Fiction · 07/28/2010

Toilet Trouble

The water leaks between the base of the toilet and the tile floor. It’s been leaking since he and his wife bought the house three years ago. She’s told him to fix it many times. Each day, after she leaves for work and he drops their son off at school, he goes to the upstairs bathroom and considers fixing it. He stands before the toilet and thinks of how other lives leak through us until possibility is lost. He imagines himself walking backward on an endless sea of toilet water. Then he returns to his bedroom office and Googles himself while eating a croissant and coffee, which occupies him until he must pick up his son. But today the water has hit the hall carpet.

He enters the bathroom wearing his wife’s pink rubber gloves, an adjustable wrench in one hand, sealing putty in the other. He’s never done this before and doesn’t really know if he’ll need the wrench, but it seems necessary, as does the putty.

He steps in the puddle. The strong scent of urine makes him wonder if the toilet is leaking at all, or if his six-year-old boy simply has poor aim. He sets his wrench and putty on the lid. Beside him, the taupe colored toilet paper trails to the floor where the water has begun to climb it. His son must have pulled too hard.

He takes the roll off the chrome holder and pulls out a long swath as far as his arms can reach, then lets it go, watching it drift to the floor. It soaks up the water, losing its own color in the process. He pulls out another strip and drops it. And another. Soon they are all saturated, transparent. He tries to peel the paper off the floor, but it is waterlogged and rips in two, one part lumping on the floor, the other clinging to his fingers. He flings it off his hand and onto the wall where it sticks with a splat before sliding to the tile. After staring at the ugly lump, he picks it up, tosses it in the toilet, and flushes it down. He turns to go, steps over the line of toilet paper, but the sight of his image in the mirror stops him. He removes his rubber gloves then kneels in the pool.

He swirls the paper through the shallow surface, gathering the shreds that break away and plopping them back on until he shapes a small ball. He pulls more strips from the roll and soaks them on the floor before adding them to the clump. Soon, it’s the size of a muskmelon. He picks it up, holds it in his hands, molding it, pressing with his thumbs, making two holes near the top, sculpting the bottom to a slender curve, pulling at the sides.

He sits at the base of the toilet, the water having soaked through his jeans and underwear, paling his skin. He studies his work, then sets it to the side and opens the cabinet beneath the sink. A package of four rolls. He rips the plastic. Two in each hand, he swishes them through the water until the rolls thicken. He carves the hands, shaping each finger, each toe, paying particular attention to the head. The face must be perfect. He sculpts cheekbones, the slope of the nose, working the final touches, pulling at the tissue here, cutting a little away there, the water continuing its slow crawl up his pants and into his shirt, his hair.

He feels himself pruning, sees the color flowing from his limbs. But it’s only more material. He picks at the clumped flesh, pulls chunks of it away and heaps them on the body of his creation. It’s so beautiful, he thinks, almost divine. He grabs for more of his flesh but finds only air.


Peter Grandbois is the author of The Gravedigger, The Arsenic Lobster: A Hybrid Memoir, and the forthcoming novel, Nahoonkara. His short stories have appeared in journals such as: Boulevard, The Mississippi Review, Post Road, New Orleans Review, and Gargoyle. He teaches at Denison University in Ohio and can be reached at