Liz Brown

AFTER LUNCH

     Cassandra had been staring at the pubic hair on the toilet seat for almost a full minute, struggling to gain control of her rage and maintain focus. She tried to convince herself that what she was looking at could very well be a "fresh" pube that had innocently wafted onto the seat when a perfectly hygienic young woman had wiped a bit too enthusiastically a few minutes before. The integrity of the bathroom would seem less compromised, Cassandra thought, if she could convince herself that the pube on the seat in front of her was a new arrival. 
     It was useless to try to trick herself. This pube clearly had a history. It had been there long enough to affix itself to the toilet seat by gelling with a spot of dried urine that had come to act as a horrific epoxy. It was a revolting scene that told Cassandra someone equally revolting had used the toilet before her.
     Cassandra, who had made her daily one o’clock trip to the office bathroom to throw up after lunch, now felt like she no longer needed her usual vomiting aid (a bottle of Ipecac) which she kept in the quilted tote bag now clutched close to her body for security. For the first time she could remember, Cassandra felt like puking without help.
     Cassandra stumbled as she backed out of the single stall in the pink and white, fluorescent-lit bathroom. She pulled a liberal stack of paper towels from the metallic dispenser and doused them with pink liquid hand soap and burning hot running water. Cassandra could feel her lunch of pizza and buffalo wings digesting furiously, reminding her she had no time to waste.
     Cassandra wrung the stack into a huge, wet, soapy rag and then turned back towards the toilet, brandishing the clump of towels in front of her like an antibacterial shield. She kicked the door of the stall back open and covered her mouth as she wiped down the seat with desperate, angry scrubbing gestures. She felt the pubic hair free itself from the seat and then tossed the clump of towels into the bowl with a yelp. She leapt to a standing position and kicked the toilet handle violently to flush away the abomination. It was gone.
     Cassandra took the briefest moment to collect herself and then got back to the business of regurgitation. She removed a small, pink plaid blanket from her totebag and laid it down in front of the toilet like a Muslim might a prayer rug. Now fully engrossed in the rhythm of her daily ritual, Cassandra knelt down and lifted up the toilet bowl seat.
     She gasped in horror. There were three more pubes sticking to various spots on the toilet rim affixed there with other glue-like substances in varying shades of yellow and brown.
     “WHY?” Cassandra cried out loud.
     “HOW?” she sputtered with the same incredulity.
     Cassandra stood up, collected her vomit rug from the floor, stuffed it back into her bag unceremoniously and stormed out of the bathroom into the office down the hall. She stood in the reception area and let her eyes roll over every employee in the office. The pube-shedder was among them. Cassandra was determined to identify the offender and hold her accountable.
     The bathroom was only accessible to female employees of Candlebaum Advertising Associates, and the key laid in a basket on Millie the receptionist's desk near the front door. Millie was a fat woman in her mid-sixties with a fire-engine red permanent hairdo. Most members of Candlebaum Advertising Associates had, at some time during their tenure, received a lengthy unintentional voicemail message from Millie in which they were treated to the sounds of her fumbling around her desk, swearing to herself and singing excerpts from H.M.S. Pinafore, unaware she was being recorded.
     Cassandra examined Millie coolly, considering whether or not she could be the pube-shedder. Millie certainly used the bathroom a great deal, but as Cassandra thought about it she decided that the pubes in question were not likely to be hers. Millie’s pubes would have been pure white, or at least graying. The pubes on the toilet seat had been dark. They belonged to someone more youthful. 
     Millie wasn’t the shedder.
     Cassandra let her eyes drift away from Millie and focus on the second possible culprit—Katie. Katie was the sexy new 20-something copywriter that Cassandra imagined all of the men in the office were likely masturbating to daily in their own bathroom at the other end of the hallway. Katie dressed like a prostitute. Three inch heels, mini-skirts and tight deep V-neck boob tops every day. Cassandra winced as her eyes fell on Katie reclined in her desk chair, legs crossed, gazing doe-ishly up at one of the senior executives as he leered at her without shame.
     Cassandra remembered a revolting conversation that she had had with Katie in the lunchroom a few weeks before. Katie had plopped herself down in one of the plastic chairs at the lunch table and let out a Betty-Boopish “OUCH!” as she landed.
     “Sorry!” she said giggling loudly. “I just got waxed and I’m sore all over down there.”
     “Really?” Cassandra had replied, unable to ignore the comment as she usually did when someone tried to talk to her during lunch. “That sounds really painful.”
     “It is,” Katie replied cheerfully as she daintily dipped her spoon in a cup of yogurt and then sucked on it seductively. “But I just can’t stand having any hair down there,” she’d said.
     Katie wasn’t the shedder either.
     There was only one other woman in the office. Cassandra shook her head as the realization came over her. Of course. It was Gabrielle from payroll. 
     Gabrielle had been a bitch since the first day Cassandra had started working at Candelbaum almost two years before. Whenever Cassandra asked Gabrielle a question about her time card, Gabrielle would stare at her blankly and then knock on the wall of her cubicle to summon her best buddy, Humberto from human resources, on the other side. Humberto’s fat head would pop up over the cubicle divider and the two would glare at Cassandra, ranting in snide Portugese until she walked away in defeat.
     And now—the pubes.
     For Cassandra, this was the last straw. For years, Cassandra had put up with Gabrielle’s taunts and tirades, her complete refusal to explain vacation hour accruals and the stinky remnants of tuna salad Gabrielle left in yellowing plastic containers in the office fridge. Now, Gabrielle had gotten in the way of the one ritual that Cassandra couldn’t do without—her daily purge.
     She walked towards Gabrielle’s cubicle slowly, but with purpose. Gabrielle was watching a YouTube video about a ferret playing drums and inhaling a large bag of cheese flavored chips. Gabrielle glanced up as Cassandra approached and immediately knocked on the side of her cubicle to summon Humberto’s head. His fat smiling face popping up reminded Cassandra of the Whac-a-Moles at the county fair. She wished she had a mallet.
     Gabrielle swiveled her chair in Cassandra’s direction and continued shoveling chips into her face.
     “Gabrielle,” said Cassandra, her voice quavering with unleashed rage. “I just came from the bathroom.”
     Gabrielle continued her chip-shoveling and cud-like chewing without response.
     “It’s disgusting in there,” Cassandra added crisply. “It’s rife with pube.”
     Gabrielle’s eyebrows scrunched together with confusion. “Huh?” she grunted.
     “Pubes,” Cassandra stated emphatically, a bit louder this time.
     Gabrielle stared at her blankly.
     Cassandra lost it: “Your PUBES are all over the ladies’ room toilet! I know it was you! Millie’s gray and Katie’s waxed and I only pee at home. You left pubes all over the toilet seat. And around the rim Gabrielle? I don’t even know how a person does that—and certainly not a woman. What were you doing in there?”
     A small group had formed around Gabrielle’s cubicle to watch the drama unfold. The phone rang unanswered as Millie waddled over and even Katie stopped her giggling and boob-show long enough to listen in on the exchange.
     Cassandra felt fiery hot all over, but freer than she had in some time: “All I’m saying is, have the decency to wipe up your pubes off the toilet seat,…okay Gabrielle?”
     The entire office was silent for a full ten seconds before fat-head Humberto sputtered: “Everybody’s using the ladies’ bathroom right now. Ours is broken. Someone flushed paper towels. It’s probably some guy’s pube.”
     Cassandra felt the fiery heat of self-righteousness turn to piercing icicles of humiliation all over her body. Gabrielle snorted and began a particularly vicious sounding rant in Portugese. Humberto shook his fat head in disapproval and disgust. Katie released a piercing peal of laughter. Millie waddled away muttering something about pirates and tradewinds.
     Cassandra slunk back to her desk, bloated and defeated, and finished out the rest of the day in silence.

 

 

 

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Liz Brown is a professional entertainment news blogger and stand-up comedian living in Hollywood, California. She was a mental health social worker in Los Angeles County for eight years before burning out completely. Her autobiographical story The Puffer was featured in the premiere performance of Taboo Tales at the Zephyr Theater in Los Angeles. You can find her columns online at http://www.examiner.com/user-lalizzire.

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