A Two-Flush Toilet (Three Crow Press Fiction)
A Two Flush Toilet by Dawn Allison
I was waiting for the second flush, listening as the tank refilled, staring out the window into the long emptiness of night. Still better than staring at the swirling leavings in the toilet bowl. I have one of those two-flush toilets, nothing ever all goes down the first time.
My house is also haunted. Probably the two are unrelated, unless the spooks are to blame for the weak water pressure upstairs. Sometimes, I hear noises in the night. Sometimes, as I lie awake, waiting impatiently for sleep, I feel a shift in the mattress, like tiny feet padding close to share my warmth, like a cat making itself comfortable in my bed. Or so I imagine. I never had a cat because I’m allergic.
Sometimes, when sleep finds me, I sneeze myself awake. Banged my head good, once, against the corner of the headboard. But I fell back to sleep like nothing happened, like I hadn’t heard that startling crack. I woke up with the pillowcase stuck to my face, held by crusted blood. When I pulled it away, my temple started bleeding all over again.
That’s what I was thinking about while I was staring out the window and waiting for the second flush, that, and whether or not I would have to stay in the stink, waiting for a third.
It was like one of those pictures outside, where you have to stare at it a good long time before you see anything at all. Nothing at first, then lines and wrinkles imposed on the darkness by my own eyes, weary with seeing black silken void. Then it popped. It wasn’t gradual, one second it wasn’t there, the next it was. A bird, with endless wings woven of night sky, a sharp beak, a low warbling cry, flew in front of my bathroom window, filled its small frame. And when it shifted, there was light, dismal and darkling, captured and held by a carpet of fog, woolen and warm, or so it seemed.
A fine place it was, I thought, and I tried to remember why I never went out, whether or not I had relegated myself to the house because of some forgotten allergy, but for all I saw, I didn’t notice any cats. Still, I was certain that they were there, and that if I had an eternity to spend trying to pick them out in the strange semi-light, I would have found them, capering, rubbing against the ankles of the soldiers carrying muskets out in front of them, in a pondering way, as though they’d forgotten what they were for, why they had them. Their steps were half-march, half-lope, half-cheery, their faces, and half-grave. Either they or I had missed their battle, but that was all right, because there were better things to do.
Black dogs chased their tails in circles, and how many years had I regretted being allergic to those, too? Women in mourning gowns came running to greet the men they need mourn no more, their faces obscured by night’s veils, fitted and frilly, and I wondered what I would have looked like in one, but I didn’t dare step away to glance in the mirror and imagine, afraid that everything would be gone when I returned.
Distant music slid in around the edges of frail window glass, and I wanted very much to see the band who could produce such melancholy joy, a language spoken through their instruments. A tiger stalked behind cast iron bars, pawed at his cage and mewled until somebody stopped to let him out. He sat in front of the door, tail curled around his front legs, as though to guard his home, and ensure that nobody would force him back in. The horses whinnied at the sight of him, and gave him wide berth. I wanted to feed them sugar cubes from my cupboard, feel their velvet noses tickling my palm. I wanted to go out, to find whatever shared my bed. Without looking, I flushed again, and decided to wait, just to be sure. The gurgle of water in the tank muffled the sound from outside, and made me miss the name of the man who pulled up in a great black carriage, soon lost in the throng, soon found as he ushered these strangers, men, women, children, and beasts, without discretion, into his carriage, room for all, though it seemed impossible. My heart raced, when I realized that they were leaving, that I would soon be alone.
I pulled up the window, it shrieked in its frame, victim of long neglect. I could feel their thousand gazes shifting in my direction.
“Wait!” I cried, as the cool fall air rolled in, and the smell leaked out. The man in the black top hat, the man whose name I missed, shut the carriage door, closing them off from my sight.
“Beg pardon?” he said, squinting into my window, rubbing his temples as though the artificial glow of the nightlight made his head ache. His voice was like a whisper, but it wasn’t, it carried up two stories, and I realized that this was a night of seeming, of were but weren’t, weren’t but are.
“I want to go too,” I said, afraid of sounding whiny or desperate, but doing it all the same.
“Well,” he drawled, and I caught a hint of a southern accent in the length of word. “Come along, then.” He slid into the front, took the reigns. I knew he had no intention of waiting for me, just as he knew I had no intention of coming. It’d been years, perhaps, since last I went outside, and I wanted to tell him that I couldn’t, that the toilet needed flushed and that I was allergic. No words would come, and then it was too late.
He tipped his hat out the side, waved a hand gloved in black. He jerked the reigns and the horses trotted off at a gallop, and all I could think was that the world was full tickle, now, though I didn’t know where it came from, or what, exactly, it meant. The emptiness returned as quickly as it had been dispelled, one word lingered on the stagnant air.
I had his voice, when nothing else was left. I wanted to catch it, and cup it, and hold it close. But then it was gone, too.
I shut the window, turned away at last, telling myself that there was so much to do, even though I knew it was a lie. I had only to make sure the toilet was flushed, to change my old blood crusted sheets that smelled like something dead, that smelled like me. And to wait. In a haunted house, all eternity lives in a day.