BY D. HARLAN WILSON
IN THE BATHROOM
I always wake up around 3 a.m., give or take a half hour. Either I’m having a bad dream that jars me awake, or I have to take a leak, or both—usually both.
There’s no bathroom in my bedroom. The nearest bathroom is at the end of the long, cold hallway that cuts my living space in two. It’s a crummy walk. The hardwood floor is ice on my feet, and every groggy step I take, my filled-to-the-rim bladder whines in pain. Sometimes I won’t make the walk. I’ll just roll out of bed and stumble over to the window and pee out of that. But I don’t like conducting myself like such an uncivilized Neanderthal, and I try to excrete in a dignified fashion as often as possible.
That night I had been dreaming about her again. It was a sex dream and the two of us were making love on a bed in a furniture store. A number of shoppers had gathered around the bed to take note of the love making. All of them were wearing business suits that had been shrinkwrapped to their wiry bodies, and all of them were alternating between staring dumbly at she and I and then furiously writing notes down on small pads of expensive rice paper. I paid no attention to them. My focus was completely locked on her. On her soft, wet kisses. On her exquisite scent. On her bird-coos, her napalm sighs. On her hardbodied voluptuousness, her full, hanging breasts, her aquiline, perfectly symmetrical, perfectly beautiful face . . .
I told her I loved her.
She told me that that wasn’t a scripted line.
I said, “I’m the screenwriter of this film and I can change the script on a dime, if I like.”
She said, “Fine,” and her face unzipped like a duffel bag, spilling brains and bile and bugs all over the bedsheets.
I pursed my lips.
“You’re going to have to pay for that!” howled a shopper, pointing at the filthy bedsheets. But he was not a shopper at all. He was the mayor of the furniture store, and his decree was more than I could bear . . .
. . . her sickening corpse flip-flapping on the bed like a fish out of water . . .
I snapped awake and went, “Ah!” The exclamation was as much a response to my dream as it was to my pissed off (for being piss-filled) bladder. My groin felt like it was on fire. Screw civility. I had to go too badly to make it to the bathroom anyway. I rolled out of bed and in two quick strides I was standing in front of the window, nude, in pain, traces of my dream slithering through the holes of my consciousness.
I couldn’t get the window open.
It was stuck.
The latch wouldn’t turn. It had rusted over. When was the last time I opened the window? The last time I peed out the window. When was that? Couldn’t remember, couldn’t remember. A long time ago? Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever the case, the damn latch wouldn’t budge. But I kept at it, and I depleted the store of dirty words in my lexicon two times over, starting slowly and softly at first, then picking up speed and sound, then swearing like a motherfucking flamethrower. I considered smashing the window, but at the last second I managed to control myself. I would use the bathroom like a normal, grown up person, no matter how badly I had to go. I just had to get there fast.
I stopped swearing and strode out of my bedroom.
And ran into a line. The back of a line. There was a line of people here, and it ran the length of my hallway.
My hand was firmly gripping my crotch, my knees were bent, my feet were pigeon-toed, my face was all scrunched up. “What is this?” I said. Nobody answered me. Nobody even turned around to scowl at me.
The line consisted of about twenty men. They all wore business suits that were far too big for their bodies. They looked like children dressed up in their parents’ clothes. I wanted to know more about this fashion statement. More than that, though, I wanted to know what they were doing in my living space at this time of night.
“I said,” I said, “what the hell is this!” This time a few men turned and looked over their shoulders. One even responded to me with a shrug. But nobody said anything.
Irate, I started walking—or rather, speed-hobbling—towards the bathroom. My hand remained attached to my crotch. Not because I was naked—I could’ve cared less about that. At this point, if I removed my hand, it would be like removing the cap from a shook up bottle of beer. I tried to walk tall and powerfully, but it was difficult; my bladder demanded that I bend my head and body.
“No cutting,” said the man at the end of the line as I brushed past him. “He’s cutting. Look everybody. Somebody thinks he can get away with something.”
“I’m not trying to get away with anything!” I shouted, continuing to move forward. “This is my place and I can do whatever I want to—”
A hard, rigid arm snapped up in front of me. Its elbow was in line with my Adam’s apple and I clotheslined myself against it. My feet and legs flew out from under me and headed for the ceiling. The wind was knocked out of me as my shoulderblades slammed into the floor and my hand came loose from my crotch. I expected to wet myself, but I didn’t. Apparently I had more self-control than I gave myself credit for. Still, my pee-pangs were excruciating, more so now that I was gasping and dry-heaving, trying to get my wind back.
It was a good half a minute before I was able to breathe normally again. I blundered to my feet and faced the man who had stuck his arm out. He didn’t face me. He continued to stare at the back of the man’s head in front of him. His nose and chin were sharper than Ginsu knives, and his tight lips twitched in distress, as if he was trying to keep something from squeezing its way out of his mouth.
“I know what you did,” I said matter of factly, “and I’m not very happy about it. You could have killed me, sticking out your arm like that. Not to mention that you almost made me urinate all over myself. What’s your problem? What are you doing here anyway? I’m talking to you, boy.”
His lips twitched with more resolve, but he didn’t say anything. I took a step closer to him and stared at him as hard as I possibly could. It was a little chilly out here and my body wanted to shiver. I didn’t let it.
“No cutting,” the man finally uttered. “That’s the law.”
I shook my head, made a disgusted face. “The law? What is this, preschool? Does the law say anything about breaking into a stranger’s home in the middle of the night?”
The man frowned, not knowing how to answer the question.
I rolled my eyes. Patience was not a luxury I could afford.
I backstepped across the hallway until I hit the wall.
I took a deep breath, held it in for a few seconds . . . and addressed the entire line. “Alright people, listen up!” It hurt down low to yell like that. I reapplied my hand to my genitals and lowered my voice a notch. “Listen up now! I don’t know where you people came from or what you think you’re doing! And I don’t care! Not right now! I need to use that goddamn toilet! And I’m going to use it! Now! None of this no cutting bullshit! Understand? Fine!” Without another word I started for the bathroom again.
It was easier to get there than I expected it to be. Some of the men said a few derogatory things out of the corners of their mouths as I passed them, and a few of them poked me in the ribs with their thumbs, but with very little determination: all they succeeded in doing was making me giggle, and exacerbating the condition of my bladder. They seemed reticent, for the most part, to step out of line, physically and emotionally. Maybe they were worried they would lose their position and be sent to the back? It didn’t matter. I’d get to the bottom of this nonsense later. Right now I had business to attend to, and it would take a lot more than a bunch of meek, insufficiently dressed intruders to stop me from attending to it.
At last I made it to the front of the line. The door to the bathroom was closed, and the first man in line had his nose pressed up against it.
“Get your nose off of my door,” I said.
He didn’t obey.
I smiled, nodded. Cleared my throat.
And swung my free arm around and pounded on the door as hard as I could, once, with a fist. The blow caused the door to kind of punch the man in the face. A chain reaction resulted. His head snapped back and hit the head of the man behind him, and that man’s head snapped back and hit the man behind him, and that man’s head hit the next man’s head, and so on, and so on, all the way down the line. To initiate this domino effect wasn’t my intent. Still, it gave me a great deal of pleasure, watching them all clutch their noses in pain.
“Maybe that’ll teach you weird bastards not to invade a man’s privacy,” I announced. Without waiting for a reply I knew I wouldn’t get, I focused my attention on the man in front of the door.
“Who’s in there?”
No response. Unlike the face of the man in the back of the line, I noticed, this one’s was round and pudgy. And his brow was abnormally distended.
“I said who’s in there? Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
He didn’t look at me. He massaged his hurt nose, delicately, with a thumb and index finger. His gaze remained firmly affixed to the door.
“Answer my question or prepare to be bitchslapped. It’s that simple.”
The man stopped massaging his nose and let his arm fall back down to his side. I widened my eyes, bore my teeth. The man squeaked, “No . . . cutting.” He looked like he was on the brink of tears.
I lit a fire on his face with a manly bitchslap. “What’s that you said?” I calmly asked.
His eyes blinked erratically and his lips experienced a series of heinous spasms. No looking at me, though. No speaking to me either.
That did it. “Out of my way!” I yelled, and battle-rammed the man with one of my shoulders, sending him smack into the wall on the far side of the hallway. He hit his head and slid to the floor, knocked out cold. The eyes of the man behind him bulged in astonishment, but he didn’t do anything. Nobody did anything. Big surprise.
I took the man’s place in front of the door and began hammering on it. “Open up, you! Open up! I hafta use that toilet RIGHT NOW! Get outta my bathroom! Get out! Get out!” As I screamed my pee-pangs thunder-echoed inside of my body.
I heard some rustling behind the door. And some hurried, muffled whispering. But the door stayed closed. I wanted to bash it in. Now, though, the effort would definitely cause me to spring a storming leak, no matter how hard I continued to squeeze myself, and anyway doors are expensive and I didn’t want to have to buy another one after demolishing this one. What could I do?
It dawned on me that the door might not be locked. There was no reason why it shouldn’t have been locked. Any reasonable person that sees a line of people strung out in front of a door would draw the conclusion that it was locked; if it wasn’t, what was to prohibit the entire line from systematically piling into the space that existed on the other side of the door? Still, this line wasn’t like other lines. This line was a crock of horseshit. Reason would dictate that that door was locked, but reason was not something that could be applied to this situation. Therefore the door was unlocked? No—that would be a reasonable deduction based on the application of reason to an anti-reasonable event. But that didn’t mean the door wasn’t unlocked. It could have been locked or unlocked—there was no way to dialectically determine whether it was one or the other without trying it.
I gripped the knob, turned it, pushed on it.
The door opened.
A goofy smile landed on my face like an exclamation point. I pushed the door all the way open and stepped into the bathroom, anticipating the ecstatic relief I would feel in just a few short seconds . . .
I froze. Reality seemed to skip a beat, and my eyebrows began sweating.
It was her.
She was dressed like a stripper. There were stiletto heels on her manicured feet. Covering her hard muscular legs were black fishnet stockings. Shiny circles had been pasted onto the nipples of her fake breasts, and mascara had been caked all over her eye sockets. I felt like I was dreaming again. But this was no dream. No dream of mine anyway.
“Are you kidding me!” I heard myself holler. For the first time that night I felt naked, although I made no effort to conceal my nakedness. To do so would have been an affirmation of weakness.
He was standing right in front of the toilet. He had a mustache that appeared to have been painted onto his face; I double-taked the mustache, and saw that it was in fact painted there. The suit he was wearing seemed to be shrinkwrapped to his body, unlike all of the other men in the line, whose suits were too big for them. Squatting down with her knees splayed out in front of her, she was just putting the finishing touches on his left pant leg, making sure it was tight enough against his skin.
Neither of them said anything to me, albeit they did glance at me expectantly. I shook my head in disbelief. They shook their heads in disbelief—at my disbelief. Then she stood up and, to the man, said, “Ok. You’re all set.” He thanked her, removed a one dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to her. “Excuse me,” he said as he ambled passed me to the open window on the other side of the bathroom and crawled out of it. I watched him go, speechless.
She put her hands on her hips and stared at me. I stared back at her, hunched over, frog-faced, my hand still married to my crotch.
“I have to use the toilet,” I said pointedly.
“Next!” she blurted in an annoyed, old maid’s voice. Another man, the one I had knocked out, stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
I evil-eyed him. “Didn’t you learn your lesson?” He flexed his jaw at me, indicating that he did not. I said, “You’re not making a very good effort to get yourself off of my shit list, are you? You may regret that. You may want to rethink that.”
In one ear, out the other. The man walked by me, took his spot in front of the toilet. She immediately began pinning up his outfit.
My stare was pure hate . . .
Their stares were . . . pure apathy . . .
I looked at myself in the mirror hanging over the bathroom sink. My reflection blinked at me. Or winked at me. I wasn’t sure which.
. . . As I emptied my bladder into the sink, moaning and groaning in pleasure, I watched them out of the corners of my eyes, to see if they were watching me. They weren’t. The man was standing there with his eyes closed, picturing who knows what on his mind’s screen. And she, she was tightening up his suit with the speed of a wild animal taking apart its prey, darting all around his body in a blur of electric motion . . .
I could hear the succubus laughing in my dream. As always, I was walking up the spinal staircase. Usually the staircase is empty or next to empty but now it was full of Harrison Ford androids. Most of them were naked, save the miniaturized Indiana Jones' whips they had threaded through the holes in their noses, ears and nipples, but a few of them were fully clothed. When I approached one of the fully clothed Harrison Fords to ask it for an autograph, its mouth creaked open like an old window and began to laugh at me in dark, icy surges. I studied the mouth for a long time, trying to see what was inside of it, before I realized that I was awake, and that the Harrison Ford was the succubus.
Growling a little, I pushed her off of me and turned over onto my side. She continued to laugh. I rolled and fell out of bed. Landed on my funny bone.
'What the hell are you laughing at? I laughed, nursing my elbow.
'Nothing! cackled the succubus and doubled over on the bed. Her face began to turn purple. So did mine, but for a different reason. I wanted to kill her, to rip her snake tongue out of her mouth and strangle her with it. Instead I crawled into the bathroom and took three capsules of Reality-Plus!.
Nine seconds later I realized that the succubus didn't exist, and that if she did exist, she didn't matter. Either way she didn't exist. After I emptied myself into the toilet, I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror as if to confirm the realization with myself face to face.
. . . I knew there was something wrong right away, something physiognomic, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I scratched my head . . . and put my finger on it. Same as it put its finger on me.
My hair. My fingers, I mean. I mean, my hair was fingers. My skull was covered in a thick mat of long chubby fingers that, once I began to eye them, began to wiggle themselves at me. I couldn't tell if they were friendly wiggles or the kind of wiggles that say 'Shame on you or 'No you don't! There were just too many of them, too close together, all wiggling at the same time and bumping into each other. Whatever their message was they were making a mess of it. I wanted to tell them to calm down and gesticulate more clearly at me, but there were no ears on them. Whatever I said to them would not register with anyone or anything but me, so I had no reason to say anything at all. I was at the mercy of the fingers' semantic hurlyburly.
I shook a finger at my fingers and said, 'Goddamn you fingers!
'I see some thumbs up there, too, sniggered the succubus, poking her scaly head into the bathroom. 'I see three, maybe four thumbs up there! She didn't exist so I couldn't hear her, but I took some more Reality-Plus! anyway, because if I was consciously not hearing the succubus, then the succubus did exist, and I was hearing her loud and clear. Also I wanted to see if the Reality-Plus! would take care of the fingers.
It did. It took care of everything eventually. Only, by the time everything was taken care of, I had overdosed on the stuff, finished off the entire bottle, and was walking up the spinal staircase again.
This time the staircase was empty . . . except for Harrison Ford. The real one. He was lounging on a step made of glued-together femurs and tibias, sipping a Cuba Libra from a martini glass. He had gained so much weight and had become so grey, wrinkled and liver-spotted, at first I thought he was Marlon Brando. That the autograph he handed me when I walked up to him read 'Brad Pitt was even more discombobulating. But then I managed to talk him into letting me open the little control panel on his forehead. Cupping the back of his neck, I peeked inside . . . and there was no denying his true identity.