Someone banged on the door.
The noise was excruciating and relentless, like someone beating an iron bell with a crowbar.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Henry buried his head in his arms and held on. The pain of the sound pulsed against his teeth. White light flashed behind his eyes with every reverberation.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
Just as he was certain the sound would kill him the knocking mercifully stopped, though the memory echoed on.
He drew a calming breath, then carefully pushed himself up from the floor. The pressure in his head exploded with the motion. It felt like someone had a vice locked on his skull and ratcheted it tighter with every movement.
He leaned back against a cold, hard surface. As the clouds grudgingly parted, he shoved the hair back from his face and forced his eyes open. The light pulsed uncomfortably around him in that manic way of cheap fluorescent tubes. He shaded his eyes and waited for the room to come into focus.
The room was the size of a large closet, tiled in a perfect shade of institutional jade. He sat on the floor hugging a dirty toilet with no seat. The floor was a warzone of black and white linoleum squares shimmying manically around him. The sight sent his stomach surging. He closed his eyes against it.
The knocking erupted again. The sound clanged violently through the room.
Gripping the greasy rim of the toilet, he pulled himself forward. The vice twisted a notch tighter against his head. His stomach threatened revolt but thankfully appeared to have no ammunition left to pull it off.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
He wanted to scream, wanted to throw himself through that door and beat the life out of his torturer. But the banging was too intense, too consuming. It sucked the strength from him, drained him of his will.
The knocking ceased as abruptly as it’d arrived, and the relief that new silence brought was epic in scope.
He steadied himself. He willed his stomach into compliance. The smell of vomit was nearly gagging. He hoped it was his own since he was wearing so much of it. It was accompanied by the sour stink of old urine (hopefully not his own), and the choking reek of well-ripened feces (certainly not his own). Altogether, it formed the telltale bouquet of another perfect outing.
The knocking kicked up again. It was downright pissy now. His teeth felt like they were going to burst out of his gums. “It’s occupied already!” he yelled at the door, “Jesus!”
“But I gotta pee!” a small voice cried from the other side.
It was a kid.
“Go find a fucking tree!” he yelled back.
Thank God almighty. The relief felt as intense as coming up for air nearly a moment too late.
He twisted his neck to the tune of crackling vertebrae. The pain mounted the top of his skull and rode the slide all the way down his spine. He wasn’t sure he was man enough to try standing. Of all his suicidal outings, this one was ramping up to be the best one yet.
Still, as much as he was enjoying the Zen of this breathtaking moment, he knew he couldn’t loiter there all day. So he steadied himself against the cold porcelain, and on a count of three, made the move to get up.
The spins threw him back to the safety of the toilet. Not so fast, Henry, his stomach warned, You ain’t going nowhere yet.
He fell back against the cold green tiles. As he waited for his stomach to tire of its tantrum, he gave himself a quick inspection. His right leg was generously painted in dried vomit, which perfectly complimented the stains on his sleeves. He had no socks, though he was still wore one black dress shoe. Strangely, it was missing its laces. His once white shirt was absent its tie and fully untucked. The left sleeve was ripped to the length of his forearm. Thankfully, a silver cufflink kept his wrists secured tidily. All in all, he figured he was perfectly attired for the venue: relaxed but not too sporty, stylish without being pretentious.
As he sat there, a queer sense of urgency seized him. The floor was cold and pitiless, and sitting there felt as uncomfortable as a beating. He needed to move now before he lost the willpower completely. So he braced himself again on the toilet rim, then painfully groped his way to his feet. Once upright, he fell back against the wall and held on while the spinning slowed to a safer velocity.
He was in a four-by-six industrial-style restroom. The green walls were generously covered in petroglyphs à la Sharpie. A thorough investigation of the space revealed no clues as to whereabouts of his missing shoe. He emptied the wastebasket and prospected through the trash. Nothing.
He turned to the sink and cranked up the water. The spigot coughed a few times before releasing a stream that was just a shade less yellow than the water in the toilet. He splashed his face in it anyway. The paper towel dispenser was empty, of course, so he grabbed a spare wad from the spilled trashcan.
As he scrubbed the scabs of vomit from his shirt, he noticed a man staring back at him from the window over the sink. This guy was hideous. His right eye was purple and swollen just enough to give him that much desired rogue visage so vigorously pursued by the dysfunctional adolescent heart throbs in Hollywood these days. His black hair was tangled in ways that seemed to defy gravity. The straight-up Alfalfa lick at the back of his head was an especially creative touch.
He leaned in over the dirty sink. The man in the window did likewise. “Still alive, I see,” he whispered to the man, “Zoe’s not going to be any too happy about that. Where’s your team spirit?”
The man in the mirror scowled.
Henry suddenly felt sick, and it had nothing to do with the hangover. Her face barged its way into his head, the same one in the photos under his TV, the ones with the competition-grade scowls that made him think of that flaming head in the Wizard of Oz: Pay no attention to the dead woman behind the curtain, Henry.
His humor collapsed like a building imploding. The pain in his head doubled in sympathy.
He turned away from the mirror. As he tucked the stiffening shirttails into his pants, he realized his belt was missing. He looked back at the other man. “Jesus Christ!” he said, “Losing a shoe’s one thing, but losing your belt, too? That’s a new low, even for you.”
The pounding on the door resumed. Henry felt the vibrations clear through to his spine. He grabbed his head and yelled, “Piss off already!”
“It’s the manager. Open the door.”