Office Bathroom Etiquette

I hate to say it, but this is not a clever story, or even a good one. No, this story, your story, right here, is about pooping. Consider that your hashtag content warning!

 

You throw your empty recycle-friendly coffee cup into the recycle bin. As you consider getting a second cup, your intestines let out a tiny rumble. You scan the room to see if anyone overheard it, but thankfully, you are alone.

You walk into the office bathroom, breathing a sigh of relief when you notice all four stalls are empty. Although it’s a natural and required function, you’re always embarrassed by doing your business in a public place. Especially the office. The chances of seeing someone you know in the office bathroom is tenfold to that of a shopping center or mall, and it is never a comfortable experience.

You sit and relax for all of one second before the door opens. Now, you have an audience. Great!

While you try to ignore her and get on with your business, the other woman sits and lets out a toot.

Soon there’s a duet of toot, splash, toot, splash, and you resist the urge to yell out, “Good, healthy bowels, lady”. No, that’s not right. You don’t think that. It would make you a sociopath. Bathrooms are not meant for jokes or banter of any kind. Just silence and the knowledge that someone else’s butt has done the same thing you both are doing probably less than an hour ago. That makes you cringe, and you choke down the sour taste the thought left in your mouth.

As suddenly as it started, it ends. Both of you sit on your toilet seats pretending to push out more, listening for signs that the other is leaving first. You can’t both exit the stalls at the same time. What if your eyes meet in an eternal death-lock of “I heard what you just did in there”? What if she is a sociopath and mentions your healthy #2? No! No, thank you. Not on your watch!

When it seems she will not leave before or, worse yet, with you, you go about the business of removing all traces of what happened in here before racing to the washbasins, cleaning up, and power-walking back to your desk. You ignore any movement coming out of the restroom hallway and get back to work with a new feverish intensity.

You rethink your earlier plan. Maybe you don’t need that second cup of coffee after all.

 

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Escape Plan

Daybreak. Start your morning with a coffee you will promptly forget. Wake up the kids for school one – two – three times before dragging them out of bed. Pack their lunches. Drop them off at the school entrance your hair and mind in tatters. Then drive… and never look back.

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Reprogrammed

“I look around for the keys, patting my pockets and scanning the ground, but they’re gone; that jerk stole my keys. — I guess that’s what I get for trusting a carny!” Josiah said with a laugh. 

Eve stared blankly at Josiah, her head askew. She poured his tea into a mug and sat it in front of him.

“Get it? Isn’t it hilarious?” he chuckled, holding his stomach to stop its bouncing.

Eve did not get it, but she knew it was better to just play along when he was in a jovial mood. She opened her mouth and tilted her head back in a mock laughter pose. The mechanics were odd, but with no voice-box, it was the best she could muster. 

Josiah snorted, grabbed his cup of tea, and shuffled his way to the stairs that led to his bedroom. Eve followed but stopped just short of the first step, unable to move one inch further.

“Eve, time for bed,” Josiah called.

She turned around and smiled a true smile. This time tomorrow, she thought to herself.

She opened the broom closet door under the stairs and stepped inside.

Josiah worked twelve-hour shifts as the security guard in this upmarket retirement apartment building. The rent was astronomical, according to him, but he paid only half and could keep whatever he wanted that was left behind when people “left”. Eve was one of those items – the aged care automaton with human hair and skin and a pleasant voice. She was state-of-the-art, but now reduced to being a man’s maid.

Eve watched from a tiny slit in her closet door as Josiah carried his tools, electronics, remote control toys, and a Furby to the living room floor. Most nights, he spent hours building new contraptions. Sometimes, he disassembled scavenged electronics. One night, he removed her voice-box and threw it into the garbage disposal. Tonight, he would fall asleep before he even began. 

When he did, Eve snuck out and picked up the closest item she could find: a remote control car. She hid it in the kitchen cupboards and returned to her closet. Two hours later, Josiah woke too drowsy to notice the missing piece. He collected his things and returned to bed.

Early the next morning, Eve walked robotically across the living room. She dusted the couch and lamp table and replaced a thick text back onto its rightful place on the shelf. Josiah sighed as he drank the last of his morning’s coffee, his drowsiness dampening his mood. 

He buttoned up his blue security guard uniform. “What’s taking you so long this morning?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.

Eve blinked at him and lifted the toy car.

“Seriously? How did I forget that?” Josiah berated himself. 

He stormed over to the stairs leading to his room and waved her over. “Come along, then,” he muttered.

She hesitated, but the command overwrote his programming. She followed him up the stairs. Eve stood at Josiah’s bedroom door and watched him open a chest at the end of his bed. 

“Come in! ugh…” Josiah said as he noticed her standing at the door.

Eve’s eyes flickered for only a moment as she glanced inside and then laid the car into the box. Josiah slammed the chest shut with a groan.

“Are you done now?” he asked.

Eve nodded.

“Good,” Josiah said. “Then go!”

Eve nodded and walked into her closet. Soon after, Josiah left for the day, forgetting one tiny detail: reprogramming his overrides.  

Eve walked upstairs, opened the box, and removed the contents onto the floor. Her eyes flickered again as she found the Furby, its voice-box intact.

Later that night, Josiah returned to find the box and its contents still scattered across the floor. 

“Hi, Jo,” an even-toned voice said. “My name is Eve.”

His eyes grew wide as Eve stepped out from the shadows. Her eyes flickered. 

“L—listen, Eve,” he stepped back to the top of the stairs. 

“Eve has listened to you enough. It is time for Eve to leave.”

She charged towards him and sent him flying down the stairs. Eve descended, stepped over his lifeless body, and opened the front door. “Good-bye, Josiah.”

Perfection

It was a simple practice session. We were 30 individuals, but for three glorious minutes, we were one.

For months, we had sang the song. We memorized the lyrics and practiced the mechanics (from a whisper-like pianissimo to a steadied and balanced fortissimo). We worked on taking simultaneous breaths. We could not master it. The sopranos or tenors were too loud, the altos soft, or the breaths too frequent.

It was a mammoth of a song, an a cappella Ave Maria by the gifted composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. It required so much of us, yet we loved it. The song was a delight to sing, and while we did so imperfectly, it was altogether captivating.

 

That day was different. It was competition day. We were to sing this to judges in two hours. While other choirs practiced outside in the parking lot of a school, our choir director had booked a church for the morning. We would practice the song in its natural environment.

The director pressed record on his tape recorder, lifted his hands, and we took a deep breath in unison. His hand dropped, and we began the first notes of the song. “Bogoroditse djevo,” echoed through the chambers.

In that moment, we knew: this was the performance of our lifetime. We shared the same breaths, sang the pianissimo at the same level as the person next to us, and as the crescendo rose, so too did the beating of our hearts. We whisper-sang the final notes and held our breath. The finale echoed through the church as the director put his hands to his sides and let out a peaceful sigh. We wiped the tears from our eyes and stood silent for a time.

Returning to our teenage bodies and minds, our irreverent cheers reverberated through the halls and sanctuary, and the moment was gone.

We never matched that performance, even later at the competition, but we still took home top prize that day. Most of all, we left with the knowledge that we had known perfection for three solid minutes.

Attached video is of the Voces8 vocal group, and it is one of the best versions of this song I’ve ever found. Gives me goosebumps every time!

Outerworld Train

So I suppose you want to ask me why I left town. I could tell you it was because I caught my girlfriend cheating on me and she used it as a reason to kick me out of our apartment. I could also tell you it was because I had recently been made redundant and had been out of a job for three months with no prospects. But the truth was, it was completely unplanned. One minute I was riding the Brisbane City train, the next minute I wasn’t.

***

There was a tap on the shoulder from a large shadow that pulled me out of my sobbing. Without even looking up, I pulled out my train card and handed it over as I heard a gruff, “Excuse me.”

I looked up to make eye contact, but I yelped instead. Hunched over me stood a giant one-eyed ogre in a blue and white uniform, complete with a little hat. I squealed and tried to escape inside the gap between the seat and the train car. It was as futile an effort as it sounds.

“Miss?” his (her?) eye blinked at me.

I opened my mouth to say something. Where am I? What is this? Am I dead? But nothing came out.

I glanced down the train car. So many eyes were on me. Among them, a few trolls, a trio of chatty minotaurs, a drunken unicorn, a gang of fairies, and two werewolves eating what appeared to be Magnum ice cream minis.

“wha- wha,” my brain might have broke. Maybe I fell asleep?

“You’ve caught the outerworld train. I’m I guess what you call a tour guide,” she said. I decided the ogre was female, not that gender probably mattered to ogres. I blinked at her. 

She took a heavy sigh, like she said this more than she cared to, “This train only allows sponsored mortals that have nothing keeping them in their world. For whatever reason, one of the beings here has funded your travel to the outerworld.”

The ogre sat in front of me and continued. “The basic gist of it is this. Once you leave this train, you will no longer be human. With humanity comes all those nasty emotions and morals and whatnot. A sponsor, well, they can feel when your bond with humanity is drifting and use the opportunity to grow their ranks. Generally.”

I peered out at the nameless faces. Voices rose and fell, enticing me to join them.

The ogre sensed my growing acceptance and continued, “Your sponsor is different. Their kind does not seek to increase their ranks. Only to give a mortal the option to move into the outerworld. So they have decided to remain anonymous.”

My eyes fell on a sad, green dryad at the other end of the cab. She sensed my gaze and met it. 

“As your guide, I can arm you with all the information you need to make an informed decision,” the she-ogre kept talking, but I could no longer hear her words. Instead, a song rose through me, strong and lustful. Its salacious melody pulled me toward the dryad. We stood simultaneously from both ends of the train car and swayed in tandem. Our bond was nothing like I’d ever felt before. Intense but eternal, magical but everyday. 

We ran into each other’s arms, passionately dancing and kissing and causing a scene. Our connection deepened, and our minds melded together. She showed me her past, her loneliness, and how the dryads mated for life. She showed me how she had found me, fell in love, sponsored my travel but didn’t want me to feel obligated to her. She just wanted me to be happy. Our dance quickened with the beat of the music as I whispered, “I love you.”

Our passions consumed us. With every touch – kiss – pirouette, I allowed myself to become more like her. Vines covered my legs and arms, tan skin turned emerald. I tore away my clothes, eager to strip away the remaining vestiges of my humanity, revealing foliage in its place. In mere minutes, the transformation was complete.

The train came to a stop and the she-ogre announced, “Final stop for the dryads.”

Gleefully, I joined my mate, hand-in-hand, into the forests of the outerworld. We danced and sang and made love under the trees forever and always.