Two friends deal with unsettling news in a restaurant bathroom stall. A short story.
I hear the song “Sleazy” by Ke$ha for the first time while on the floor of a Chili’s restroom - puking. With one arm against the stall and the other casually leaning on the toilet seat, I brace myself for another wave of nausea that would cause my body to spasm and upchuck my internal organs - not literally, just chicken tenders and a slushee, but it’s all in the general feelings department.
Ke$ha coos amongst synths and beats, “Get sleazy, get sleazy, get sleazy, get sleazy, get sleazy.” Her words speak to me and I rest my face on the side of the toilet seat, utterly exhausted and undeniably sleazy - in a sanitary sense.
The door to the men’s room opens slightly and I hear a familiar voice whisper, “Mark, are you in here?”
“Yes,” I weakly answer.
“Well, are you...alone?”
“Um, from what I can tell,” I reply. I hope I am right because my vantage point from the side of the porcelain throne lacks in sweeping, 360 degree views.
I hear the door swing all the way open and hurried footsteps ensue. Cheap red flip flops clap as they march down the line of stalls. They stop at mine and with a flurry of curly brown hair, my friend swings into the stall, swiftly locking it.
“Jesus, Hannah, this is the men’s bathroom!” I shout.
“Then why are you here?” she retorts as she reaches for the toilet paper dispenser and places a layer of tissue between her jeans and the tiled bathroom floor.
“That joke would’ve been funny years ago. If only we were still in the second grade” I mutter. “You know...” I start, but she cuts me off.
“Yeah, that makes it retro - vintage. Vintage is in these days,” she replies.
“You still shouldn’t be in here,” I reply indignantly.
“You look like a vampire. Minus the Twilight glitter and attractiveness. Just kinda pale and sad looking,” she says, surveying the stall. “And it smells disgusting in here too, like a dead whale.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out a stick of deodorant.
“I’m thinking the problem is the puke, not my armpits,” I say. “And Hannah we should talk about...”
She shushes me and proceeds to wipe the stick on the sides of the stalls.
I pause for a moment and make a face, “What are you doing?”
“It’s the only thing that I could think of to make it smell better, the stick is almost gone anyways,” she says casually. “It stills smells.”
“Really, Hannah, you can’t just announce..”
She gives me a face, “Yes, it smells awful in here because I announce I am sick and might possibly die and you go and puke. You literally took my moment and stole all my glorious thunder - with your puke.”
“Sorry.” I say lamely because suddenly my train of thought has hit a landmine. I don’t know how to respond.
But what she said was true, only five minutes earlier I had been devouring a weeks worth of fat in the form of chicken tenders - leaking oil like an old, crusted car and slurping down eight ounces of sugary syrup, celebrating a long weekend from school. She had looked at me funny and I had stopped eating and returned a quizzical look. She sighed heavily, her shoulders rising like my heartbeat and then fell. Though my heart only kept racing, because the sad look of her face alerted me to otherwise. She had opened her mouth and emitting a syllable, then fell quiet - concentrated. She tried again, this time with conviction and she shut her eyes and scrunched up her face, I have acute lymphoblastic leukemia, she gushed. My heart had ceased to beat. Wha? I replied stupidly. I have cancer.
An atom of fear and a molecule of distress had seemed to collide in my stomach, combusting and begging to be let out. I had run, sick to my stomach - leading to my current situation.
“It’s all so cliche,” Hannah says nonchalantly. “I don’t even get a cool disease, just regular, you know, cancer. Like, if you’re going to be fatally ill, if you are going to die from something you might as well die from something cool. Flesh-eating bacteria. A hammer stuck in your neck. Getting a tumor in your ovaries when you had always thought you were a man. If this was a hospital TV show, I wouldn’t get the time of day,” she says, throwing up her hands in exasperation. “I would be the side story, and they would focus on the girl with three boobs.
“You know,” she goes on propping her elbow onto the toilet, staring directly into my eyes, “You spend your whole life trying to be a unique person and then you go and get cancer and suddenly you are the same as a thousand of other people. You are not even aa individual person anymore but a silhouette - a faceless, bald head and a hospital gown. I am the kid in the hospital, on the brochure, and the sad commercials.” she gestures furiously with her hands. “All people are going to see me as cancer! The poor girl with cancer. I am cancer!,” she shouts. “And everyone will raise money and go on walks and its not for me it’s for this stupid disease.”
There is a shrillness in her voice that I have never heard. A panic - it is bright and white and she emits it like a dying star and like a deer in the headlights - I sit there frozen as she rants.
“And I can’t even be sad about it! Because all you hear about are these goddamn seven year olds, taking on cancer like it’s a ride in the Queen’s chariot - smiling for pictures and getting on Ellen and surviving. They start up their own charities from their damn beds,” her voice rises higher and higher. “I can’t complain because I would look petty next to freaking Lil’ Suzie! They take lemons and not only make lemonade - they sell it and make bank for research! I can’t do that, I can’t make lemonade,” she says wringing her hands. “I just want to squeeze the lemons and smash them and hit them with a baseball bat. Just hit them again and again and just build a gaint lemon building and take a wrecking ball to it,” her voice crescendos and then falls to an almost inaudible tone. “It’s not fair,” she sighs.
I quite frankly was lost on what was coming out of her mouth. “Hannah,” I offer, “you can’t seriously believe all that.”
“Yes I can! I’m sick, I can expect any damn thing I want!”
“You’re being entirely unreasonable!”
“I have cancer!”
“I thought you didn’t want to be defined by that!”
“Yes, but now I just want to feel sorry for myself!”
“Then feel sorry, you are allowed to! You’re in a freaking bathroom stall!”
“Hold on,” she said quietly and with that she stared blankly at the wall and stayed like that, immobile. And I waited and watch her watching the wall and I could see nothing on her face. And suddenly I’m angry. I am angry because the life I had planned was not so, because of her. Because of Hannah and her sickness I was now embedded in a situation I would rather not be in.
I was disappointed, senior year of high school was upon us and all of a sudden I did not have my best friend to back me up.
And I was nostalgic, and hated myself for it, because I shouldn’t be nostalgic of a friendship that hasn’t ended - not yet. I feel my stomach churn and shoot a look towards the toilet.
And then she hugs me.
I hug her back and I feel her warm tears caress my neck and her body begins to convulse in sobs. We sit on the floor of the men’s bathroom and I hold her steady, like the rock I should've been ten minutes earlier.
“I’m done feeling sorry for myself,” she whispers.
“We both know that isn’t true,” I said smiling.
“Yes, but we are pretending that it is true. And we are going to a snowball stand and we are going to talk about movies or the environment or something.”
“I just puked, the last thing I want is a snowball.”
“Your needs are irrelevant, I’m pulling the cancer card.” She smiles at me and I smile back only wider, because I realized I had missed it the few moments it was gone
“Fine, fine,” I say. We both try to get up, maneuvering limbs in the small stall.
“Cancer is sleazy,” I say.
Hannah laughs, “It’s so true! It’s the whore of diseases, it gets around everywhere. Getting all up in everyone personal business” She laughs harder. “What a slut.”
We both fall into a fit of giggles, which only increase as an elderly man enters the room, utterly bewildered. We leave the men’s restroom together and I don’t have cancer but she does and we are going for snowballs anyway.