malfunction

…a function which is proscribed or in some way detrimental     

Oscar walked all the way up the emergency stairs to the top floor of the newspaper’s offices. Here the desks were empty. Whole acres of dun carpet spread out towards the floor-to-ceiling windows. In the morning, that morning, every morning, before the distant bustle of the lower floors had even begun, before the noise of the traffic on the streets outside had built up to the dull roar of the day, before the sun had lit up the bare concrete and brick walls outside, Oscar would stand here, standing still in the half light by a dusty stack of tables and chairs. Here he could only begin to take in the splendour of the world. Its wonder. The magic. The beauty of the world around him. Then he would make his first visit to the quietest toilet in the building.

Now, as evening set in, as the bustle in the office below slowly subsided, Oscar had retreated once more to the silence of that toilet. His final visit of the day.

It wasn’t just that it was quiet. Overloud classical music wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem. Or the roar of a gigantic waterfall. Or the chatter of a jungle’s burgeoning life. But quietness denoted the absence of other people. Because there was no one there. There never was. The absence of other people is essential to a good toilet. As it was to an appreciation of the world’s beauty. How could you appreciate the beauty of the world around you when someone was humming an improbable tune? How could you become deeply aware of the world’s majesty when there were six people sitting next to you loudly discussing house prices, as they clattered cutlery and crockery towards a perverse crescendo? And how could you hope to relax into a relaxing piss or shit with someone sitting in the next cubicle but one straining over the sport’s pages?

The urinals were pristine. They shone when the dull fluorescent lights flickered into being. The toilets were still cleaned regularly despite the fact that they were never used. And Oscar never used the urinals. He objected to urinals. There was always a chance, even here, in the quietest toilets in the world, a very slim chance, that someone could walk in when he was just in the middle of relieving himself, or as he was just about to flow, and stand right next to him, cough and splutter, pull out his penis, sneeze, smile, start a conversation, fart, cannon the full force of a mighty stream of piss against the back wall of the urinal, sending a delicate steam of piss vapour up into the air, filling the room. They might look. Listen. They could hear. They would be there. Standing right next to you. Another person.

Standing at a line of urinals, where anyone could stand shoulder to shoulder with you, was not conducive to free flow.

The cubicles, there were four, were also perfectly white and clean. The toilet seats were perfectly white and clean. The toilets’ porcelain was perfectly white and clean. As no one ever came in, Oscar could even leave the door open behind him. He always chose the cubicle nearest the entrance. He had a vague suspicion that one day something horrible would be perpetrated in the cubicle furthest from the door, and he wanted to play no part in it. How could he close his eyes and flow freely if there was even the slightest chance, one in a million, that he could be the victim of some unbelievable crime, a crime so unbelievable that no body believes in it. His body would be discovered by the cleaning lady. His body would be contorted over the toilet bowl and cistern. Much better to use the cubicle nearest the door. Free flow.

“I know your game MacSweeny!”

These words echoed in the toilet cubicle he was stood in. These words were more than enough to cause every muscle in his body to tense and contract, thus putting a stop to the flow of urine, cutting off the long stream of piss skidding off the inside of the bowl, the sudden cessation of the gush and splash, the opening up of an empty space, a crack in the universe, a chasm, that’s what it was, the gaping hole of the dimly lit toilet bowl in front of him, a rent in the very stuff of stuff, the end, the end…

But Oscar shook himself out of that… he pulled himself together. These words that he had just heard, he had heard, hadn’t he, for they were words, words, independent of the sparkings and collisions in his mind, these words were indicative of a large person standing directly behind him, shouting at the top of his voice. Another person. Turning around, there that person was: The Chief. One hand hanging onto the top of the cubicle, as though he was about to swing from it, the other hung against his waist, as though he wasn’t the kind of man who would swing from anything. A kind of a smile or a look of distaste marking his features, the wrinkles on his brow deep.

Oscar had been thinking of this meeting for some time. It was, after all, inevitable. He had, after all, Oscar had, after all, been seeming to be the man for the job for quite a while now – upwards of a week, ten days, maybe even two weeks. He had been determined for quite some time. He had been earnest. He had been waking up in the morning with a spring in his step, had been skipping through days, jumping into bed, writing words that would be read, saying things, actually saying something, people listening to him, nodding, he had been nodding, sometimes shaking his head, agreeing with people, laughing, even exulting, exulting when he should have been, he was seeming perfectly well, he was part of it all, that, it, everything, he was doing things, reporting, writing, making notes, having meetings, meeting people, actually meeting people, and having discussions, discussing things, having an opinion, he had an opinion on everything, anything, he could tell you his opinion on anything, and not as though he was just making it up, but it would have been a deeply held belief, deep, deep, deep, he recalled memories, what his father had said to him, a story I heard, gave advice, wasn’t sure, wouldn’t like to say, I wouldn’t do that, if I was you, if that was me, in the fullness of time, I’d think twice about that, that’s right, when the sun goes down, day after day, I know what you mean, are you sure, I’m sure, I know what I’m talking about, and he was listened to, people nodded their heads, people agreed, they agreed, he had arrived, he had done it, he was living, this was living, and he was living it, and rising, he was determined, he was moving up the ladder, rungs, actual rungs, so it was inevitable after all of that, it had to happen, this, this meeting, this inevitable meeting, this face to face, this creep up behind you, this stand quietly behind you as you piss freely against the rim of the bowl, this meeting in a cubicle in the quietest toilet in the world, which was always inevitable, despite which, despite its inevitability, its always-going-to-happneness, its never-not-going-to-happenness, like The Chief was always standing there, right behind him, just waiting to hear the first drop of piss splash, and then the stream hit the inside of the toilet’s rim, the soft sound of piss against ceramic, it gushing, the first tinkles becoming a free flow, despite him always standing there waiting to hear the first tinkle, despite inevitability, despite the inevitable, the first drop of piss always dropped freely into the splash of the bowl below.

 “Jesus, doesn’t it stink of piss in here!”

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