[Prose] Ahead of the Curves

by Robert Gould

Let’s take a step over the magazine soaking in urine. It’s safe to assume that’s urine pooled in the gorges scarring these bathroom floor tiles. Tonight, we’re taking a seat, but we’ll be careful; careful to the point of pedantry. Our tights are only pulled as far as our knees. Nervous fingers sit inside them, fluttering and straining against the black elastic. Our red pumps have only the toilet’s sad ceramic pedestal to partition themselves from that dirty floor. They sit perched, with heels digging into the leaking fissures.

Time spent in these spaces should instill us with modesty. We all perform foul tasks on a daily basis, even the creole socialite who looks up us from her now wet and crinkled magazine cover. She’s been shot from the pelvis upwards. A sheet of cotton-candy-coloured vinyl has been seemingly stretched across her body. A headline of “AHEAD OF THE CURVES” arcs above her like a colourless rainbow. The shadows granted by these new folds made her dull expression appear more loaded. Her eyes seem narrowed yet pronounced, as if peering from behind a hijab. The bubbled paper brought already plump lips into the third dimension. Yet all we can think is even this Goddess, this internationally renowned beauty – even she has bowel movements.

But there’s no one to share in this fresh humility. We’re most likely alone in this train station bathroom, and we’re definitely alone in this cubicle. The blue Formica-like walls of each one curve into the floor, and are clumsily grouted into it. The walls are thick: should there be a struggle, you might not hear it. Should there be violence, blood can’t trickle through.

But let’s have a listen. The cistern above our head sounds hungry. The chain hangs straight as a rod. But wait just a moment – is that weeping we hear? Well, it certainly isn’t snorting. No one could be so disillusioned with their life that they would get high in such a miserable station. Then again, perhaps it was a coping mechanism. These bathrooms are putrid. A single glance could reduce a pillar of society into a degenerate in desperate need of inebriation. Where are the cleaners? What exactly are they being paid for?

Let’s take a step over the magazine soaking in piss. It’s safe to assume that’s piss pooling in between these tiles. Tonight, we’re hopping from tile to tile until we reach the sinks, evading the thin crucifixes of piss along the way. We’ll be careful; careful to the point of pedantry.

A sudden hiss! We shiver. Flick your neck. Follow the sound. We can’t do it, though, can we? There are two sources, two air fresheners at opposite ends of the room; one above the sinks, and one above the hand-dryer. They are timed to coincide. They are timed to conceal.

What are they hiding?

“What are you hiding?” we utter breathlessly.

Two beams of lavender-scented mist working together, unknowingly. Let’s swallow a wad of saliva wrought from terror. Let’s take a walk to the other three cubicles. We have no time for pedantry now; ridding ourselves of paranoia is far more important. Clumps of once-wet tissue paper have been twisted to spell out an expletive on our first door. We’ll push it in and find… nothing at all. We’ll carry on.

The next door bears a big battered sticker promoting organic food. It seems to be the most welcoming of the cubicles, and a look inside proves the theory true. The floor is comparatively clean. There is even a sanitary bin and toilet brush supplied. The only drawback is a smell that grows stronger and stronger as you trace it to the next door…

Crack! Slap! The door bounces back to us after a fierce kick, allowing for only a flash of the trauma inside. But we know what we saw.

A man, crossed legs, a forehead, a bullet hole. Blood splattered like a tribal headdress on the wall behind him. A jumpsuit and a badge.

Here is the cleaner. What was he killed for?

And in this destitute station, who are you going to tell?

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