The sink water was the exact color of vanilla extract. Rice swirled in deranged orbits around the biggest stalk of broccoli I had seen for a while. Slushed bits of carrots got caught in nets of lettuce. Dumplings floated aimlessly while their either pork or vegetable insides were alive and rippling against the thin membrane. A lo mein noodle leapt out of the water and clung to my arm hair, slipped up under my sleeve, crawled across my chest, and burrowed effortlessly into my belly button.
It did not bother me too much. This was the third time this week that something strange had found it way inside of me. This Monday, my shoelace untied itself and inched all the way up my side to squeeze into my armpit, and on Wednesday, at least a foot of floss wormed its way from one ear to the other. And it was Friday so I assumed that whatever was happening to me was following a MWF schedule. At least I got the weekend free.
It was six at night. The weekend was four hours away. I made nine-fifty an hour, so I had to make thirty-six more dollars before I could go home. For thirty-six dollars I was going to wash every single plate at least a dozen times. I was the Bamboo Kingdom dishroom supervisor, but I was also the only Bamboo Kingdom dishwasher.
The dishroom was a small corner squared off from the rest of the kitchen by a pair of cherry-blossom dressing screens. Everything inside belonged to me: the three-compartment sink where each compartment had its own sponge, the grease trap, the waste pulper, the pressure-wash hose with a crack in the nozzle, the aluminum ball for grease stains, the spackle knife for burnt pans, the industrial steam sanitizer that cleaned the dishes after I cleaned them, the laminated night chores posted on the wall above the sink, and the green dry-erase marker I used to check off after each chore.
I washed dishes. All the dishes had the exact same boring, bloodless personality except for a single, fascinating bowl that had been scarred by a microwave. I saw the bowl maybe once a day. Sometimes I thought about holding onto it, keeping it on the top of my head, but I had a feeling it might disrupt the dishroom. I did not want to do that.
I washed twenty-five dishes in five minutes, loaded them between the yellow teeth of the sanitizer, set the machine on automatic cycle, pressed my ear against the metal door, listened to the grimy hum.
I turned to see my boss, Jake, standing on the edge of the tape with his arms crossed. It was impossible for me to look him in the eye, so I stared at the giant trademark mole above his right eyebrow.
“Hello again,” I said.
“What time did you leave work yesterday?” he asked.
“Ten. Like I do every day. Come in at two and leave at ten.”
“You sure about that? Because I just took a look at the time clock, and it looks like you left at nine fifty-two. A full eight minutes early, but at least that was better than Saturday when you left at nine forty-nine, more than ten minutes early. Did you really think I wouldn’t find out?”
“I guess I did not really think about that too much.” The mole was like a burned bubble on pizza crust.
“Is there a reason why you’ve been leaving early?”
“I think I finish all the night routines, and I get bored and tired and because I’m not doing anything productive, I decide to leave a little early. I realize that is wrong and dishonest and I am sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“I’m glad you understand. How’s your father?”
He smiled as he left. The flash of his teeth seemed to nudge the noodle down into the bladder. It started to stir up a storm. The bathroom was all the way on the other side of restaurant. I ran through the kitchen bumping into one of the giant steel mixing bowls filled with dumplings and sending it into the back of the legs of the older cooks. They all started yelling at me. I hated every single one of them.
“Piece of shit dishwasher.”
“Watch where you’re fucking going.”
“Tiny dick pussy bitch.”
As soon as I got to the hallway, a sharp pain shot from the base of my penis to the tip like a puck hitting the bell on a strength test. I fell and knocked over a whole column of milk crates lining the wall. I crawled through the wreckage into the bathroom, slid under the handicapped stall, and hoisted myself up on the seat.
My bladder was a cave where the stalagmites were almost touching the stalactites and the pool of urine was slowly rising past all the past benchmarks on the sepia walls glittering with ammonia, calcium, glucose, sulfur, methyl mercaptan, diphenhydramine.
The noodle sliced through the urine like a shark fin, surfacing for a moment, as if to take a breath, before diving down to the bottom where the opening of the urethra was fitted with a pink rubber plug. It wrapped itself around the chain, yanked it free, followed the urine down, tore me open and blacked me out.
To wake up I had to wade through a memory of the muscular hydraulic lift transferring my father from his bed to his wheelchair, his wheelchair to his bed, in the second intensive rehab center he attended after the first stroke. I found myself on the floor, on my back with my limbs spread out, stretched across two stalls. My skin fatally cold on the tiles. My hair wet with my own drool. Blood on my thighs that I wiped away with toilet paper.
Something splashed in the toilet. I peered over the rim and saw the noodle swimming counter-clockwise, conjuring a small whirlpool. It stopped when it noticed me staring.
“What’s your name?”
“Listen, Sid, you really need to take some colace.”
“Colace? Docusate sodium? A stool softener. You are pretty backed up. You should take care of it before it gets serious. One of my previous hosts was so constipated that stool ended up in his stomach. One morning he woke up vomiting shit, and by that afternoon he was dead from toxicity, and that did not end well for either of us because I had to escape from the morgue. Ever have to swim through formaldehyde? It’s a carcinogen.”
“Are you an alien?”
“That poor guy ate here alone every single night. I am sure that had something to do with it, and I wish I could have done something, but people are going to do what they want to do. I cannot remember his name for the life of me. Miss him though, sometimes.”
“Do you know the shoelace or the floss?”
“Listen to me. The dumplings are going to attack soon.”
“The dumplings are coming to take back what first belonged to them. They are very angry and very dangerous. You have to believe me.”
“Pork or vegetable?”
“Both. The females are pork and the males are vegetable.”
“Weird; I thought it would be the opposite.”
“Me, too, but that’s how it is. Ok, time for me to leave.”
“Wait, what should I do? Should I call the police?”
“Why would you do that? What are they going to do?”
“I don’t know. Arrest them?”
“I’m sorry, Sid, but it’s all up to you. You’re the dishroom supervisor, aren’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“Ok, that’s all I need to say. Good luck.”
The noodle slipped down the curve of the pipe. I flushed the toilet with my foot, washed and dried my hands, finally left the bathroom, and stopped in my tracks as soon as I saw the state of the kitchen.
There were dumplings everywhere. They were crawling across the stainless steel tables, climbing up the walls, pouring down out of the exhaust hoods. They had puckered mouths filled with tiny needle teeth on their undercooked undersides. They hissed when they latched onto open skin. They attacked in swarms, around two dozen dumplings to every one person. The cooks were running around, screaming.
Jake was in his office wearing a mask of dumplings. I could not see one inch of his face. There was nothing I could do about it or any of it. I went back inside the bathroom and propped the trash can against the door.
ANTHONY CORDELLO lives in Boston. He went to UMass Amherst for his BA and Fairfield for his MFA. His stories have been published in decomP, Tin House’s Open Bar, and Thickjam. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.