By Amelia Leff
I’m alone. I’m alone inside the second to last stall positioned on the right wall in the massive Hartsfield-Jackson Airport bathroom. The one solid cream tiled wall, two flimsy barriers that don’t quite touch the floor, and squeaks-when-opened dull blue door makes me feel tense, smothered, far-off, makes me mistakenly think I’m in a coffin six feet under: a fluorescent lit, chemically scented, sterile coffin surrounded by familiar noises that always sound unfamiliar when in the presence of others.
My feet are planted firmly on the shiny-in-some-places-flat-in-others floor. With my toes pointed at the toilet, my shoulders squared up, I challenge the blank bowl. The toilet doesn’t glint in the unpleasant light; it’s not porcelain. It’s a matte white, probably made of a faux, cheaper ceramic. The strip of light above me makes an electric, buzzing sound and strongly flickers. Is it overheated and going to explode, releasing the mercury within it, or is a lone fly trapped in the prism of distorted plastic, repeatedly swan diving into the light, trying again and again to escape? Fluorescent bulbs highlight the world at its worst.
There’s a muddy water kind of feeling in my stomach, a deep growling in my tracts, and a shallow bubbling in my throat. A mangled hand belonging to some devious creature is Indian burning my soft organs and tight heart. Lava made of angst and discomfort travels along the nooks and crannies underneath my skin. At this moment, eruption is the best thing that could happen.
My shins are pressed against the front rim of the toilet bowl. The coldness of the not-porcelain bleeds through the denim of my jeans, causing each individual hair, that I don’t care enough or have enough energy to shave, to rise up with little bumps at their bases.
The bowl’s not clean. It’s mostly clean, but I know some woman with thighs and a butt that could encompass me entirely, with plenty of room to spare, has probably left behind some minute fleck of dead skin or fecal matter. My jeans are now dirty, tainted. The aura of that woman’s butt twists and twirls in an unsolicited pirouette around my legs. When I get out of here, if I make it out of here, my shins will come in contact with countless untainted by bathroom micro-life things: my father’s suitcase, a child’s or little person’s backpack, the back of the seat in front of me on the airplane, all of the air in the pressurized cabin, every last molecule. Denim does not go well with denim or remnants of bathroom excursions; bleach is a precious thing. My stomach is going to explode.
My chest and waist form a ninety-degree angle. My compressed breasts cast an insubstantial shadow on my stomach and left forearm. My left hand clutches and pulls at my right rack of ribs. A silver metal vent above me kicks on, releasing a cool jet of air, signaling the customary little mounds of flesh underneath the skin on my right arm to move through and above the surface. My right hand, tinted with thin blue rivers flowing under a layer of clashing red and white, shakes at the wrist and vibrates at the fingertips. With the longest finger extended, I shakily move my hand towards the pink, shadowed gap between my cracked and pealing lips. My tongue retaliates against the thin osseous limb, throwing itself up and forward. My finger jolts to the back of my throat, past the revolting pink strip of muscle, the knuckles clipping my two front teeth.
A quaking feeling shakes the inner lining of my throat. My organs rise up in a swell of acid. The burning bloody hand crawls in an instant up my torso, the fingertips probably visible beneath the skin. Retching, retching, retching. My fingers and toes curl and clench. Heaving, heaving, heaving. My lower back moans in agony, pleading for relief. My sharp shoulders roll forward, nearly up and over themselves. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Only another dry heave. The pseudo-weight in my stomach remains. The relief, the loss of pressure that comes with losing something, evades me. The tendon’s in my neck slowly stop quivering and start to settle back down into place. Deep breaths make the queasiness nearly unbearable, but fill my lungs with air, tainted air, but still oxygen.
The sound of a two-legged horse intensely trotting reverberates through the entire bathroom. I hear the thump of pumps closing in on me. Click-clack, click-clack. A woman in clunky high heels clumsily clamors her way into the stall next to me. The door’s lock clicks. The ardent din of her stilettos still bounces back and forth in the space between my skull and brain, adding to the unease. The sound of a skirt rising up, pantyhose going down, and the toilet moaning a bit comes from behind the rickety, definitely not soundproof barrier on my right. I tilt my head down and to the side and see the pair of leopard print bottom sprayed red heels pointed in the opposite direction of my feet. Bulging veins streak down the slopes of flesh that finish at the shoe-shaped animal hide. I sigh and take a deep breath that has the depth of a puddle.
I’ve been in this pine box for at least five minutes, maybe more, definitely not less: fifteen minutes till take-off and counting. I’ve been in here long enough for my family to assume that I’m crouched over the toilet in unrest, but short enough for my mother not to realize she’s supposed to get worried and come looking for me. Everything my mother does is “supposed.” She does this because she’s supposed to, and she does that because the television told her to. She is a walking water-fringed Ladies’ Home Journal. A stream of piss exits Probably Fake Louie Vuitton High Heels, making the sound of a miniature roaring waterfall. Another shallow, deep breath. Another dry heave to come.
My right middle finger goes forward and down again. My abdominal muscles go into a serpentine spasm. All of my joints creak. A super pressure rises up my body and out my throat only to find itself placed back deep inside the cavern between my two racks of rickety ribs. A ringing, certainly from a phone, probably an iPhone, ricochets off every ceramic surface in this place, the source coming from the stall next to me. The roaring waterfall abruptly dries up. The ring-a-ding-ding stops, and a “Hello” tainted with a New Jersey turnpike flair radiates from Faux Louis Vuitton High Heels. “No, no. I’m not busy. I’m not busy.” Might as well try puking again. “Yes, I can talk. I can talk.” Twelve minutes till take-off.
Spit and mucus are the only things that come up and out. Is it delusional of me to think something can come out of nothing? I didn’t eat anything this morning or the night before because I knew that the beast of anxiety would jump on me and gnaw at my neck. I knew it would sink its teeth and claws into my airway, oxygen becoming more valuable than gold. I shouldn’t be surprised that its scaled and fur-clumped back stretches the lining of my stomach, that its tail has my tongue noosed, pressuring the rose flap to slide down my throat.
The pressurized cabin of the 747 will only make The Monster stronger. The presence of my family will only make me weaker. A plane ride spent squashed between my un-precocious brother and my not-quite-there father is the secret part of Hell underneath the traditional Hell that no one talks about. A Hell where everything is bright and beautiful, where you are surrounded by things that are “supposed” to make you happy, yet there are burning tears in your eyes and a deep disorienting feeling of regret in your bones. The toilet-paper dispenser screeches behind the barrier on my right. “What, that was nothin’, that was nothin’. Just static or somethin’. So anyways, I was givin’ her the look. You know the look I always give people…Yeah that one.”
My feet and spine are starting to ache: ten minutes till take-off. It’s me, this toilet, and my anxiety waltzing back and forth, seeing who will take the lead. The front rim of the bowl is no longer cold; I’ve mutually shared my heat with it in hopes that it will also take the contents of my stomach and the humanoid chimera inside of me. The light above me begins to flicker and sputter again. Little popping sounds buzz overhead. A crackling, like that of a miniature lightning strike, comes from the two light cylinders. The twelve-year-old mutant monstrosity continues to rumble and growl.
The Monster was born when I was first able to define fear in my five-year-old vocabulary. Electric streaks of thundering light would burst through the windows, forming ghoulish shadows, turning familiar objects into creepy, deformed creatures. I would wait and wait for the massive boom that would always follow the blond dance, my heart skipping every other beat.
The sound of a phone, probably an iPhone, crashing on tile resonates throughout the bathroom. “Shit! … Hey, are you still there? Are you still here? … You are! Good, good. Now as I was sayin’, it was just jammed up there …Yeah stuck! Anyway the whole situation was just awkward, almost unbearable.”
I would plug my ears with my two middle fingers and cover my entire body with my comforter. Fetal position, sweat and tears staining my cheeks a translucent gloss, muscles nearly bursting from tightness, I would ready myself, but the bang would always shake and scare me. The Monster gorged on my insides for hours on end.
The Monster still loves to dine on my flesh. It grows stronger and stronger with every bite. It gets induced into a frenetic frenzy by the starting of an engine, be it of a car or a plane. The sound of close-up footsteps or far-off whispers gets it going. A masturbatory effect comes over it when it senses even the smallest drop of discomfort in the ocean of my mind. It thrives when I’m out of my element. It thrives when the smell of cough syrup and cheap cologne enters its triangular nostrils. Six minutes till take-off.
The Monster’s sharpened fingernails grip onto my stomach, my lungs, my heart, my throat, my bones, my mind, ripping away little bits of me, tearing into me, putrefying my flesh with its toxic secretions. This is me being pried apart piece by piece. This is my tendons slowly disintegrating, my joints popping out of place, my throat swelling, almost shut. This is me with a festering gash from my chin to my navel, letting in the synthetic light, the dirt and germs, letting out my blood and gooey parts, letting them spill out of me, finally being untethered; evisceration is freedom. This is me recounting, trying to figure out what went wrong, what is wrong. This is me looking for loopholes and take-backs. This is me losing, losing to it, losing it. This is me ruminating on all the nightmares I had as a child, all the nightmares I still have.
This is The Monster eating away at you. This is putting a finger down your throat. This is jumping out of the minivan, falling, and not catching yourself. This is playing Legos and basement basketball with Simon, with Simon who no longer lives on the corner of Valley View and Vine. This is the story of the Jellybean Owl coming alive from the movement of Grandpa Phil’s vocal cords. This is a forgotten dream-like childhood filled with Dumbo and Yellowstone. This is pacing back and forth in the blue carpeted hallway for hours upon hours, never having enough guts to wake your parents up. This is seeing blood for the first time in the bathroom while lightsabers clash in the background. This is getting knocked senseless by a dimpled ball hit with a five-iron, the sibling who did it never saying sorry. This is a retching gut. This is The Monster plucking and strumming each individual nerve running down your spine, creating a symphony of misery. This is the way the French move their tongues against their teeth against their lips, the way you can only imitate. This is the kid you sat next to during eighth period U.S. History polishing the railroad tracks down by the river with his teeth. This is repeatedly playing a sharp song until it loses its edge. This is finding bugs in the floral wallpaper your mother lined the house with. This is the kid version of Jeffrey Dahmer asking you out. This is the rising action. This is The Monster spazzing out inside your brain, pounding and pounding against the flimsy, grayish membrane. This is the strange kid breaking down under RFK’s shadow from too much muzak and aftershave. This is a Hawk yelling at you and the nude picture girl about sporks and getting your fucking life together. This is your mother with tearstained cheeks doing the dishes at four in the morning. This is experiencing menopause at the age of sixteen. This is words stuck, tacked to the tip of your tongue. This is an inescapable alliteration of letdowns. This is 123, 123, 123, not clean enough, 123, 123, 123. This is mirrors, mirrors, everywhere. This is repeatedly telling yourself you’ll love them tomorrow. This is epiphanies discovered at night only to be soon forgotten in the morning. This is long walks and bridges clicking. This is missing having all the bumps and bruises and all the anxieties calmed by a single hug. This is everything slipping into nothingness. This is The Monster taking the lead, winning.
This is me bent over an expressionless toilet in some chaotic, foreign-to-me airport with one minute till take off. “Alright, well I gotta go. I gotta go. Nice chattin’ to you. No, no I wasn’t in the middle of anythin’, nothin’.” The toilet to my right flushes. Vapors from the movement of the toilet water shimmy and shake over and under the divider. Pantyhose goes up, skirt goes down, door pops open, high heels clack away. I breathe in, trying to fill my lungs with something, anything. I flush the toilet and stand up as straight as I can muster. Another breath. I swallow, attempting to push The Monster back down into its murky lair. I turn around towards the shaky, dull blue door. The Monster grumbles and groans. Another deeper breath.
I am alone.
Amelia Leff is a junior at Ohio Northern University. She is majoring in creative writing.