Summer 03






     My toilet makes me want to be a better person. I just think it’s so beautiful — its white porcelain lips are always cool and gentle when they press up against me. Of course, as with any idyllic appearance, something dark, something hidden, seethes inside, bubbling. Sometimes the toilet turns on me and clogs up for days. I fight with it, plead with it, jab it with a plunger, but not long after all the profanities have been unleashed and I have given up completely, does it gurgle its love-song, calling me back. Even if I wanted to stay angry at it, I couldn’t, because I need it in the worst possible way.

     I wake up to the thump-thump of cars passing below my window. It’s 2 p.m. I get up to go to the bathroom and the toilet is there, waiting for me obediently. I pat its smooth porcelain head and think of the intricate machinery that hovers just beneath the surface. Old metal chains, a wobbly lever, the Rorschach-like blotches of mold that have sprouted in asymmetrical groupings. It smells differently inside, too. The scent reminds me of a hospital, but a friendly one — the kind where maybe you get your tonsils out and then the handsome doctor tells you how brave you are and you get to eat ice cream and Jell-O all day.
     Since I don’t have to actually use the toilet right now, I just sit on it for a while. When I am done I flush it anyway, for good measure, and then go back to bed. I try to fall back asleep but am jarred awake by terrible dreams of crawling things emerging out of lush greenery, ancient orange trees withering under the weight of fleshy fruit. The strains of life are drying them up.

     There are ways of getting noticed. You can thrash about and scream, or smile toothlessly like an old person asking for help. As a child I already knew that you’re most beautiful at the center, which is why I took up ballet in fourth grade and pranced around in front of complete strangers like a duck. I liked wearing the fake feathers my teacher had doused in glitter. Sparkle sparkle sparkle — with each misshapen pirouette, tears fell from the eyes of a Hollywood god, kissing the stage. The audience ate it all up.
     Getting noticed is easy. It’s slipping away that’s the hard part.

     It’s been five days now that I haven’t left my apartment, and I’m doing just fine. More people have been calling me and leaving messages. Everyone wants to know if I’m OK. Of course I’m OK. I’ve decided certain foods have unfairly received a poor reputation, and have addressed the problem by constructing meal plans that consist entirely of Cheetohs and rum. Also, now I’m able to watch Oprah every afternoon at three and I’ve learned the ten biggest mistakes married people make and how to avoid them. Although I’m convinced that I don’t ever want kids because all the women who have them tell Oprah that the strain of motherhood has led them to gain a lot of weight, and now they have no time to blow-dry their frizzy hair or shave their legs and then their husbands (who are either balding or pudgy or both) begin to feel cheated out of some god-given right they believed was implicit yet agreed upon in their marital covenant.
     The phone rings. And rings. “Um, Amy, this is Melanie, and I’m really worried about you. If you’re there, pick up, please, and if not, well, I’ll be here until ten and then I’ll be out for a while but you can — ”
     “Melanie?” The word sounds alien. It feels wrong to talk.
     “Let me come over,” Melanie insists.
     “You can’t,” I say.
     “Why not?”
     Silence eats up the phone line until I blurt out don’t worry, thanks but no thanks, I have to go now, bye.

     I begin to lose track of time. I go to bed at night and wake up in the late afternoon just as the sky begins to darken. I microwave popcorn. I check my email but don’t reply to anyone. I have stopped taking baths. I’ve also given up on the idea of changing my underwear every day.
     When Mom calls again I have to pick up. When she asks me how I am, I tell her. She begins to cry.
     I listen to her cry.
     I eat another Cheetoh.
     “Amy, you’ve got to go to the doctor,” she tells me.
     “Uh huh,” I say, wiping my fingers on my sheets.
     “This isn’t normal,” she pleads.
     I stare at the ceiling.
     “Say something!” she screeches at me.
     “That’s it!” she snaps. “I am coming down to get you — ”
     “No!” I begin to panic. I can’t have her here. “Mom, I’m fine, really,” I whine.
     Some more high-pitched shrieks on the line, but I can’t pay attention any more.
      “Mom, I need to sleep,” I tell her, and hang up.

     What people don’t know is good for them. My phone keeps ringing so I check myself into a hotel a few miles away. The lady behind the desk has no idea about my arsenal of secrets. She hands me the keys without fanfare. The lines on her face are heavily drawn, etched in like the odd remainders of problems solved. When she asks me if I need anything else I grit my teeth and smile.
     When I open the door, I see the curtains are all drawn. The room feels like a uterus. I put down my one bag and sit on the edge of the bed, tuning my ears to the mechanical hum of the air conditioner. Maybe now is the right time to take a bath. I undress slowly and place my clothes in a neat pile on one of the chairs. I’m feeling a little dizzy, so I take a deep breath before I begin running the water.
     Only once inside my bath do I allow myself to look more closely at the new toilet. It perches, statuesque, four feet away from the tub. Its metal flusher gleams, and even in this dim light I can see how new it is, pearly white all over. It has the look of an athlete in top condition for his game.
     I sink down further into the bath, let the water greedily rush over me. I’m feeling fairly relaxed until I make the mistake of glancing over again and see that the toilet has begun to cry. The lid that was firmly closed just a minute ago is shaking up and down, and water dribbles out of the bowl in gasp-like spurts. Then it begins to straight-out howl.
     “Sssh!” I tell the toilet, but it doesn’t help. The wailing only gets louder and louder.
     I step out of the bath, dripping water all over the floor. “Stop it!” I scream, reaching for a towel. The toilet won’t listen. It’s sobbing so frantically that I’m scared a pipe might burst if I don’t calm it down, which worries me but also makes me mad, because this isn’t even my own toilet. I slam my fists down on the toilet and it hurts but I don’t care because I can’t get this shrieking out of my head and so I start screaming even louder. We fight like this, the toilet and I, until the toilet can no longer keep up with me. I put on my bath robe and stare down the toilet. By now the sobs have calmed to a whimper. I run my fingers lightly across the lid, the way a bird might skim a clothesline, and the toilet moans a sigh of relief before it finally gives in.


Suzanne Karpilovsky holds degrees from Stanford and UCLA and continues to write fiction and poetry. Her work can be found in Volt, Pool and The Portland Review.