“Thin blue line” is a funny phrase, considering every police uniform I’ve seen in recent times is black.
This particular uniform had a black and white flag on its lapel velcro patch. No blue. Maybe one of the stripes was wider. The thin black line. More accurate description, so long as you kept the “b” lower-cased. But maybe it was just a flag, ironically stripped of its self-righteous colors. I don’t know. Didn’t look to close. Cop and all.
The kid was young. Real young. Scrawny. Red hair. Thick rimmed glasses. The kind of guy you’d see in a Subaru Outback listening to Mumford & Sons. He didn’t look like cop material, and he didn’t have the artificial bulk of a bulletproof vest, so I dunno, maybe he was just security. If so, he was from a firm that outfits their people a lot more like cops than Securitas does.
I cocked my shoulders sideways to slip past him as he slipped past me in the too-small hallway to the Fred Meyer bathrooms.
Inside, one stall was plastered with out of order signs — two paper ones taped to the door and one in a freestanding frame. The other stall was occupied. I leaned against the nearby wall and pulled out my phone.
“-combat veteran,” a voice in the stall said. It was the only thing I could make out, though it wasn’t the only thing he was saying. Staccato sentences mumbled to no one. “-goddamned combat veteran.”
The toilet never flushed, but I didn’t have long to wait. The lock clicked, and I pocketed my phone. A late-middle-aged man emerged, hunched under a backpack. His face was clean and shaven. His hair, sharp. I admit it was not the picture I was expecting.
Neither was the stall.
A long strip of toilet paper hung out of the toilet, decorated with a dot of blood every foot or so. Another just like it stuck to the long tail of what little paper was left on the roll. Unsoiled strips littered the floor like clothes on a teenager’s bedroom floor. A pair of brown socks sat crumpled in the corner. I hadn’t seen a stall this bad in a really long time. Surely one man did not do all this.
I locked the door. Gingerly, I plucked the toilet paper off of the toilet rim in between blood spots and dropped it in the bowl.
I stared at the seat. Thankfully, the bloody paper had passed through that gap in the front of the seat, but I still hesitated to put my bare ass on it. It looked clean and dry, though, and I couldn’t think of any reasonable way it could have been fouled.
Facing the other direction revealed details I hadn’t noticed yet. A crimson lump of something sat on the floor in a splatter of its own juices. I chose to believe it was a maraschino cherry. On my other side lay two exposed hypodermic needles. I shook my head and gingerly toed them further into the corner, careful to only touch the side of the syringe despite my unworn rubber soles.
The shoes were only a week old. They cost $160. The soles of the pair they had replaced were so worn that they let rain in.
I dropped my pants and sat down. Maybe I felt emboldened by the risks it seemed like I had just taken; maybe I felt like I’d earned it. I don’t know, but whaever the cause, I plead, “At least put the caps back on your needles, man.”
From the sink, I barely heard him say, “Didn’t I?” I realized I didn’t know if it was him or some previous user. “Shit,” he said. “Didn’t even come to mind. Better there than on the street, though, right?”
He had a point.
The poop wasn’t coming easy. I wondered if he thought I was in here doing the same.
I heard the automatic sink stop. “I feel bad about that, truly.”
“I know you do,” I said.
It was something I’d learned from a user in another Fred Meyer who had alternated between cussing himself out and apologizing to the security guard who was watching him fail to wrangle his belongings. “Sorry, sorry, not you,” he would say to the guard before going back to cursing at himself.
Truth is, most addicts hate themselves for the trouble they cause.
The sink turned on again. “I would have, if I’d thought of it.”
It felt pandering at this point to say “I know you would have,” so I didn’t. Just sat with my thoughts for a few seconds as the sink turned on and off. Those sensors are finicky as hell.
Something finally came to mind. “They oughta have sharps disposals in here, really,” I said.
The sink stopped as I gave a big squeeze. My abdomen screamed, but the bathroom was otherwise silent.
“You’re an alright dude,” he said after a moment.
The sink turned on again.
I carefully tore off the toilet paper above where the bloody strip was stuck to it and let that fall to the floor. Pulled a strip for myself and stood. The automatic toilet didn’t flush, and the tiniest little turd sat cradled in the bloody paper that I had dropped in.
When I came out of the stall , the guy was brushing his teeth. “Damn toilet wouldn’t flush,” I said as I walked up to the sink next to him. Someone else, cut from the same cloth as that copalike, was walking into the bathroom toward the stall. I redirected my voice, “Sorry about that.”
The door never locked. The guy just left. I washed my hands and wondered what he was thinking. What he thought my role in that massacre had been.
I held my hands under the paper towel dispenser as it spat out a foot of brown sandpaper. Wiped my hands dry. Dropped it into the trash. Rehearsed.
“Hey, be safe, okay?” I said as I walked behind the guy toward the exit.
“Have a good night!” his cheery voice muffled by a mouth full of toothpaste.
Outside the bathroom, that cop was leaning against a square pillar painted beige, arms crossed, looking bored. The customer service desk to my left had only one employee, all the way across the counter, and he was busy grabbing someone cigarettes. A small line waited. So I walked up to the cop. Copalike. Whatever.
“I don’t want to wait for that desk,” I said, voice low, “but there’s sharps on the floor in that stall. It needs cleaned ASAP.”
“Fantastic,” the guy said with relief in his voice, brushing past me towards that too-small hallway.
I hoped he wasn’t headed to fuck with the guy. I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt.
Should have turned around to look for a back patch. Whether it said “Police” or “Security.”
I would have, if I’d thought of it.