Brian had been an all or nothing guy, the kind who can’t take a puff without smoking a pack, who can’t drink a glass without finishing the bottle, who drive one-hundred miles-per-hour or refuse to drive at all, who say, in their passive-aggressive way, let me ram you up the ass or don’t even think about pecking me on my cheek. Which is to say Brian was a black and white guy (no matter how much he said he understood all the wonderful shades of gray), and black and white guys are fatiguing as hell.

         To illustrate: He once wrote something a couple years after college, something he called a story but was really an essay, a black and white polemic praising the virtues, between lovers, of “Complete Intimacy.” Among other undesirable and decidedly unsexy things like going to the bathroom in front of one another, it talked about being allowed to pull a woman’s tampons out, this pulling evidence of some higher and more evolved plane of relationship. Lily shuddered. She felt bad for the girl and the world it was addressed to. It was bad enough she had to pull those things out.

         And even though that story/essay/psychotic diatribe was written five years ago now, long before Lily arrived on the Brian scene and found she liked most of its views, he was still pushing its tenets and praising its virtues.

         Despite all his indoctrination, however, she could never quite figure out what the basest of bodily functions had to do with attraction and intimacy. He insisted. He said it was this very reluctance that proved his point. He insisted, always, with words, his theoretical words, and then he insisted some more, all of her or nothing, all or nothing, until finally she had had enough and, one sterling Sunday morning, after a purposely heavy brunch and a rather spicy dinner the night before, she called him into the bathroom. She had, she hoped, an object lesson at hand.


         Brian was at the kitchen table, drinking his second cup of fair-trade coffee, reading the editorial section of The New York Times and listening to Strange Fruit, a Syd Barret disc. Life was good. He had just consumed sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes, and a pear tart, which was odd, the meal’s weight, but vaguely satisfying in a carnivorous, lumberjack sort of way, and as he read yet another article about overpopulation he totally, damn-near-militantly, agreed with, he was simultaneously trying to judge his beleaguered stomach’s need to evacuate itself—some torrid, revolutionary Mexican lurked down there, too, grumbling for freedom—when he heard Lillian, Lily, his girlfriend of a year and bed-sharer of six months call to him from the bathroom. (It still bothered him, whenever he thought about it, that it took him that long to get her to move in.)

         This call was even odder than their meal, however, for he had been conducting a steady campaign to demilitarize the bathroom since before they had moved in together, hoping to erase that handed-down, prudish privacy and get at something truly intimate. He had been failing miserably. Sure, like most girls he had known, he could shower with Lily from time to time, and he could help her shave if he really wanted to, and when she was drunk she’d let him watch her pee, even let him stick a hand between her legs to feel the stream, which was weird, not the hand-urine thing, but the reaction that came: it no longer turned him on the way it used to, but now it was a matter of principle, and with matters of principle change was unacceptable.

         He walked toward the bathroom. People often hop on the toilet or get in the shower without checking supplies and he was more than ready to be this woman’s supplier—her there-in-the-clutch guy—but the fan wasn’t on and the water wasn’t running. He didn’t know what she could possibly need that she couldn’t have gotten herself.

         “Yeah?” he said.

         “Come in here,” she said.

         Without a moment’s hesitation he opened the door and saw his soon-to-be wife (this, too, should’ve happened by now) sitting naked on the toilet. He did a quick memory check and, no, she had definitely not consumed any heroic amounts of vodka with breakfast.

         “What’s the matter?” he said.

         “Shut the door and lock it.”

         “What are you doing?”

         “Lock it,” she said.

         “Lock it?” he repeated.

         He noticed a faintly disagreeable odor in the air and a rather determined look on Lily’s face.

         “Yes. Lock the door and come here.”

         There are times in the life of a man, Brian knew, with his chosen woman, his mate, when he must jump into the darkness with her, must enter the black realm of uncertainty, the unknowable pit where the strongest strains of trust and connection make their home. Brian relished these moments. He locked the door and hustled over to his Lily.

         “Promise me,” she said, as she pulled down his cotton pants, “promise me you won’t leave.”

         Brian had trouble paying strict attention. Leave? Leave where? When? What? Leave her? His stomach, thanks to the sexual nature of what was transpiring, was both heavy and light, but his nose, that underrated organ of sense, was trying to warn him of something.

         “What’s that smell?” it managed to get him to ask, albeit halfheartedly, as he kicked away the pants and removed his shirt.

         “Promise me!” she said, grabbing his wrist with one hand and his balls with the other.

         “I promise,” he said, having no idea what he was promising. “Of course I promise.”

         “Good,” she said.

         “I won’t leave you,” he added, having not the faintest clue what he was saying but feeling it was the right thing to say.

         “That’s good. Now come on, come over here, sit on my lap, like you like to do. Straddle me.”

         The word “straddle” moved his erection from Phase Two to Four on his Six-phase erection scale. He eased onto Lily’s hips.

         “That’s it,” she said. “That’s good, that’s a good boy.”

         Well, well, he thought smugly, someone has certainly had a change of heart. But then she, or it, commenced.

         It. There’s no easy way to say it. It was simply awful. And gruesome. So monstrously wrong and private. He squirmed to get away from it, tried his damnedest to shatter this and all promises, but she clamped down on his buttocks with her strong, hobby-potter’s hands. Trapped! And one glimpse of her pained, distant, ecstatic face was enough to know he didn’t want another, enough to realize why mirrors are never placed there.

         Clamp his eyes shut though he did, that didn’t stop the assault on his nose and ears. How vulnerable they were. How innocent! The porcelain enclosed lake below them was being carpet-bombed with a foul and unholy arsenal. Images of napalm in the forests of Vietnam, of Shock and Awe in the Iraqi deserts flashed through his head. It intensified. Pearl Harbor, Dresden, mushroom clouds blooming in Japanese skies. His erection was at Phase Zero. Gone. He sought emergency mental shelter. Childhood. Angels. Baseball. No hitters. The perfect game. And then, after a couple of fits and starts, two heartbreakingly false cease-fires, it stopped.

         The little metal lever to the left of her armpit, the forgetting tool, was screaming his name. He reached out, blindly, but had his hand slapped like a naughty schoolboy.

         “No,” she said. “Look at me!”

         He reluctantly opened his eyes only to find hers locked on his. Shameless, this creature below him.

         “Don’t you want to touch me now?” she asked. “Don’t you want to wipe me clean?”

         Part of him, the part of him that wasn’t thoroughly disgusted, knew that this was the moment of truth, the moment to man up, to ease a hand down there between her legs, with or without toilet paper. If his ideas were to have any credibility, if his thoughts on privacy and intimacy were to live one minute longer, he’d have to do exactly what she asked. And the thought of actually doing it, of wiping Lily’s dirty, yet young and luscious behind, for a second this thought turned him on, sent courage to his cowering penis, but there was no overcoming the reality of the situation, the shock, and his urgent need to flee and forget it. She, like any competent predator, must have sensed that.

         “But isn’t this special?” she crooned, pushing him off of her. “Isn’t this completely intimate?”

         He scrambled to dress, hoping clothing would begin to right things, help him feel the tiniest bit less beaten.

         “I’ve never done this with anyone before,” she said, feigning gratitude and wonder as she pursued him with her eyes, peering up at him with a neonatal look only a very stupid man would call cute.

         “Aren’t you happy?” she asked. “Don’t you feel unique? Like you’re really a part of me now? Like our souls are swimming in each other’s rivers?”

         He wondered, as he heard his pathetic words, as his whole philosophy came crashing down, if he’d ever be able to touch her again. Forget touching her! Could he even occupy the same space as her again like they were just a precious hour before?

         No. He had seen and he had heard and he had smelled. The veil was torn, lying in shreds in this godforsaken bathroom, this chamber of horrors. There was no going back. But was there any way to move forward after that? After that sadistic unveiling he was somehow—yes, he knew he was—responsible for?

         “Can I leave now?” he asked, thoroughly trounced and demoralized, fearing the frightening unnecessary he now knew he could prompt, knowing he didn’t have the strength to commit to one more untrustworthy idea.

         “No,” she said, “not before I hear you say something.”

         “Anything, Lily, please.”

         Time. He needed time.

         “Women don’t shit.”


         “You heard me. Women don’t shit. Say it.”

         An all or nothing rebel within him, a staunch holdout, a Japanese soldier still waging the second world war, the one so hell-bent on erasing boundaries and demolishing taboos, replied, with proud and indignant incredulity: “That’s ridiculous! That’s wrong on so many levels and you know it!”

         “I know I’m not done here,” she said, snatching his wrist with fresh reserves of force, yanking him toward her and bringing that far-off, horrible look back to her face. “Say it!”

         “Women don’t shit!” Brian yelled, and as he raced out the door, unsure what he was going to do with himself and the rest of this monstrous Sunday, he heard a relieved woman say thank you.

Kevin Tosca's stories have recently appeared or soon will appear in Prick of the Spindle, Fleeting, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Umbrella Factory, The Smoking Poet and elsewhere. He lives in France. Read more at www.kevintosca.com

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