Some tenants liked the little power trip the third tap evoked. Some people, the bather supposed, wanted a loaded gun in every drawer or a bottle of poison hanging from every tree along the street. With a long groan, he cranked out the same thought process that hassled him during every bath. Often, those thoughts almost felt like turning the third tap itself.
Turning the damn thing opened a valve somewhere under the house. It shunted all the bath and shower water down a different pipe. The soapy and dirty water went to an individual reservoir, and a specific homeless person accessed it with a government water key. The issued key activated a faucet on a numbered post found in a huge park lined with such faucets. Thus, the poor had free secondhand water. They drank the strangers’ bathwater with its sweat, shampoo particles, urine, and sometimes bath salts and cleaning products. Unless it rained, the homeless masses had nothing else. And every house had a third tap.
Or, bathers could leave the third tap in the off position so the water goes to the sewer as normal.
Oh, the homeless had some options too, the bather thought. He heard that they swapped sexual favors for a liter of the purer-tasting stuff. Some faucets provided consistency, either always soapy or always clean. Other posts would sometimes gush with gray mop water, forcing the key holder to drain his or her reservoir for the next few days to flush out the floor cleaner from the pipes. You basically applied for a key and hoped some renter down the street never bathed with soap products. But if the bather connected to your key did use soap, or urinate in the shower, you’d have to drink the water anyway.
Water cost money in the city. So every hobo with a key hoped their donor would take long, wasteful showers. That would at least dilute the sweat, underarm deodorant, makeup, hair products, and whatever else that landed in the particular reservoir.
The bather had heard of this park of naked scuzzbuckets. Grinning brown or toothless grins, they timed their showers to those of their donors. Some got the lukewarm water that way. Others got stuck with a key that had no bather or no tenant at the other end of it. Those folks had to barter with their whines or orifices, or drink from the puddles around other posts.
So they fought and fornicated. Most suffered cramps and nausea all day from ingesting soap and dirt. They worked on their kidney problems by trying to die from addictions instead. No food banks, no charities, no fountains in public buildings. The taps in public washrooms hadn’t worked for years. People used the old sinks for tossing away their pocket garbage. You merely had to call the third world the fourth, and western society started looking alright again.
Thus, the third tap gave bathers a choice: either kill someone slowly by poisoning them with your fowl bathwater, or leave the tap off so the person dies of STIs, thirst, and competition.
The bather got on with the bath. Like thousands of others every day, he’d never know whether to bathe long and enjoy the precious water or leave the tub sooner to pollute the water less. He didn’t know if it mattered. How would he know if someone held the key to this bath line or if the key holder regularly used it? Some wealthier bathers left the third tap off to drain their dirty bath water, then turned the tap on and poured buckets of fresh water down the drain. But hardly anyone could afford such charity.
The bather scrubbed his feet hard with a sudsy face cloth. The time of the week for this task had come, and it had to get done. Visible shavings of soggy skin settled at the bottom of the tub. He pulled the stopper and saw the first of the skin bits and short hairs swirling down the drain.
The bather left the tub clean, as always. He’d never know if some sad batch of retards in the city park would drink his aftershave from yesterday now dissolved in the draining bathwater. When moving into this apartment years ago, he simply left the third tap in whatever unmarked position the previous tenant had left it.