The bathroom at work was always kind of crummy. It was just run down. Lifeless. There was no personality to it. It could have been any generic bathroom in any generic building in this particular city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m asking for anything fancy. I don’t need a makeup station, an array of perfume samples, or a four-string quartet serenading me as I go. There was just something that always depressed me about it. Six stalls, but two were always “out of service.” There was a mismatching pair of chairs huddled near the entrance, both burned in different spots by a carelessly hot curling iron. One of the sinks just wouldn’t turn on. I don’t even think it was connected to any pipes.
And then there was the stink. Yeah, it’s a bathroom, but there was always the hint of something else backing up in the drains. I don’t know if it died long ago, but it wasn’t anything I could easily identify.
I spent at least one-sixth of my workday in that bathroom. I drank a lot of water, and was carefully monitoring my blood sugar, as I always did since I was a kid. It wasn’t like any of the few non-work-from-home colleagues were ever surprised to see me get up and go. I was in there day after day, running to the faraway bathroom because there were nuclear-sized cockroaches in the one closest to me. One crawled out from under the seat as I was getting up, and that was the end of that. So I’d trek to the creepier one multiple times a day, during my five-and-a-half hours inside that building. I’d occasionally see other women in there, but it was few and far between.
Then one day, I walked in to see someone in a stall. Only her door was wide open. I didn’t actually see her. Just her feet. She was sitting in the last stall, the piss-yellow door swung wide open. I didn’t hear anything as I walked past the big plush chairs. I didn’t dare ask anything, but I did think it was weird. Why would you leave the door open in a work bathroom? Why would you do that anywhere? But I kept it to myself. She could have been having a moment for all I know. Who isn’t guilty of coming into the bathroom for a good cry when no one’s looking?
I went into the stall nearest to the exit, feeling like getting too close would somehow be bothering her. I leaned far over and looked under the partition enough to make sure her feet were still there. They were. It didn’t matter either way, it’s not like I could recognize who it was just from her shoes. I finished my business, flushed, and went to the sink to wash up. I wasn’t trying to turn my head too much, but I felt it necessary to keep an eye on those shoes. There wasn’t any sign of movement either. I grabbed some paper towels, barely dabbed my hands, and left.
I didn’t use the restroom the rest of the day.
Next day. My shift began fine. I drank water as normal, but was putting off the urge to use the restroom for as long as I could. Maybe I should wait until the sun starts coming up and I can see a little bit of daylight pour into the office. Then it would be safe to go, right? Nothing bad can happen to me if it’s not the witching hour, right?
I couldn’t hold it anymore by 5:37am. The sun wasn’t up, but it would have to do. I hustled past the empty desks, swearing I got a whiff of that bathroom stink as I got up.
And…nothing. She wasn’t there. No one else was in the bathroom with me. Nor the other time I went that morning. Or the next day. The feet were gone. The bootcut black jeans and matching Converse sneakers just weren’t poking out anymore. They stopped showing up.
But the door remained open. And it never looked like it had just lightly swung open. It looked like it was stuck out of time, like something was yanking it parallel with a tight grip.
One day while coming back from the bathroom, I ran into one of my friends from another team. I barely exchanged pleasantries with her before asking if she noticed anything weird about that door.
She looked at me like I had two heads.
Whatever. I didn’t see the feet, I didn’t care.
Monday rolled around. I was finally feeling good after feeling crappy for so long. It was a successful weekend full of cleaning, exercise, and arrangements. I was finally getting a hold on my health again. It was as if I made a conscious decision to actually feel good for once. I brought my cooked breakfast into the office that morning and only needed one cup of black coffee to start things up. I was about to get to work and produce something no one had ever seen before. I felt grounded, confident, and actually sure of myself for once.
But first, a bathroom trip.
The feet were back.
Because of course they were.
My blood froze when I noticed. The stall door was still wide open. But it felt colder this time. The yellow tint from the lights gave off a sickly glow. It hung thicker in the air this, sliding down the walls like paper-thin skin off the muscle. My stomach flipped. I wanted to be sick. To hurl my insides out. The air was getting greasier by the moment. And there were the feet. The bootcut black jeans. The Converse. She was back.
But she never actually left, did she?
I felt the beckoning to her stall. Just one peek at who this may be. I hadn’t told a soul about her, no one else knew she was there but me. I stepped through the quagmire and down to the final stall. Her stall. I needed to see her. Or perhaps, she needed to see me. I was burning inside with questions; who are you, where did you come from, and is everything all right? I had to know. She was begging me to see her all this time. She was gearing me up to prepare me for this moment. All the good days I was having were all engineered by her. She wanted me to get here. It was meant to be. I ignored the burning of the stink in my nostrils as I got closer to her stall. There was static surrounding the door as it pulsed, an underground heartbeat that matched my own. I didn’t dare touch it. The pounding in my ears was deafening as I took one giant step forward and turned toward the open stall.
There she stood. Not sitting. Standing. She was wet, black hair stuck to her face, cascading down her shoulders like decaying, dead eels. She was dressed all in black, looking like a high school sketch of a mopey emo girl. Just jagged. Icy. Petrifying. My breath caught in my throat as we looked at each other, eyes locked and unwavering.
She was me.
I was looking at me.
But her eyes were different. The crystal blue eyes locked onto me, pupils like pinholes that sucked me in.
And she was smiling.
A big, toothy, unsettling smile that made my stomach turn over. Her mouth was so big I could swear she had more than thirty-two teeth crammed in there. It seemed to stretch far past her ears, but never actually reached her eyes. I could have projectile vomited right then and there if I was able to move. The stink was unbearable, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
“Wh-who are you?” I asked.
She stood there, smiling, eyes never wavering from mine. I felt a bead of sweat drip down my brow as her shoulders began to rise and fall. With a squeak and a squelch she bounded toward me, the Converse’s rubber soles scraping the tile like an unholy violin scratch. I didn’t even get a chance to process before her wet hands went to my neck, grabbing at me with wormlike fingers, clenching around my throat and cutting off my air.
My hands grasped at hers as she pushed me back, her dark eyebrows pushing down, clenching her brow but not her eyes. It felt like she was draining away my soul with those soulless blue orbs. I gasped and choked, my hands sliding off her slimy fingers, unable to hook mine anywhere to possibly loosen her grip. She slammed me backward into the sink with such force, it crashed right off the wall, the pipes spraying ice cold water all over us. My head cracked into the porcelain as she got me on my back, pinning me down, draining my life while hailstones beat down on every part of my body. I wanted to fight her off, but the inhuman strength kept me down, threatening to take it all a way in a flash.
And all the while, her eyes never left mine.
I woke up in the hospital. My parents of course rushed into the city the moment the heard. My mom was beside herself and dad just wanted to know what happened. The doctors thought I had some kind of epileptic fit after they found me, mouth foaming, surrounded by a broken sink and a soaking wet bathroom. There were no marks on my neck, I was just banged up from the fall.
I took a little time off from work after that. They put me on seizure medication. But I never took it. I didn’t need to. Because I knew exactly what had happened. I told my friends and co-workers that the last thing I remember was looking in the mirror and passing out. But that isn’t exactly it.
“Please,” I wished to her as she choked the life out of me, “Please don’t kill me. I’ll do anything you want. Just please let me live.”
She stopped in an instant. Her brow uncurled. The smile stayed. But her eyes did something else. I sensed a slight softening as she went searching for the truth in my eyes. To trust that I knew I had just made a promise, and would have to fulfill it if she spared my life. I was her and she was me. And she knew I’d make good on my promise.
She answered me the way I pleaded, her one sentence rippling into my mind. “Let me live with you,” she said, voice bouncing through my head like a broken piano. Fearing that she’d crush my throat for real this time, I blinked once, allowing her access and granting her request. Her eyes closed like steel vaults and she disappeared, erupting into a flurry of water droplets. She splashed over me, my skin absorbing her like water beads on a dried-out sponge. I lay there on the floor, not sure of what I had just promised but glad to be out of the situation. I closed my eyes and let them find me.
I haven’t seen her again. But I feel her every day. She’s taken up residency, and now my entire life outlook has changed. I’m shorter with people. I’m rude and curt. Sarcastic remarks I have to tack onto everything makes everyone not want to talk to me. Who wants to engage with a perpetual teenager who always has a smart-alecky comment? There’s nothing cute about that. It’s driving everyone crazy, and I can feel myself doing it. I’m just unable to stop myself. I’m like a stinking wet blanket, hurled off a rooftop and onto the crowd below. I know it’s making me sound like a shitty person, but it’s like I have only one choice.
And I do it all with a smile that never seems to leave my face.
And every night, at exactly 3:00am, I wake up laughing for one uncontrollable minute before falling back asleep.
I should have just taken my chances with the cockroaches. At least they mind their business. They wouldn’t get me in a position where I’d have to wish away my soul and live with whatever this is.
Me and my big, stupid mouth.