Alexa Madaj, 7/4/2016
Current Occupation: I am an assistant manager at a large retail pharmacy chain.
Former Occupation: I worked at a call center with ex-cons and high school girls.
Contact Information: I'm twenty-seven years old and still feel lost as an infant. I've been writing as long as I've been able but am also terribly shy about sharing my work. More recently I've been attempting to get over my fears in the hopes that I can make writing my one and only work some day. I like to spend as much time as I can away from the harsh, fluorescent light of retail by rock climbing and hiking with my boyfriend. This is my first publication.
Alexandra, Retail Pooper Scooper
The automatic door opens and she walks through it. It's only thirty minutes into a nine hour shift at the most popular drug store in the world, and this is the last person I want to see. Some customers you can tell are trouble as soon as they walk in. Others you learn are trouble. She is the rare sort who falls under both categories. I'm completely helpless, stuck behind the counter of Register 36, returning a pair of reader glasses missing a lens. I know exactly where she is going, and even though I'm not religious, I mouth a silent prayer.
“I bought these just three days ago. Three days,” The customer tells me, pinching the stem of the glasses and shaking them back and forth in disgust.
“I'm so sorry about that,” I tell him, even though I'm not. I couldn't care even if I wanted to. Not when I know she is here, doing what she does. I feel a rush of cold air, and it makes me sweat. There is a strange dimming of the fluorescent lights as my co-worker approaches from aisle six and walks grimly behind the counter, the bad news jumping off her like bugs and scurrying up my dirty pant leg. I finish the return and bid farewell to a face I won't remember, tossing the broken glasses into a shopping basket to deal with later.
“Alexa…”Emily addresses me quietly. I try to relax myself but accidentally look at the clock. Eight hours to go. In the past hour I've cleaned up a bottle of wine that “just fell” off the shelf according to a customer wearing tight underwear beneath a pair of yoga pants. I counted a register when an older man with wild nose hair angrily accused the cashier of not giving him the right change. It's the type of beginning that makes me wonder if the moon really does do something to people.
“Yeah…?” I ask, even though I know what she's about to tell me.
“I don’t mean to add more or anything, but someone clogged the toilet in the women’s bathroom.”
“Awesome. It was her.”
“I know. I saw her. I was thinking about following her in there,” she says. It's her way of telling me she tried, which makes me laugh. I picture Emily walking into the bathroom and standing guard outside the stall door, listening for trouble, wearing a whistle necklace and Poo Patrol police hat.
I tell her it's okay. That it's fine. What could she have done?
I’m not a plumber, but it’s my duty to try to unclog the toilet. Fine. I can operate a plunger. I should have known the second I saw her walk in that this was going to happen. I’m convinced with one hundred percent of myself, believe it almost more than I believe the sky is blue, that one woman purposely poops here. She’s a regular pooper.
Sometimes she buys things, but usually she doesn’t. She has dubbed our restroom her personal pooping palace, and this is not the first time she’s clogged the toilet. It would have been too much to ask that this excremental event go down smoothly. It wasn’t that kind of a Saturday night.
On my way to the scene of the crime, I remember the time I had to pick up a shit-filled maxi pad someone left on the floor. Outside the bathroom door, I give myself a little pep talk. It’s all right, self, I say, You’ve got this.
I push the heavy, gray door open. The smell slaps me in the face. It is foul. Honestly, it's not as foul as the time someone dropped a load in the toilet tank in the men's bathroom, but it’s unpleasant enough for my body to take an instinctive step back.
I fight the urge to flee and march forward, pausing outside the stall door. From here, all I can see is brown water. A couple more steps. Just do it.
I do it. I stand over the toilet bowl, carefully breathing through my mouth, and assess the situation. It’s filled about halfway. There are clumps of toilet paper crumpled and stuck to the dry parts of the ceramic.
My first plan of action is to flush. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. I extend my left arm, stretch it to its limit to press down on the handle. It feels cold and wet, as though I’m wiping sweat from the toilet’s brow. The water rises but does not recede.
“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa,” I say to the toilet, out loud. The water stops at the rim, right before overflow. I breathe out.
Plan of action number two: plunge. In the janitor’s closet there are two identical plungers. I pick the one on the left. It looks a little newer, the orange rubber more vibrant, less used. I walk right back up to the engorged toilet, full of determination. This will not stand. I’m going to fix this.
I immerse the plunger in carefully. Because the water level is so high, any sudden, graceless movement could cause splashing, and I’m not looking to add “shit splatter on my shoe” to the list of awesome things about tonight.
With my hands wrapped securely around the handle, fingers intertwined, I slowly begin to bob up and down in a rhythmic, yo-yo motion. My plunge is full of poise and elegance, but nothing is happening. All I can hear is the sloshing of water bouncing off the walls. I put a little more wrist into it, knuckles turning white in the struggle. All this does is turn the plunger inside-out. Shit.
I rest the plunger in the bowl, like a wooden spoon in a pot of beef stew, and return to the janitor’s closet. I grab the other plunger and a pair of yellow rubber gloves. I slide them over my arms and enter the outhouse for the third time. I catch sight of myself in the soap-splattered mirror above the sink. Armed and ready for action, a sheet of sweat cultivating above my lip, I look like a sad sort of superhero, my gray vest transforming into pathetic armor.
I pull out the first wooden spoon, shake the excess water off, and set it to the side. I dunk the second sword in but only bob twice before this one inside-outs itself, too. The brown water remains unmoved, my efforts a small disruption in a giant, polluted pond. Shit.
Nothing is working. An uncomfortable wave of heat washes over me. I consider passing out. The truth about what I’m going to have to do to get this toilet to swallow becomes clear. The stagnant air almost hums. At this point, I’ve grown accustomed to the smell. I try to think of the term for that. Olfactory fatigue. It happens to wine tasters a lot. But this is no wine tasting.
I look down at my arms, up to the elbows in yellow rubber, and, with a heavy heart, accept my fate.
I noticed a plastic bag in the garbage the first time I came in. I reach into the can retrieve it, the handle dangling off my left wrist like a designer purse. I get down on my knees, submitting to the clogged toilet, ready to wrap my arms around the outside of the bowl and plead with it to just fix itself. But I know this will not happen.
“Okay. Okay,” I say out loud. It is time. I don’t let myself think any more before submerging my right arm in the shit water.
The brown liquid swishes around the bowl, about an inch of yellow glove remaining above the fault line. I knew this was the next step, but once I get my arm in I don’t know what to do. Or maybe I do know, but for a second I pause, look around the empty bathroom for answers.
“Why?” I ask. Why?
I reach into the throat of the beast, unable to close my eyes, and begin. I stir the shit like sand at the bottom of a lake. Shredded pieces of toilet paper sway like seaweed in the water. There is so much. It is seriously spackled to the bottom of the bowl. I dig. What the hell does this woman eat? I wonder. Below the surface, I have a handful of poop cupped in my palm like a mud patty. What am I supposed to do with this?
It is at this point, all alone in the bathroom with a handful of poop, that I begin to laugh, quietly at first and then uncontrollably. It’s all I have left. For a moment I consider the life choices that got me here, but I abandon the thought almost immediately. Things don’t get this exciting at a desk job, I decide.
I raise my excavation above sea level, extract the poop like pirate’s booty, and drop it into the plastic bag. I go in for one more handful, this time less hesitantly, before returning one of the plungers to its original form and giving it a final go. I only have to bob once before the toilet swallows in two big gulps. All that remains is the splatter on the sides of the bowl. The water is clear. The hard part of the job is done. I breathe out.
I take the two plungers to the closet and rinse them off in the sink. I grab the antibacterial bathroom cleaner, a roll of paper towels, and the toilet brush. I scrub the toilet until the bowl sparkles like new. I spray and wipe down the floors, discard my paper towels, peel off the yellow gloves, careful not to touch them with my bare skin, throw those away too, and spend about five minutes scrubbing my hands under sink water that never gets as hot as you need it to. It’s over. I did it.
In the doorway of the clean bathroom, I pause to reflect. The whole thing, from start to finish, feels almost ceremonial now. I know I will see her again. She will be back. From now on, though, it will be different. We’ve been united in a sort of sacred bond, forever enjoined by the night I scraped her poop out of the toilet with my fingers. One day we will cross paths on her way to the bathroom. We will make eye contact. She will not feel the strength of our connection, but I will.
On the outside, I will greet her warmly, give her my most welcoming smile. But on the inside I will only be able to think one thing:
I cupped your poop in my hand.