Itch, Scratch

They were the kind of toilets that people might mention when they returned to their table before laughing at themselves for being impressed by toilets. Soft light emanated from the rubbed-bronze wall sconces and the pin-prick spotlights in the curved ceiling. The tumbled-marble floor tiles were patterned with fragments of a 19th century nautical map, and above the urinal a hand-painted patchwork of naval flags stretched across the length of the wall. Through the open doors of the cubicles, grand high-tank toilets with silver pull chains stood, illuminated by naked bulbs suspended above.

If there’d been music playing, it would have been Strauss. These were toilets born of distinct vision, a triumph of attention to detail, the perfect seeing-through of an idea.

I washed my hands with great care at the blue terrazzo sink, twisting the porcelain tap knobs gently. Standing alone in the silence of that perfect space, I studied my face in the mirror and took a breath. Then I did it. I pulled my car keys from my pocket and dragged the largest key down the face of the mirror in a brutal jerky movement. I could feel it in my teeth.

Jesus fuck, I said to myself, backing away from the mirror. You piece of shit.

My armpits tingled. I pocketed my keys and wiped my sweating palms on my trouser legs. I slapped my face, turned around and walked back to my table, sitting down across from my wife.

She looked at me. “Everything okay?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said, picking up my knife and fork. “Of course.”

Front page image by CarlJohanLinell.

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