I woke from my nap. There was a man standing at the end of the couch; I did not know him. And there was a water pump handle and spout coming out of my stomach.
“Your wish has been granted,” said the man.
I sat up and worked at the pump for a few seconds. It was hard going, but eventually from the spout in my stomach I extracted a small dribble of cloudy water, in which floated tiny wriggling things, and which tasted vaguely of minerals and sulfur. “Use it wisely,” the man said, and left. (I thought he would have vanished, but no, he just walked out the front door.)
I was excited. I love a good glass of water; I’d just been drinking my way through the Norwegian classics. Perhaps the water was always like this at the start; perhaps one day I’d be famous.
But I soon found that the pump was awfully hard work. I grew tired if I worked at it for any length of time; half an hour felt like a day. Very often I was convinced I had run dry, and many days I was too lazy to pump at all. On the other hand, if I went too long, the water built up: I would feel too full to concentrate on work, on conversation, on anything. And quite frequently the stream would drip or pour out unexpectedly, when I wasn’t even pumping, the precious water disappearing into the carpet or the gutter.
As I grew stronger, I would occasionally start to hit a rhythm. I took to keeping spare cups, pots and jugs of all sizes — my “drafts” — scattered throughout the house, with little labels on them.
“Come to bed,” my wife would say. “I’ll be right there,” I’d say, “Just have to finish filling this cup.”
I had once dreamed of being able to produce and brew my own water; many people had grown famous that way, and quite wealthy. But I had always imagined it more as thing you could turn on and off when you needed it, like a super power that you keep in your back pocket; instead, it turned out to be a basic biological need. We all have the need to eat, sleep, make love, get sunshine; now to this list was added, for me, the joyless activity of laboring at this silly pump-handle. Very often I wished I had been content with the original list.
What to do with the water was its own separate problem. None of it tasted any good right after pumping. It had to be boiled off, chilled, combined with other draughts, filtered, siphoned — I tried all kinds of things in infinitely varying degrees and sequences in order to get the water to look and taste “right”. And until I could get the attention of a bottling company I’d have to design my own bottles and labels for it. I threw a lot of water away, always with great reluctance and self-doubt.