Knob. He had surprising dexterity for a dwarf. I wasn’t having sex, is the point.)

My dad does some uncomfortable math. The condoms weren’t his, either. He’d had a vasectomy back in the days when they just mashed your balls between two bricks. That left my older brother, long moved out, and… oh God, no. My younger sister.

She’s watching Three’s Company or something and has no idea what’s unfolding out back. My dad has already assumed the haunted look of a man who’s been told a hard truth that he’ll never quite fathom. Like a sailor who’s lost someone he loves to the sea.

Hank begins pumping out the tank. The colour drains out of my dad’s bald head with it. And, oblivious to my dad’s impending stroke, Hank starts telling stories about the septic tank jellyfish he’s seen. “I even ended a marriage once,” he says.

A couple, the only owners of a house. Husband had been snipped. Wife had been… careful… with her lover who was not her husband. Busted by the condoms in the septic tank. Hank tells story after story of empires rising and falling because of septic tanks clogged with domes.

Hank just keeps pumping and chattering away—and all the while, my dad grows more stricken. My mum was a working mother of three, too exhausted to have an affair; she would have had more freedom in prison. But his sweet little girl? I saw the light go out in his eyes.

At last, Hank reaches the bottom of the tank. “That was A LOT of jellies,” he says, wiping his brow. My dad pays him. Septic Tank Hank actually winks and waves, like he’s the Littlest Hobo or some shit. “My work here is done. Enjoy picking up the pieces of your life.”

We watched the Honey Wagon disappear down the road, off to ruin another family, and went inside for the quietest dinner in household history. Shopping for real estate? Never forget: Sewers keep secrets; septic tanks snitch.

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