A thunderous gurgling emanated from my gut and woke me from Pattie’s bed. I had fallen asleep with my clothes on, and my shirt and pants reeked of cigarettes. I pulled myself up, clutched my throbbing head, and looked around to find myself alone in Pattie’s room. Patricia, my colleague who had let me crash at her apartment in the Styrian town of Graz for the weekend, left a note next to the bed mattress where I had thrown off my glasses and watch. The message on the piece of paper informed me that she was leaving for a nearby town at noon to make lesson plans and that she wished me a safe trip back to Pinkafeld. My watch told me that Pattie had left over an hour ago, and I put my glasses back on, groaning as another rumbling of my bowels berated me for going out on a Sunday evening. Shielding my eyes of the light that intruded from the windows behind me, I shuffled out of the room and into the slightly spinning hallway of the apartment, an embodiment of the hipsterness of Graz.
The Wohngemeinschaft that Pattie lived in reused and repaired their apartment and its decorations, from the swaying lights in the dining room that were turned on through flicking, pressing, and smashing of switches and buttons to the wrinkled pin-up posters hung throughout the kitchen that gently smelled of recycling bins and piss. A sticky-note posted above the kitchen sink illustrated a gendarme of germs surrounding a piece of bread and their leader ordering them to hold off on the food until five seconds had passed. I opened two kitchen cabinets – the first one contained spices, a broken rice cooker, and a tattered copy of Nicomachean Ethics, and the second, smaller cabinet held two lone pairs of scissors with instructions written in all caps that specified they were for pizza-cutting only – until I came across one that held the cups and coffee mugs. I grabbed the nearest mug, filled it with water from the kitchen sink, and sat down at the dining table to recollect last night’s events.
My friends and colleagues, because they had work the next day, had refused to accompany me to another bar after eight p.m. last night. I asked Pattie for ideas on where she would go on a Sunday night, to which she responded with a judgmental look and a suggestion that I walk down the street perpendicular to hers. I did as I was told, and for fifteen minutes I strolled past shuttered bars and empty clubs. Photos of young men and women in their twenties posing under a shining disco ball were plastered on the outside of the pitch-dark venues, and flyers stapled onto telephones blew in the evening wind. Across the street, an employee of a sushi bar began closing its doors for the night. I followed a faint yet lively sound of salsa music in the distance and continued to trod down the street. Within minutes, I had reached the entrance of a crowded salsa bar, and I remembered piecemeal bits of my time there: the grizzled salsa band drummer whose rhythm I tried to dance to, the Polish university student who had to see my residency permit to believe my name, and the walk back that started with pissing onto a nearby trash can.
I got up from my seat at the dining table to refill my cup of water and shoot the Polish girl a message from my phone, but my bowels decided that it had had enough of being ignored. It roared, and I quaked – the penguin-like waddle to the bathroom was made with clenched teeth and cheeks. I flung open the bathroom door, sat down, and madly pulled my belt off my pants. With enough space to shove my pants down without completely taking off my belt, I threw my ass down onto the cold, wooden toilet seat and shivered for ten seconds as a loud thud accompanied the passing of the Midgard Serpent, sired by none other than King Gösser and Queen Ottakringer. The deed done, I exhaled and looked around at the bathroom surroundings. To my right above my head, miniatures of Hindu gods and goddesses stood covered in dust in front of a barred window. I looked to my left for toilet paper but instead found postcards from Hungary, Bulgaria, and Switzerland taped onto the wall and a book titled “The Shitting Notebook” placed inside of a crate along with a pen. I took the notebook in my hands and read the various messages that fellow squatters had written during their time of catharsis, thought of the hands that must have touched the pen and book, set it back down, and continued my search for toilet paper. I chuckled to myself when I found it attached to the bathroom door. After wiping, I stood up to take a look back at the creation I had left behind.
The stench that climbed out from the dark depths of the porcelain bowl gave a new interpretation to the grimacing Hindu miniatures and rendered the post cards adorned with phrases such as “Wish you were here!” and “Come visit!” as Chernobyl-esque reminders of the follies of man. I was reminded of a photograph on the Internet in which a coiled boa constrictor rested inside the bowl and still had enough length and girth to hoist its body almost out of the toilet. Fearing that opening the bathroom door would only serve to spread the contamination, I reached for the air freshener placed next to the miniatures and sprayed the entirely of it. Like the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, however, the air freshener penetrated the fumes temporarily only to be pushed back, crushed, and disintegrated. I stood at the edge of the precipice and stared at the shit. In turn the shit stared right back.
I decided that this exhibition had run its course. While the toilet had no buttons for flushing, a lever had been installed behind the toilet, and a string attached to the lever parceled out water from the tank that hung from the ceiling. I cocked the lever and bid my shit farewell in my head, only to watch in horror as a pleasant trickle of water flowed out, splashed bits and pieces along the side of the bowl, and exacerbated the stench without moving the shit a single inch. I jammed the lever again, and this time a few flecks splashed onto the bottom of my jeans. By the time a minute and a half of me swinging the lever back and forth had passed by, a pool of sweat had drenched my back and armpits. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone, opened up my contacts, and hovered my thumb over the “dial” icon for Pattie’s number. I stared at the lever, then the phone, and back again at my shit.
I grasped the lever with both hands and pulled.