Mary Andrea’s Dilemma–entry 1
I’m trying something new. This is the beginning of an unpublished short story I wrote years ago I’d appreciate feedback about what you like and what you don’t like. Please let me know if you’re interested in reading it over time. Entry 1 is the longest one. The rest of the entries are much shorter.
© 2011 J. Dempsey.
My name is Mary Andrea. I live in a really weird town and I keep my diary in the girl’s bathroom at a school that looks like an old shed from outside. I’m trying to keep my writing legible but Ronald Anderson is in the bathroom, too. He keeps pushing into me every time he tries to read what I’m writing.
He finally moved away from me after I stomped on his foot. His father is glaring at my father because he told Ronald to leave me alone. Right now Ronald is nearsighted, which means he has to get really, really close to read it. He thinks he’s safe with all these other people around us. After 3:00pm, he’ll remember we hate each other and he’ll go as far away from me as possible.
There’s only 31 of us ladies crowded in the girls’ bathroom at 2:55pm–and 30 guys. My dad says the adults have to be in the bathroom at least once every 10 days. I don’t know why. At 3:00 every afternoon we change to a different time zone. We just call it “the change,” but that’s as non-descriptive as naming your black dog ‘Blackie.’ Not all of us remember making the change, and there are some guys that just don’t want to come into the girl’s bathroom for 10 minutes. The ones who don’t remember their lives between time changes are frightened when they walk inside. That makes it very hard on the rest of us because we have to make sure they get there early enough to tie them up and gag them.
Yes, I’m the only kid that gets to be in here every single boring day. Me and my father, Mayor Crawford, get to do it because it’s the mayor’s responsibility to decide who gets to make the change. It would be easier if the whole town changed in the afternoon, but the girl’s bathroom is the only place that doesn’t make most of us change time zones and forget. That makes it the only place you can keep a diary and know that the information won’t get lost.
Every morning at 5:00am I wake up to the smell of burning coal in the air and the sound of horse hooves clomping down the narrow brick road in front of our house. It used to be very disorienting, but now it’s just disheartening. I would go to sleep on my air mattress and wake up slumped in a down-filled mattress, a smelly old chamber pot under my bed. It’s bad enough to have to empty the chamber pot in the outhouse first thing in the morning, but you don’t know what cold is until you’ve sat on an outhouse seat when it’s 10 below. That’s why I call this part of the change the outhouse time zone. The part I’m in now, I call the toilet time zone.
I go to sleep after checking my email on my laptop computer in the evening and find a large ceramic pot full of water on my desk in its place the next morning. I learned to take a shower at night so I wouldn’t have to wash up in a cold room before putting on the dress I was going to have to wear for the week. In the winter, the smell of wood, coal and factory fumes burning through the air are a lot worse and I hate having to walk to the school. When we’re on outhouse time, my mother comes into my room and says things like, “Mary Andrea, you have to get up and tend your fire until the central heat comes on again!” The worst part about it is that my mother has to treat me like a grown woman, an old maid and a terrible disappointment to the family when we’re in the outhouse time zone.
Every day, except Sunday, I walk the lonely path to school in a long dress with a petticoat. I’m considered a rebel because I refuse to wear a corset, but most people don’t seem to care because I’m a good teacher. I hate the ugly leather shoes. They take 10 minutes to put on with a shoe hook every morning. I have a long wig and it takes another 10 minutes to put it into a bun and place it on top of my head. It makes me feel like I’m 30 years old!
Just before 2:55pm comes around, the bathroom smells of old sweat and sewerage. A few minutes later, it smells like cologne and Clorox. Some days, I don’t know which smell is worse. It used to be confusing to change from a teacher to a student in a matter of minutes, but now I just put a quick comb through my short hair, put the wig in a backpack, adjust my halter-top and slip into my jeans. I have to put the dress and shoes into a fold-up duffle bag that I keep in a deep closet inside the girl’s bathroom. Only my dad and I have the key, but many have attempted to pick the lock when we’re in toilet time. They’re surrounded by school security in a matter of minutes. I rush home as quickly as possible so that I can make it to my 3:30 Internet psych class. After that, I drive my small air-fueled car to karate class at the edge of town.
I’m a black belt and help Master Chang teach the white belt class. Of course, before 3:00, he’s just “that Chinese boy who helps Mr. Anderson.” It doesn’t matter that he’s 53 and a lot wiser than Mr. Anderson will ever be. When we’re on outhouse time, no one cares to know anything more about him than the fact he’s from some other country. I’ve tried talking to him in the outhouse time zone, but Mr. Anderson says, “a proper woman doesn’t talk to a Chinese!” He turns to my father and tells him, “Control your daughter!” I’ve asked my father why Chang seems to be in each time zone but never goes into the bathroom with us. He just stares at me and says he doesn’t know.
Mr. Anderson won’t let me into his dry goods store before 3:00pm. Not since I broke Ronald’s nose when Ronald got fresh with me. If my dad and I hadn’t been able to remember toilet time, we wouldn’t have understood that’s what he was doing. I was 13 when he grabbed my arm one summer morning and said he was going to marry me, no matter what he had to do to make it happen. I was on my way to school, and the only witnesses to the event were several thousand trees and a few dozen wildflowers scattered along a narrow dirt side-road. He didn’t remember that I had a brown-belt then and screamed when I flipped him onto the ground. He landed face first and broke his nose. You should have seen his father’s expression when Ronald told him what I’d done. I smiled and shook my head as if Ronald were crazy. I told Mr. Anderson his son had tripped over one of the deep ruts left by numerous wagon wheels. I laughed and said that Ronald was one of the clumsiest, dumbest, boys I’d ever met and if his son ever had kids they should be shot and put out of their misery. Mr. Anderson told my father I deserved to be an old maid and he would do his best to run me out of town. Master Chang laughed about it and looked at me with the same all-knowing eyes he has after 3:00pm.
After the time change, it doesn’t take long for people to pile out of the bathroom, unless it’s one of the ladies and she has to pee, or whatever. I have to wait until everyone else leaves so no one sees where I put my diary. It’s not easy at times, especially when that creepy Ronald Anderson stands in the bathroom staring at me, as if he thinks my dad will leave my side until he’s gone. My dad calls Mr. Anderson from his cell phone and says, “If you don’t control your son, I will!” Ronald always leaves after that.
My diary is the newest volume of the history of our town, which we’ve kept for the past 20 years, when the bathroom was first discovered. My mother kept the history before me, but when it was time to start a new book, both of my parents decided it would be best for me to continue the tradition in case she got sick or something, so I’m taking over mom’s duties as reminder and recorder. I’m the one who writes the names on little pieces of paper to give to people so they meet us at the bathroom. Some people have to make the change without their kids. We’re fortunate our family can make the change together.
I have a special place for my diary. I’m not going to say where, just in case someone (like Ronald) reads this. It’s a big responsibility. I want to do more than hand out little scraps of paper and keep a diary for the rest of my life, and that’s why I have a dilemma.
If I stay here long enough, there’s always a chance I could miss the change. If I miss the change, well–I’m not one of the lucky ones who remember. I want to leave town and go to college. I want to text friends, see the world, and spend the rest of my life using a flush toilet. I once asked my father why I couldn’t just stay in toilet time. He reminded me of my responsibility—and what will happen if he isn’t re-elected mayor. I think there’s another reason, though.
I’ve been home-schooled since I can remember. Other people have their kids in an umbrella type home school, too. Some people come into the local library and test us every month in the afternoon so that I can get a real high-school diploma.
Once, when I was 13, my parents found me in outhouse time. I don’t even remember why, which is probably why I didn’t recognize them. If I get stuck in outhouse time again, I take the chance of losing everything I know and I’ll never get to college. At least that’s what I think will happen.
My father and I can’t figure out when the time change occurs overnight and why we can still remember that we were in another time zone after the night change. He thinks it’s around 3am but can’t pinpoint exactly when. It doesn’t make much sense. In fact, nothing makes much sense to me anymore. We used to have over 300 people in our city. The first time I made the change, my father told me we’ve lost at least a hundred residents in the past 20 years. Some of them have disappeared all together, never to be seen again. Others end up in mental institutions or insane asylums, with or without amnesia. I only know about the people who end up in the town asylum. The type of facility all depends on which side of the time zone you’re in. I asked my father why, and he simply answered, “They missed the 10 day window.”
I’ve asked Master Chang about it when we’re on toilet time. He smiles and tells me if I talk like that, I’ll end up in a nut house. He didn’t really say “nut house,” but isn’t it the same thing to say, “If you are not cautious, your mind will never find home?” He says other really strange things I don’t understand like “Patience is a virtue.”
I remember the time I cleaned out my section of the bathroom closet. I’d brought in a set of my afternoon Easter Eggs, set them on the shelf over the sink and forgot about them until the next day which, of course, was now outhouse time. One of the boys I teach who doesn’t make the change found a way to unlock the schoolhouse shed, which is what the outside of the bathroom looks like in outhouse time. I think I mentioned that, didn’t I? He ran to the Sheriff’s office and came back with Deputy Jones, pointing an accusing finger at me and saying, “I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it!” After correcting his grammar, I smiled as they wandered around looking at the toilets and sinks until the boy took one of the plastic screw-type eggs out of a deep pocket and held it up to my face.
“Do you know what this is Miss Crawford?” The deputy asked with a smile.
I opened the blue and gold egg to reveal several pieces of candy in aluminum foil and told him, “It’s just a trinket.”
“What kinda shed is this?” The boy demanded.
“The kind of shed a boy like you shouldn’t break into,” I told him, unwrapping one of the candies and popping it into my mouth. “If you enter my shed again, I’ll have you put in jail!”
“Go back to class,” The deputy ordered the boy.
Both of us smiled when the boy bent down, stuck his hand in the toilet, and drank the water. Before he left he said, “Them’er little wells.”
I offered a candy to the deputy, which he took. He tipped his hat and chuckled as he said, “Thank you ma’am.”
Of course, word spread quickly. Some of the women started talking about “witchcraft,” and wanted me to leave town. Others thought I was a woman of ill repute making advances to the deputy in front of a child. Luckily, Deputy Jones is one who remembers both time zones in between his 10-day trip to the girl’s bathroom. He told the Sheriff the boy broke into the school shed, stole a few items, and when he was caught he made up a story. That’s when I started to get a bad case of the “what ifs.” As in: ‘ What if I make a really big mistake and end up in the nut house? Or, What if I’d been arrested and was stuck in the outhouse time zone?’ Or, worse…what if I was forced to marry Ronald Anderson?
My dad is no help. He says as long as he’s mayor, it won’t happen. He doesn’t seem to see that Mr. Anderson has a good chance of winning the mayors election, which is next week. My father’s opponents were usually far below him in the polls, but Mr. Anderson has a shot at winning. He’s running on the platform that the city’s population is dwindling because of my father’s mismanagement. He says that my father’s the reason we haven’t been able to get new businesses to come in. Mr. Anderson made it clear to my father, secretly of course, that he won’t be as fair about sharing the bathroom. He would probably love nothing better than to be able to allow only his friends to be in there every day. I’ve seen what that can do to people.
As you can imagine, there are a few people that aren’t allowed in the girls’ bathroom at all. Mrs. Howard was one of them. After 3:00 she was a single mother that worked for the state and couldn’t remember how she could’ve gotten pregnant in the first place. Before 3:00, she was the pastor’s wife and believed that the only way to make kids behave is to beat them. In one time zone, she’s a sadistic bitch that beats her children into Godliness. In another time zone, she’s a sadistic bitch that takes children away from their families and puts them into foster homes. She’s was a friend of the Anderson’s, which explained why she seemed determined to take me away from my father. I learned to make appointments with her in the morning because she wouldn’t remember what happened when the time zone changed. We only let her into the bathroom once and it was a good thing my dad was wise enough to bring the pastor in with her. She remembered which families she wanted to call abuse on and tried to find a phone to do it right after making the change. My dad phoned the town doctor who rushed into the bathroom with enough drugs to make a horse sleep for hours. The pastor had her tied to a hospital bed until morning. When she woke up, he told her that she’d had a fever and had been saying terrible and ungodly things. She smiled sweetly and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. He untied her and she rewarded him by hitting him over the head with a bronze lamp. Since it was before 3pm, she ended up in an asylum for the criminally insane. Someone said she died after contracting tuberculosis. If she did, there wasn’t much we could do about it, really. Sanitariums are outside the city limits. The pastor will never admit it, but he and his children were a lot happier after she was gone.
My father and I don’t understand why no one has been able to move into the town for 20 years. New people show up occasionally, and then disappear after 3:00pm. We’ve even tried fitting them into the bathroom the same day they arrive. I forced one into the stall, holding on to her to see what would happen. I lost my balance when I found myself trying to hold on to air. My mother couldn’t help laughing when I told her about it. She said she’d tried doing it once, too. My dad was furious when mom told him. He said never to speak of it again. Angry, she said, right in front of him, that if I ever figured out how to disappear like that she wanted to go with me.
I never realized how unhappy my mother was being just a housewife. She said that people who have the same type of lives in each time zone were the ones who tended to stay out of the institutions. That limited most of the women to childbearing and housework. The women with children living in toilet time take turns leaving their kids with a cousin or other relative who remember during the 10 days between their time changes. That’s one of Deputy Jones’ jobs when he’s in outhouse time. He keeps an eye on the boys.
Most women choose to take a yearly birth control shot after 3:00 on one of the days when it’s their turn in toilet time. That has become one of my responsibilities, too. I have to tell women when it’s time for them to go to the local clinic to get their shot. It’s about as interesting to me as being an accountant, only instead of juggling numbers, you’re juggling human lives in ways that add or subtract futures. If I make a mistake, it can multiply or divide families. If Mr. Anderson is elected Mayor, he said he won’t allow it because the city’s population has to grow.
I have to stop writing now. It’s time to go home and I’m already late for my Internet psych class. Ronald Anderson is getting Lasix surgery today. He said that he hopes his vision will improve all day. I don’t want to write what I hope happens to him.