|TOILET TRAUMA by Ross Jeffery|
Toilets are such strange places, so peaceful, with only really two outcomes, but if you let your mind wander the façade slowly ebbs away, sloshing down the U-Bend. And I guess you are left with the worst possible thing…your inquisitive mind.
Since my diagnosis they have become a place of refuge. Bladder cancer is one awkward cancer to deal with. The medication only serves to bind my guts, causing an excruciating bout of constipation, like I’m passing boulders out of my arse; and the side effect of the cancer as it eats away at my bladder is the constant need to relieve myself. It doesn’t matter if I’ve only just been, the pulling sensation, the panic that comes with wetting oneself in public, is constant, and so I have no alternative but to run to the nearest toilet and sit there twiddling my thumbs until the urge passes. Only for the whole sorry experience to start all over again. This isn’t life; it’s survival.
Toilets are one of the few places I can take a much needed breather; fool myself that things will get better. For those who don’t have bladder cancer, it normally boils down to a simple decision if it’s going to be a number one or a number two. I do find public toilets, like the one I’m squeezed into now, a little bit confining and claustrophobic, not enough space to spread legs and adopt an optimum shitting or pissing position. This particular toilet is in the middle of nowhere. I went for a walk to clear my head, taking the overgrown path through the woods to reach the lake where I aimed to sit and watch the swifts swoop down and quench their thirst, taking small nips of the swelling lake, but I didn’t make it that far. The urge to piss hit me and I bolted. I remembered seeing this public toilet on my previous reconnaissance of the woods. I don’t go anywhere anymore unless I know where the nearest toilet is. I managed to push my way through the door, a plume of ammonia hitting my nostrils as I scurried in, choosing the farthest toilet from the entrance. Locking myself inside. When using a public toilet, there is a constant juggling of limbs, of not wanting to touch anything for fear of contracting some type of STD or malicious bug. As I say this my hand is dipped between my legs, deep into the toilet to prevent my penis from touching the filthy bowl encrusted with the pebble dashing of someone’s high fibre diet.
This toilet is slightly larger than a coffin; cheap plywood, hastily constructed and repainted by someone who doesn’t give two hoots about the quality of their work; resigning themselves to the fact they are merely delaying the inevitable of repainting due to graffiti. It would appear there are many writers, or people who think they can write, who visit this toilet. Or they could be the scribblings of kids high on crack. Who in their right mind would stay here any longer than necessary? Maybe there are others with my condition, a commune of people with bladder cancer living in a tented community nearby, shunned from society for pissing themselves involuntary… I wonder if they have room for me.
Bogs are also places of joy, the discover of pregnancy; clutching that stick of salty warm piss in your hands and watching the lines appear, like a fruit machine dropping cherries in a line. It must be incredible, the feeling of impending parenthood, until the reality of the crippling debt associated with bringing a child kicking and screaming into this world strikes; like winning the lottery and not being able to find the ticket. Then there are drunken fumblings, office quickies in toilets across the country. The affairs that start with a drunken fumble, a flirtatious glance at the intern; who is later discovered to have a cocaine addiction, using the same toilet to sniff away his septum into sweet oblivion.
Toilets are also places of despair and turmoil. Death sentences lurk within these walls. A discovery of a lump here, or a bump there, or blood seeping from down below, soaking into the shitty tissue you can’t help but stare at; like panning for gold and uncovering cancer. The toilet is the place where people often discover their time on earth is almost up. Hope. Despair. Joy. A precursor to your exit from this earth; that is if you can actually afford a funeral. I’ve been doing my research, what with the gallows looming before me, and who knew that dying was so expensive. Your whole life spent trying to make ends meet and when you finally pop your clogs, or shit out your innards, a family, widow, loved one is left to foot the bill and pay some vampiric grave diggers to stuff you in the ground.
I guess sitting here with your thoughts isn’t so bad; in my haste I’d failed to realise there were already people in here, in the next cubicle. Holding hands is frowned upon but I often wonder if I put my hand under the cubicle would anyone hold on, would they join me on my journey of despair, keep me company whilst I dropped my insides? Hushed voices emanate from the cubicle next to me and I can make out two shadows moving beneath the cubicle wall, merging into one wriggling mass, like a bag of kittens waiting to be drowned, limbs flying, straining at the confines of the shadows, stretching and pulling the darkness in various disjointed directions. It’s frenzied and I think they might be having sex, but I can’t be sure. The banging on the partitions suggests some high tempo bashing of uglies, but I just sit and listen, what else can I do? I try not to make any noises whilst I squeeze out some rubble, praying their possible love-making isn’t interrupted by a sudden plop. They are utterly oblivious to me and so I quickly grab some toilet roll and stuff it past my contracting arsehole; preparing a landing platform for my tired turd. Although the way things are, I’m pretty sure it would plummet right through and split the pipe.
To take my mind off the proceedings next door, I explore my surroundings. The toilet is a Crap-O-Matic 2000, a nod to Thomas Crapper. It has a large basin and even bigger U-Bend, installed in public bogs to prevent blockages, what with the recent spate of tramps flushing stray cats down the toilets. I glance around the walls, which are spattered with their chocolate or crap; I am not going to decipher which. Small blood spatters on the wall, possibly from someone’s H-Fix during a morning jog, or whilst walking the dog, or perhaps something more sinister still. I look behind to check for a toilet brush; and there it sits, the magic wand of the toilet, bristles caked in a mixture of shit and soiled tissue. I can never understand why people replace the brush in such a manner; so unsanitary, like using a hand towel to wipe your arse and leaving it for someone to dry their hands with. Thanks.
I return to reading the graffiti on the wall to distract me from my faulty waterworks and the steamy sex next door. Some of these people are very articulate. Educations not dead yet people. Some of the words are in fancy calligraphy; some are scrawled in pencil, whilst others have been etched into the wood with a knife. Such a safe community we live in. Some of the etchings are funny, others poetic, some are downright offensive. A tiny glimpse into our human and social decline. The joy is in imagining who wrote what, and reading the responses.
‘I was going to write something profound but I realised I have nothing profound to say…that’s when you just draw a dick.’
An orgy of cocks surrounded it. The first a fully-realised penis, foreskin and hairy balls and the attention to detail was remarkable. There were other drawings etched with a childlike innocence. Some of the cocks had jizz popping out. One even had a smiley face.
‘A fart is the lonesome cry of an imprisoned turd.’
This made me laugh, a high pitched bottom burp escaping my cheeks. I froze; feeling awful for disturbing the lovemaking next door. I sit in silence, I wait but they were still banging away, so with my panic abated, I return to the ramblings.
‘If you ever feel powerless, just remember that a single one of your pubic hairs can shut down an entire restaurant.’
This was a call to arms, especially for the local estate community who were disempowered and treated as sub human. Such a message of hope could start a revolution, one pubic hair at a time.
‘Describe your shit w/ the title of a movie or TV Show…’
This had some serious mileage, with many others adding to its call.
‘Meet the Burns’
‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’
‘There will be Blood’
A personal favourite.
‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’
I reach into the breast pocket of my shirt, a feeling of rebelliousness sweeping over me. What should I add? MISERY. That seems quite apt given my current situation. I pull my pen out but fumble and it tumbles to the ground, hitting my shoe and spinning away under the gap beneath the cubicle wall into where the love-makers dwell. The banging against the wall stops. I hear a muffled voice, as if a hand is pressed over someone’s mouth; then a guttural growl that shakes the cubicle wall. It stops. Did they reach climax? Is it safe to talk?
“Hello…? Sorry for that…”
They resume, this time louder than before. I guess they didn’t finish. Are they doing this for me? Are they exhibitionists…oh my, am I partaking in a strange type of Dogging? Bogging? They know I’m here; I’m literally a captive audience, trapped until I drop my overdue payload or empty my leaky bladder? Both would be a dream, so here’s hoping.
“Hello? Sorry to be a pain...but could I just…”
The noises from within the cubicle are even more animalistic than before, two people reaching a climax. I slump down to see if I can grab the pen. I can see it. I stretch out my hand, the floor covered in dried pools of urine and a carpet of public hairs like tiny veins. I stop and think to myself how unsanitary this public toilet is, and ponder writing a strongly worded email to those responsible for cleaning this shit hole, but first things first, my pen. My fingers search under the gap, touch the pen briefly, before clumsily and unwillingly pushing it further away. I give up and consider my options. Once again in my seated position I notice another piece of graffiti.
‘Things I hate
I search the cubicle for an implement which might help me grab the pen. The toilet brush is the only thing long enough, but I’d have to hold the shitty end, so that’s a non-starter, unless I wanted to contract dysentery. Near the toilet roll dispenser, slightly hidden from view is an arrow etched on the wall. I crane my neck and discover something written in pencil. GLORY HOLE. The L of GLORY scratched out so it reads GORY HOLE. The writing is just above a hole in the cubicle wall, the edges smoothed out, splinters are a no-no here. I’d read about these things in an article once, where peeping Toms can watch other people get up to all sorts, but I’d never seen one in real life. I think carefully about my next move and then slowly hoist up my trousers, leaving my arse out in case the need to shit should strike, I stretching my penis back, like a turkey’s neck on a butchers block, thus enabling the constant trickle of piss into the toilet. Leaning forwards I put my eye to the hole. I can’t see anything. I read that people put all kinds of things through the hole to seek intimate relations with a stranger. This is different, I’m not a letch or a degenerate, I just wanted my pen back. It was a gift from my wife, the last thing she’d bought me before my diagnosis, and it was etched with the words, I will always love you. A sentiment I was slowly losing sight of as she gradually became my full time carer, not that I minded, it was just getting a bit too much, suffocating, restricting my daily routine, that’s why I am here, I came out to escape and enjoy some fresh air. She had good intentions but I could tell my plight was too much for her to bear. The pen reminds me of a time before the cancer, a time when she loved me for me, not because she felt a duty of care, or worse, pitied me. Because who would leave a guy with cancer?
“Excuse me? Sorry to bother you, but could I just get my…”
I didn’t want to, but knowing there was no alternative, I poked my finger through the hole, gesticulating.
“It’s just down there…”
Suddenly something hit the wall and I panicked and pulled my finger back. Shock dislodging my insides like I’d been disembowelled; I heard a wet thud and plop as my crap hit the rim of the toilet and tumbled down into the bowl, water spattering my exposed arse . A brown slug trail now clung to the bowl, as if a large gastropod had escaped my bowls and slithered its way into the toilet. Someone’s going to have to clean this shit up, I thought to myself, before I saw a blood shot eye staring at me through the Gory Hole. What type of sexual deviant enjoyed watching a man drop his innards? In its unflinching stare I notice that it’s not normal. The pupil wasn’t round, but an elongated horizontal slit; cold and deranged. I was transfixed, trapped in its unblinking hypnotic glare until an almighty roar shook the walls of the cubicle, nuts and bolts twisting and squeaking.
A shadow hit the floor. The sound of ripping fabric. I hurriedly tried to finish my business; wiped, wiped again, but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I reached down to pull my trousers up and that’s when I saw it, seeping like ooze from the cubicle next door, a red gelatinous, creeping mess. Pubic hairs became entangled within its blob-like texture; like branches in a tsunami, engulfed in its ever increasing current. It was blood. A lot of blood. I squirmed away, tussling with my trousers and struggling to swallow the chunks rising in my throat. Keep the damn pen.
“It’s OK, I don’t need the pen, you keep it…”
I reach for the cubicle door when the one next to me opens with a thud. I glance down at myself and witness a wet patch soaking through the fabric at the front of my trousers. I’d pissed myself. My bladder had finally given up, and I watched the trickle of piss snake its way down my leg. The ominous shadow creeped to the front of my cubicle, sharp taps hitting the floor, crawling like a large centipede. I instinctively checked the door was locked. There’s no way I would go out there now, to face this thing or face the ridicule of being a grown man who’s pissed himself. I could call my wife. She could pick me up or bring a change of clothes, like she was used to doing. I felt like a kid at pre-school. I pull my phone out, it was warm and wet, coated in piss and slippery. The screen lit up and displayed a lack of signal. Fucking great. The door rocked on its hinges and I leapt back with fright, slamming the toilet seat down, I jump up onto my porcelain stallion, and hide like a scared school boy from a bully.
The onslaught continued and with each BANG I regressed further up the toilet seat and further back into a child. I wondered how long the hinges would hold against this aggrieved pursuer. All I wanted was my pen; to write MISERY on the wall, was that too much to ask;
I sit cradling my knees, hoping the cleaners might arrive but then remembering the state of the toilet. The salvation I was clinging to was not likely to come. I was in the middle of nowhere, with no one nearby to help. I watched the thing bob back and forth under the door, like a snake preparing to strike. Had it tired itself out? Was this the time to escape? That’s when it began prowling outside the door again, like an animal, though it was me who was caged, its shadow contorted and twisted, like it didn’t have any bones, morphing from one shape to another, clicking and snapping with each contortion, a frisson of fear wracks my body.
Guttural sounds rang out from its mouth, drips of what I can only assume was blood mixed with saliva, peppering the floor outside the cubicle; the small gap beneath the door affording me a glimpse of my fate, if I were brave enough to attempt an escape. I glance up and see my salvation; a window. It was small, but I can fit. I’ll make myself fit. Standing on the toilet seat; my body shaking I try the handle; pull it toward me, nothing. It doesn’t work. The shape bangs on the door again; I almost slip off the toilet seat into the bowl, I inspect the window further and discover it’s been screwed shut; for safety or is this a trap. I search the frame for a weak spot and turn up nothing other than a poem, etched on the recess of the window frame, someone’s last thoughts, epilogue or parting words of wisdom?
‘You can paint this bathroom stall
mask the writing on this wall
hide the slanders once here sketched
cover up the dicks we’ve etched.
But no matter how you strain
all your efforts are in vain
every word will be rewritten
as long as man still sits here shittin’
Since writing on toilet walls is done neither for critical acclaim, nor financial rewards. It is possibly the purest form of art.
It’s not letting up. I need a way out or a patsy to arrive and quench this beast’s appetite. I stand on the toilet cistern; trying to see if I can attract attention, lure an innocent bystander into the mouse trap, replace me as the cheese, a sacrifice to appease this thing, but there is nothing, only empty forest thickets everywhere. My foot slips, and stamps down on the flush. The whooshing noise takes the shadow by surprise and it momentarily stops its stalking. I peer over my shoulder seeing the darkness grow and become larger beneath the door. I hear it sniffing, like an animal deciphering between pray or predator, fight or flight. The tension is palpable; I can feel the shadow leering in, getting closer, laying hold of me, imagining it strangling me, feel its suffocating embrace, squeezing the air out of my lungs. A noise invades the silence, a deep guttural cry which builds to a deafening crescendo. I drop onto the toilet seat, clutching my ears, trying to drown out the sound, my elbows resting on my damp trousers. The shadow backs away from the door, fluid in its motions, like an octopus on the ocean floor. Is it looking for another way in? My heart beats faster, my breathing is sharp and rapid, my hands feel clammy on my ears. I pull my hands away, to only be engulfed by the sound of the toilet cistern filling, its dribbling water, oddly comforting me in my time of need.
The heaving mass returns. I hear bones crunching; its determination to break in, unrelenting. It rattles the door, I check the hinges. What the fuck. The screws holding the top hinge in place are moving, like worms surfacing from the soil following rain. Another shudder of the door and a screw pops loose and clinks to the floor.
The light catches the small metallic screw and it glints up at me, slowly rocking back and forth like a baby in a manger. I watch in abject horror as clawed fingers appear in the gap beneath the cubicle door. The flesh mooring these blades of nails are dark and necrotic, a miasma of foulness swept in with its intrusion, the nails scrape at the screw; rapidly retreating with their catch, leaving a blood trail behind, gouges scratched into the floor. I hear it sniffing again and it laughs loudly; a deep, smoker’s laugh, which catches at the back of its throat, probably on the torn flesh of its last victim still ebbing their way into my cubicle in various hews of mucus.
I wasn’t going to be his next victim. I stood up, defiantly but cautious, not wanting to get too close to the edge of my cell and fall foul of his talons. I strain and twist as if performing my own yoga routine, trying to pick up the toilet brush. I turn as the creature hits the door, holding what looks like a shitty wand in my hand. Faecal matter and stained tissue spattering off the end and up the walls as if I’d cast a shit spell. Holding it in front of me I quickly realise my mistake and discard it with a clatter to the floor. The cistern is filling up when an idea forms in my mind, another tinkling sound, like a bell, cuts through the plethora of noise in my cramped coffin. I notice another screw lay lifeless on the floor.
I lift the toilet seat with a clank. Stare into the bog, and out of options I place my foot onto the basin and undo my soggy shoe laces, I pull off my damp sock. I repeat the procedure on my other foot. I discard my shoes and socks near the back of the cubicle and peel my wet trousers off. I strip out of the rest of my clothes and add them to the heap. I gingerly place my right foot in the toilet; the coldness of the water shocks me, but I soon ignore the discomfort when another screw hits the floor.
Thank goodness this was a Crap-O-Matic 2000, with the wider u-bend. This crazy plan just might work; I couldn’t let him get me. I forced my foot down, my toes disappearing into the pipe. I started flushing, the bowl filling up with water, the pressure building around my ankle. With my ankle at an awkward angle I put all my weight on it and felt a pop, I feel the joint hanging loose at the end of my leg; the pain instantaneous. Horrifically broken most likely, I was just glad I couldn’t see it. With the added water pressure; and my leg less structurally sound I push down even further. I slide in up to my knee, avoiding snapping my shin bone, but the time would come, I was sure of it. I forced my other leg down the shitter too. Each time the cistern filled, I pumped the handle again. Bones cracking, ligaments torn from moorings, skin splitting, the pain astounding, bright and white; settling right behind my eyes. I felt like a snake shedding its skin, the water splashing out of the toilet in crimson spurts with each pump of the handle. Compound fractures hidden from view. I pass out.
I awake with a thud, I try to lift my head, to abate the pain. I can feel the blood rushing back, down my spine in a calming trickle. I am hip deep in the toilet now, trapped, the water overflowing, pooling on the floor, brown, red and oily, noisome in its odour. My legs feel as one, as if I have somehow morphed into a snake or a slug. I can’t move them independently, they lay contorted, hidden from view, folded and broken most likely swaying in the U-Bend like a bloody fringe. Are they still attached? Was the GORY hole just a ruse, my pursuer adopting the tactics of an angler fish, bobbing a lure in front of its gaping jaws, before clamping down on its confused and inquisitive prey? It worked, it had lured me in with the Gory Hole, reeled me in, dangling a proverbial carrot before my eyes, something tantalising and lustful; pulling me closer and closer to my inevitable demise. It was a trap and I was the prized catch. How many travellers or people with cancerous bladders, those suffering from IBS had fallen foul of the same fate?
The sudden noise clears my fogged brain, pulling me out of my stupor. I crane my neck to look at the door, only one screw holding the top hinge in place. Then I feel a crack in my hip, my pelvis cleaves in two and my lower body crumbles in on itself, bone shards stabbing at my organs like an internal pin cushion. A metamorphosis taking place. As I lay snug in my porcelain cocoon, I can feel parts of me becoming entwined, legs stretched and twisted, intestines sucked from my prolapsed anus, floating away like jellyfish tendrils, long, thin and rubbery, pulled further into the toilets current. How I am still breathing is anyone’s guess, but the pain keeps me alive. I slide further down the toilet, my ribs, the next obstacle to overcome, and I reach out and grip the flush, pulling it down, the marbled water splashing up at my face. I wriggle around, trying to force my ribs down the tight bend. They give way and my ribs crack one by one, folding in on themselves on the lip of the U-Bend, consuming me like a Venus flytrap, snapping around me ensnaring my lungs. I start coughing up brown bile, clotted chunks, burning my throat as I expel them into the waste I’m nestled in. The crushing of my body and organs backs up my guts and stomach contents, forcing it out of the only available exit. It burns as clots dribble from my mouth into the water, I choke the rest back down as best I can, but it’s a fruitless exercise. I ferment in a fetid mixture of juices.
I slide further down, spinning around as I go. Facing the ceiling, I notice one final piece of graffiti.
‘It’s a trap’
Scrawled in what looks like blood. It’s my turn to be the vermin awaiting extermination, and like a rodent fleeing for its life, I am escaping down the shitter. My head lies in the pan, arms now nestling across my chest. I take a strange comfort from my position, unable to see the impending doom, lurking, stalking and slashing away at the door. I slide one arm into the bowl, knowing that my shoulders will be the toughest part. The door rattles and I hear it giving way. I pump furiously at the flush, not giving it time to refill. I struggle to breathe, my lungs collapsing under the stress, slowly suffocating. My head light and airy, my vision slowly going black. DON’T PASS OUT. I scream at myself as the door rattles. I flush again. My shoulder pops and crunches, wrenches out of its socket, pulled and extended down into the toilet, my hand wriggling over various oily masses, which are being towed away from me in tendrils of loose flesh. I’m up to my neck now; flushing like crazy so I don’t drown in the remaining water, my arm outstretched and gripping onto the flush with clawing searching fingers.
My head begins to feel constricted, like a melon about to pop. I take one final breath and let the water fill up, before one final flush. The water rises, covering my mouth, entering my nose, the pressure building. My lower jaw wrenches loose, like a snake dislocating its jaws around its prey. My teeth clatter and snap against the porcelain. I take on water, lungs filling like a burst lifeboat, ragged and flapping uselessly within my chest, deflated and redundant. At least this is the end I chose, not one dictated by external factors, or the impending cancerous death growing within me. The water continues to rise, parts of me floating within the whirling water; that’s when I hear it, the noise I hoped would never come. The slow rhythmic tinkle as the last screw hits the floor. With my outstretched arm I pull the flush, succumb to my fate, whatever that may be. I slide further down, snaking my way inside, my nose breaks in a bloody eruption, my stinging eyes peer out of the murky water. I see a black shape enter my blurred field of vision. Obscured within the bubbles of the water. I see it loom over me, peer unflinchingly down, two slits of eyes. My eye socket crumbles under the pressure, my field of vision clouded by a grey milky explosion. I feel my body being dragged away. Wherever I end up will be better than this. And with that parting thought I was gone.
Ross Jeffery is a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Most often than not found collaborating with Tomek Dzido and Anthony Self with either pen or camera. He is an avid reader of an eclectic mix of fiction and is a lover of the short story form. Ross has been published in print with STORGY Books Exit Earth (Daylight Breaks Through), Project 13 Dark (Bethesda)—his work has also appeared online at STORGY Magazine, About Magazine TX (After He’s Gone) and Idle Ink (Judgements). Ross lives in south Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie).
If you would like to follow him he’s on Twitter @Ross1982.