A man and his mind.
Noel was scraping at his palms, grating the worn nub of a soap bar into the wrinkles down his wrists. The restrooms stank; as public toilets are wont to. Dried sweat and smeared faeces mixed in the air, lingering atop the caustic waft of bleach fuming by the gallon from the open-doored latrines.
He had spent his life cleaning toilets; pristine, marble privies, hardly used, and piss yellowed urinals, rotting into little, limestone waterfalls where the spray had caught them. There was a way to clean a toilet, and dumping disinfectant down its drains wasn’t it.
Noel snorted, his nostrils flaring as he did.
No one had told them that; whoever was being paid to keep local shit smelling sweet- or, if they had, they’d been too dull or lazy to listen. They’d drained their load down the porcelain seats, and left it to rot beneath the stalls in narrow, copper-bowels, until they shook, and belched it back up as a thick, burning backdraft.
He gritted his teeth, his throat blistering as he sucked the air. There was a way, and he knew it best. You needed a brush; something gnarly, preferably, with strict, plastic bristles. Something like a maw of needle-pointed brambles, to gnash out the chunks. That was how you did it. Grit, bristles and effort. Not with a bucket of poundland cleansing scour. He gave himself a nod, drying off his hands.
“No.” He sighed, pressing them back into the basin.
The soap had worn into a dying sliver; its body bleeding in white froth down the basin’s drain. He plucked at it, drawing a thin veil of its skin across his knuckles, kneading it in with a jagged fingernail. He had worked with soap all his life, and knew how to make it last.
Noel had never been one for dirt. In his youth, he wedged his feet inch-thick wellingtons, and hid his arms in chunky, latex jackets, even in the Summer. Each night he’d spray them down, drenching them in the shower-room, before waxing them with tubbed, rubber-polish, kneading the cream through the folds of flax skin with his nails, before carefully scrubbing them clean. His feet sogged as he walked to school, and were always slit with black, decaying boils, but the wet slosh made him feel warm. Made him feel clean.
Clean. That was the problem. He had worked a decade as a cleaner, and now the dirt seemed stained into his hands, refusing to shift however hard he scraped. He could see in every wrinkle another man’s filth, clogging in his pores. He could taste it when he ate, or if he chewed along his nails.
His hands were raw; swollen red-pink. Still he scrubbed, the white of his knuckles biting through his fists as he grasped, wringing out the soap for a few last drops of liquid warmth.
The slither snapped between his fingers, crumbling into the swirling drain. Beady drops of bloody-amber swelled about his nails, dribbling down his hand and muddying the puddle beneath with a whirl of diluted scarlet.
Noel shivered, staring into the eyes watching him from the mirror. They were curdled black atop wide, shady moulders, but he was done.
He drew his breath, stepping out into the Cafeteria floor. A woman was waiting for him, sat alone at their table’s side, an impatient frown hid in smiles as she saw him
“Are you alright?"
“Yeah,” he blinked, scraping at his palms. “Fine.”