The allotments are a sociable place, especially for me because my plot is right next to the entrance. So I get to greet, and chat to, everyone coming through the gates. The conversations are kindly and cheerful, except when the subject is pigeons or cabbage root fly. So, when I greeted Billy Epps on his return from his holidays (Morecombe – two weeks), I was utterly unprepared for his bitter response:
‘Eh? How am I? How am I?? I’ll tell you how I am: I haven’t had a crap for four days!’
I’m going to summarise Billy’s story for you, as the way Billy told it, there were far too many expletives. It seemed Morecombe itself had been OK and he’d even got through to the semi-final of the Morecombe open crown-green bowls competition. The problem had arisen on the journey home. Determined to get maximum value from his B&B, Billy had opted for the Full English Breakfast each morning (trading his black pudding for an extra sausage). By late morning, on the train home, the breakfast was starting to weigh a little heavily on Billy, so he headed for the lavatory. It was one of those carriages where the lavatory door is operated electronically: you open the sliding door by pressing an external button; once you’re inside, you close it by pressing the internal ‘close’ button and then lock it by pressing the internal ‘lock’ button.
Billy retired from Greaves Castings two years ago, so now he’s accustomed to taking his time about things. Once seated comfortably on the throne, he let his mind wander, back to his near-triumph in the bowls competition. In the semi, he’d been drawn against a well-known three-times past winner from Preston, but Billy had noticed that his opponent was starting to tire. Billy’s strategy was to win the jack and then send it repeatedly from corner-to-corner, hoping that having to send his bowls for such a long distance would trigger a recurrence of the hernia that his opponent had suffered from in last year’s competition. He was re-living the match’s crucial nineteenth ‘end’, or game, when the lavatory door started to slowly slide open…
I think we can all imagine Billy’s feelings at this juncture. With his trousers and Marks-n-Sparks underpants around his ankles, he stared upwards into the eyes of an elderly lady carrying a large handbag. They gazed upon each other in silence for a moment or two, then the handbag lady let out a gargling shriek. Billy became aware that, from his vantage-point on the throne, he was able to see past the elderly lady all the way down the entire, crowded railway carriage.
And the entire, crowded carriage was, in turn, able to look past the elderly lady and study Billy’s withered shanks and grey-ish Y-fronts. Indeed, alerted by the lady’s shriek, many of his fellow-passengers were already craning their necks to get a better view.
To their credit, both Billy and the handbag lady quickly realised that the key to alleviating the situation lay with the button controls for the electronic operation of the toilet door. They both began feverishly jabbing at the buttons. Where they were perhaps at fault was in not co-ordinating their efforts (I should stress here that The Co-Ordination Failure Theory is of my own devising, Billy had an altogether darker view of the handbag lady’s behaviour).
In any case, the result of the button-jabbing was unsatisfactory. True, the door did slowly slide closed. But, unfortunately, no sooner was it closed than it immediately slid open again. It then proceeded to open and close repeatedly for a couple of minutes. A long couple of minutes.
At length, Billy was able to spot a window of opportunity. He took advantage of a brief episode of door-closure to scramble to his feet, hoist up his trousers, and scream to the handbag lady to stop pressing buttons. He then jabbed the door-lock button. He held his breath. The door stayed closed.
Billy then showed great presence-of-mind. He considered that, under the circumstances, to return to his seat in the carriage would be to subject himself to a certain amount of unwanted attention. So he stayed put, until the train drew into the next station, whereupon he briskly left the toilet, grabbed his nearby suitcase, stepped out of the carriage, walked along the platform, and got into the next-carriage-but-one.
His onward journey proceeded without further incident. Except that he found he no longer had any desire to use the toilet. Ever.
Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction, with more than fifty pieces published in Idle Ink, Everyday Fiction, The Copperfield Review, Litro Online, Firewords, The Drabble, Spelk, Moonpark Review and elsewhere.