First published on The Open End (May 3rd 2011) //
The toilet is filled up a dark mess with dried paper stuck to the rim, climbing up and all around the once-white porcelain. The shit is piled high, lifted substantially by hardened masses of soggy arsewipe and other somehow unidentifiable matter; all of it reeking yellow of piss, shit and decay. We know that flushing only fills it further and faster toward emergency. We have a bucket waiting, but we don’t want to use it. For these reasons the toilet lid stays shut.
Some kind of wide-headed flat mushroom is growing out from underneath the bath, the second of its kind after I kicked it’s predecessor from its place a number of months ago. That first one sits shrivelled in the corner. The mould in here is reaching a toxic level, I have been advised. I have not felt its effects quite yet.
My flatmates room is very tidy and clean, save for boxes of rusks and bottles of Lucozade, and so on. At the moment he is sitting in there at his computer killing himself with crisps. He eats crisps while I squat over our broken shitter and drop another load in, wondering which of our existences is closer to hell. When it’s done I don’t even try to flush it. I shut the lid again. There are at least five different sources of urine in the bowl, though there’s an absence of other sources that refused to utilise the busy receptacle.
We cannot afford a plumber. I hope my flatmate will clean it because I am a coward and don’t want to get my hands dirtied. My job is taking care of the mushrooms. And I don’t remember if I blocked it in the first place; this is what seems to matter. But at some point the toilet filled and we kept dropping into it. Or at least I did. I get the feeling he is above this sort of behaviour.
It has been blocked for about two weeks now. I wake up early and run down to the local pub or McDonald’s, alternating between the two, and use their public restrooms. This is the current state of things. The McDonald’s toilets are surprisingly clean and smell fine. They are also well-lit though in a sterile way. Every day someone signs a sheet of paper that hangs by the hand drier. It tells you the toilets have been cleaned and checked in the past 24 hours. If not for the jog to get there and the situation in the flat, the circumstances would be ideal. You only have to endure the look they give to a running man, a look that means nothing to he who has a shit to drop. The rest of the people continue to eat their sundry McMuffins and don’t mind scatological words hanging over their heads.
In the paltry toilets of the pub across the road things are slightly different. There is a similar piece of documentation found by the sinks, saying something to the effect of “These toilets are maintained and checked by a professional”. Judging by the rushed squiggle of a signature and the squalid state of the tiled room in general, this professional seems to take less pride in their work than the McDonald’s managers. It is understandable. Faced with constipation, McDonald’s requires less maintenance. Faced with beer-shits and wildly sprayed piss, the pub has a slightly more grievous task set before them.
When it is done I walk out and get a sausage roll from the bakery. I sit in the bus shelter, as the bus is late. I have a trick for this. I light a cigarette and within moments the bus arrives. Like clockwork. I imagine it is the same most places.
Wherever it is I’m going, I sit/stand/hover and hum until the thing is over, then I can return to the mattress on the floor of my room. The bed snapped and broke during a party of red wine, tequila, oranges and schnapps, though these items perhaps portray an attempt at sophistication that was non-existent at the time, more so now. To be exact, it was only a few of the slats of the bed that gave way to too much weight, but we deemed in a rash move that the whole of it had been rendered useless. Its splintered limbs were thrown over the railing of the first floor where it clattered and waited to be scavenged by unknown entities. The rest of the dead bed was strewn about my bedroom, laying in wait for a few days. We eventually disposed of the rest in the woods and said something about sending it back home to where it belonged. It was pine though, and did not feel comfortable in the wild forest of tall oaks. Now the bed is just a mattress.
Soon I will move out. I have much work ahead of me if I am to regain the deposit. A shelf from Ikea is wobbling, parts of it smashed from a heavy knock it has received. There is also a huge stain of red wine on its cover, a cover made from some canvas-like material that, on advice, may not be compatible with the machines at the local dry-cleaners. It turns out it is, but will cost me twenty-five scabby English pounds to get back to new. I neglect to mention this to the person who spilt the wine, accepting the costs and overvaluing my reputation for this sort of thing.
I fix the wobbling row of shelves by turning it upside down and use one of the stronger bed slats to balance it out, hammering small nails in. I replace the cover and hope no one with the determination of a McDonald’s employee will inspect it. I clean the pencil drawings off the wall with wet toilet paper, which must be discarded in the bin and not the toilet.
My landlady obviously does not know the actual situation or reason for acquiring a new bed, because I have protected her from the reality. She believes my elaborate text-messaged story that I fell out of bed after it broke in the middle of the night all by itself, or at least she does not let on that she thinks my story is a lie. I take photos of bruises on my body in case she requires proof or the emotion: ‘sympathy’. These bruises came from separate incidents but I feel they are positioned well and large enough to argue my case. I am glad that I did not have to inflict the bruises on myself in rushed desperation.
Via reply text message, the landlady tells me the replacement must be a divan bed. The broken bed was not a divan bed. This makes me unsure of what I previously understood a divan bed to be, and Google doesn’t help much. I order the cheapest bed I can find on the Internet; not a divan. It comes from Tesco and costs the same as the dry-cleaning bill for the canvas sheet.
My girlfriend helps me open the package. Screws are missing, as well as some bolts. We curse Tesco and ourselves as we go down to a hardware store to find some replacements, but come back with the wrong size. We use them anyway. It takes a while to build; it is a weak pine, weaker than the first. Despite its feeble standing we use nails and hammers and staples to keep it all together.
My flatmate eats crisps in his room.
After some arguing over the construction of the ridiculous bed, it is completed. It makes worrying noises when touched so we don’t put the mattress on and instead lie down next to it. We plan to gently place the mattress on when the landlady arrives. We also begin to feel sorry for the next tenants who may actually fall through it, in earnestness rather than an invented deception. Nevertheless, there is relief in completing this stage of the plan.
I go to take a piss and lift the lid. A whiff of something like ambrosia comes up into my nostrils. I look down and see: There is no more shit, no more piss, no more dried paper caked along the rim. In the glory of it I decide to take a shit. I wipe using only minimal amounts of roll, three squares each time, a rule I have stuck to since (though toilets will be blocked). I flush, holding down the lever with expectancy and watch it suck it all in. All of the waste disappears. I wash my hands and go to thank my flatmate. He is onto the rusks now and sits back in his chair while he tells me about his struggle. It is a wonderful tale as some are, of ups and downs, twists and turns. He exaggerates but none of us mind. His face and mine gleam in triumph. He is a hero. I go to buy us all sausage rolls and milk.
We wait for the landlady to arrive. She comes days late.
I eventually move into the flat below, also owned by the same landlady, which has a door once fronted with scattered bed beams and smashed glass, next door to the man that came out at 4 am that night to tell us all to shut up.
Now I lie in bed and listen, hearing tender footsteps in the flat above, waiting for the new tenant to fall through his shitty bed, wondering what I will do when it happens.