I was in the restroom at Wal-Mart. I was washing my hands. I was luxuriating in the warm water. It was a Wednesday, I think, and it was a good day. I was home from a four-day trip. I was off work. I did not have to rush. I did not have to answer questions. I did not have to please bosses or passengers or co-workers. I did not have to please anyone. I was not required to demonstrate my acumen or diligence or stick-to-it-ivness or people skills. And it was Christmastime! I had listened to Bing sing about a White Christmas and Elvis sing about a Blue Christmas and the Bare Naked Ladies sing about a Green Christmas. But I was having a beautiful brown Christmas and I was with my lovely wife and my brilliant little boy in the Mecca of American capitalism and I was feeling warm and beloved. And then the door opened.
And in stepped – a woman. She was not an attractive woman. She was plain. She was perhaps a woman who had suffered sadness and disappointment in her life due to her genetic plainness. And I know a thing or two about genetic plainness. She was middle aged- as I am myself. She was thick around the middle – as I am myself. She had streaks of gray in her dull brown hair- as I do myself. She had a worn and unstylish old brown coat. Okay, mine is blue.
And she was perplexed and embarrassed. I saw her perplexication immediately and I felt a surge of compassion and kinship with her. I have made mistakes before. I have been on the wrong end of bad decisions. I have struggled myself through this hard and challenging world of obstacles. I have suffered “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
I smiled. I smiled a wide winning smile as if to say that I would not contribute to her pain. I would not be one of those who had made fun of her in grade school or pushed her down in the playground. I would not mock her error or hold her up to ridicule. I smiled to say that I had forgiven her immediately. Her faux pas was a “no pas” in my book. She was off the hook. She needn’t have concerned herself even had I been standing at a urinal. Indeed I thought how much more delicious would have been my magnanimity had I been at a urinal. But she blushed. “I’m so sorry,” she stammered, puzzled and confused. And I, in my genuine magnanimity airily waved away her concern. “de nada,” I thought. “It was nothing,” I said, “I have done that many times,” which was a lie, but only a small one.
It felt so good to forgive her. This was perhaps the metaphorical cherry on the top of this already outstanding day. Not only was I warm and beloved and free from responsibility, I was a hero, of a sort. I was a good guy. I was a guy with enough confidence and savoir faire that I was above being an enforcer of social rules. This was her lucky day. She had barged into the right restroom at the best possible time. For, not only would she be alleviated of her embarrassment, she might gain, from my easy absolution, a new faith in her fellow man. And perhaps even a new faith in men, for I discerned, in a moment, that she had not always been treated well by the male of the species. “Your contrition is not wanted here, my lady,” I thought, but I could see she was contrite. She was used to cowering. She was used to wincing. She was used to masking her shame in nervous laughter and hidden tears.
“But not here,” I thought, “not in my restroom. Not today.” She affected a little bow and turned to leave much like a geisha backing out of a room. “Be not troubled,” I thought, “For all is well.” She looked relieved, or overwhelmed, or perhaps …nauseous? “No bigee,” I said, gesturing toward the door, “after you.”
I wadded my paper towel and launched it along a trajectory which intersected perfectly with the open garbage bin – nothing but air! And throwing my jacket over my outstretched arm and sucking in my gut just a little I pushed open the door and we walked out together- out of the ladies room.
The Embellishment: My coat was brown, too. And, okay, I missed the garbage can.
Postscript: This is one of my only pieces to ever be “published.” A shorter version of this got honorable mention in the River City Reader Short Fiction contest in 2013. I guess that somewhat diminishes its status as a True Story.
by: Dustin Joy