There had been an accident somewhere along the road. Vince couldn’t see it from the doorway of his office-building, but he could hear the sirens and he could just make out the sparkling of blue lights in the distance. From where he stood, it was impossible to tell if anybody had been hurt but it was safe to assume, based on the number of emergency vehicles that seemed to be present, that the accident had been bad. Vince glanced to his right at the flow of diverted traffic and glowered. He checked his watch.
“For fuck’s sake.” He spat.
Vince’s office-building stood on the corner of a busy main-road and a usually quiet side-street. Today, the usually quiet side-street was a relentless stream of lunch-time traffic that had been diverted away from the accident up ahead. Vince marched over to the edge of the pavement to the spot where he crossed the road every day. He stood there for a minute or so, turning his head from side to side like some deranged umpire, eagerly scanning for a gap in traffic through which he could cross. He drummed his hands against his hips. No gap came. He checked his watch.
“For fuck’s sake.” He spat again. “Why does this bullshit always happen to me?” He looked again at the sparkling blue lights in the distance. “Fucking bullshit!” He turned and began walking along with the traffic, deciding to find a different place to buy his lunch.
It had been that kind of week for Vince and he fully expected it to continue to get worse. The previous night he had returned to his flat after work to find that his girlfriend, Vicky, had taken her things and moved out. He couldn’t honestly say that he was very upset about her leaving; he was more upset that she had been the one to leave him when he had been toying with the idea of ending things himself.
Vicky was a teacher; she taught little kids. Vince supposed it was because of her job that she had a tendency to talk to everybody like they were little kids. It got pretty annoying after a while.
Then there was the matter of the report-card. That really stuck in his throat. It was one thing to spend a year treating him like a little kid and then not even have the common decency to let him break up with her, but to leave a fucking report-card!
It was a note, really – a Dear John. It had been propped up on the kitchen counter when he had returned home to the empty flat. It was Vicky’s explanation for her sudden flight.
Vince was selfish.
Vince was disruptive.
Vince had so much potential but was too lazy to live up to it.
If Vince didn’t pull his socks up soon, he would be doomed to failure.
Vince had torn up and thrown away every report card he had ever been given in his life, this one was no exception.
Vince walked along with the diverted traffic, expecting to come to a pedestrian crossing that he could take advantage of, but he didn’t find one. He decided to give up in his attempt to cross the road and, instead, turned right at the next corner he came to. He was only about five-minutes away from his office, but he had never been to this part of town before. The walls here were a visual cacophony of brightly coloured graffiti tags and posters for shows featuring bands that Vince had never heard of. There was a smell in the air – a food smell. Vince couldn’t identify it but it smelled good. Everything was starting to seem good now. Vince was beginning to think that today’s lunch-time disruption was actually just what he had needed. Then he saw the boy.
The boy looked about five years old. He was standing alone in the middle of the pavement up ahead and he appeared to be sobbing violently. Vince had no idea what to do. He briefly considered turning back. He looked around to see if there was anybody else who could tend to the crying child but there was nobody. He thought about walking more quickly and ignoring the boy completely; it wasn’t as though the kid was his problem.
Then he remembered the report-card. Among other things, Vicky had called him selfish. Maybe she had a point.
Vince stopped beside the sobbing boy, glancing around again at the empty street.
“Hey. Hey kid. What’s the matter? Where are your parents?”
The boy looked up; his eyes were puffy and red and his cheeks were streaked with tears.
“He… told… me… to… stay… here.” The boy said, still sobbing and taking deep breaths between every word. Vince crouched down beside him.
“Who told you that? Your dad?”
“Yes.” The boy said. “He…told…me…not…to…move.”
“Where did he go?” Vince asked. “And how long has he been gone?”
“I… don’t… know.” The boy sniffed loudly. “A… long… time. He… went… in… there.” The boy pointed to a small structure on the other side of the road. It looked like a public toilet. Vince wondered just how long a guy would have to spend on the john to reduce his kid to a quivering wreck like this.
“Okay,” Vince said. “Here, come here.” He pulled a tissue out of his jacket pocket and wiped the kid’s face. This seemed to calm him down a bit. “Now, how long has your dad been in the toilet? Can you tell me how long?”
The boy sniffed again.
“Hours.” He stated, looking at Vince with solemn, watery eyes.
Hours? Vince thought. Jesus, this isn’t good.
“Okay,” He said. “Come on, we’ll just go and check on him. What’s your name?”
“Toby.” The boy said, brightening a little.
“It’s nice to meet you, Toby. My name is Vince. Now, come with me.” Vince stood up and held his hand out to the boy, who took it obediently. Vince was momentarily struck by how trusting the child was. He crossed the road with the boy and stopped outside the toilets.
He wasn’t going to take the kid in with him. He said it had been hours. Vince thought that the kid was probably exaggerating, but he still didn’t know what he was going to find in there. He had a strong mental image of a junkie, dead in a toilet stall with a needle in his arm. If that’s what happened to this kid’s dad then the kid didn’t need to see it.
“What does your dad look like?” Vince asked the boy, letting go of his hand. Toby seemed to consider this question carefully.
“He looks like you.” He said, finally.
“Like me?” Vince replied. “Brown hair and a beard?”
“Yes.” Toby said. “Just like you.”
“I want you to wait right here, okay, Toby? I’m going to go in and find your dad.”
“Will you be okay here until I come back?”
Toby nodded again. Vince ruffled the child’s hair with his hand and then went into the toilet.
There were two doors, one marked with an ‘F’ to the right and one marked with an ‘M’ to the left. Vince thought it was safe to presume that Toby’s father would have used the door marked ‘M’. Should that prove fruitless, he decided he would also check ‘F’, he would just knock very loudly before he did. He pushed ‘M’ and walked through.
The toilet was typical in its layout. The were two urinals immediately ahead of the door and two toilet stalls to the left. Vince walked further inside, letting the door swing shut behind him with a loud smack. He saw that there were a pair of wash-basins below a long mirror on the wall behind him. He looked back at the toilet stalls. The door of one was open and it was clearly empty, the other was closed over, but not locked. Vince felt a flutter of nausea.
“Hello?” He called. The word reverberated around the room. He paced slowly toward the closed stall. In his mind, he was, once again, picturing a dead junkie sitting on the toilet, leaning back as though relaxing after a long day, the back of his head pressing against the cold tile. He could see the blood streaked vomit crusting around his mouth and in his beard. He could see the dirty hypodermic still protruding from the crook of the dead man’s arm and he could even smell the metallic scent of the blood mixing with the resident aroma of piss and bleach. He laid his hand against the door of the stall and pushed it. It creaked as it peeled away to reveal another unoccupied toilet. There was nobody in here.
Vince turned away from the stall. He supposed he would have to check the ladies’ after-all and he wondered what kind of weirdo Toby’s father must be.
Suddenly, the lights overhead flickered and Vince’s eyes were pulled to the long mirror in front of him. He looked at his reflection as he moved toward the washbasins. As spooked as he had been, he did not expect to see his complexion as deathly pale as it was. He twisted one of the taps and found that it worked and the water looked clean.
Bending forward, he scooped handfuls of cold water into his face and shook his head. He felt alright. He looked back up into the mirror. He still looked pale, and his eyes looked strange. They looked darker than usual. He leaned forward, closer to the glass, analysing the whites of his eyes which were now red and bloodshot. He had a second to worry about the cleanliness of the air in this place when his reflection reached forward with both hands and grabbed his head.
Vince tried to scream; tried to pull away but managed neither. He uttered a choked squeal of surprise and then he was being dragged into the glass by impossibly strong hands. He fought furiously against those hands but there was to be no escape. He felt the cold glass on his face and was sure it would shatter any second, lacerating his skin before his skull was crushed against the wall behind it. Instead he felt only cold. As though his face had been dipped into a pool of ice-water. Then there was pain. As his face, then head, then neck were pulled in he felt some great chopping force ripping at every inch of him that disappeared into the mirror, as though he were being dragged into a giant fan with razor edged blades.
It was over quickly. Vince stopped struggling after his head had been dragged through. His arms went limp at his sides and the rest of him slid through the surface of the glass, his knees bumping against the taps as they went. There was nothing left of him for anyone to find.
In the mirror, Vince’s reflection smiled, satisfied, and walked out of the bathroom.
Outside, Toby had been waiting a long time. He stood, staring solemnly at the entrance to the public bathroom.
There was a clicking sound coming toward him from further up the street. He turned his head and saw a pretty lady with beautiful, long, blonde hair, dressed smartly in a red blouse and a black skirt, her heels clicking on the pavement as she walked.
Toby hung his head and began to sob loudly.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong, little one?” The pretty lady said as she drew near. She came right over and crouched beside him. “What’s wrong? Where is your mummy or daddy?”
Toby looked up at her, fat tears once again staining his cheeks. He pointed at the entrance to the public bathroom.
“My mummy. She’s been such a long time.” Toby sobbed.
“Oh, you poor dear thing.” The lady said, fishing a tissue from her handbag and gently wiping Toby’s face.
“Do you want me to go in and get her?”
Toby nodded, his face brightening.
“What does she look like?” The lady asked.
“She looks like you.” He said.
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