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Fiction

God’s Toilet 

By Anthony Mendoza 




Geoff stared out the business class window of the airliner as it made its decent into Fortuna City. He hadn’t been in his hometown in 6 years and was overcome with anxiety and excitement. Set against the postcard-perfect Vagabond Bay, the port city of 4 million is a top destination for all who yearn to travel. A city exploding with world-class restaurants, the best nightlife, and dozens of points of interest, Fortuna City is luxury and glamour at its finest. Geoff didn’t know much of that world though as he had grown up in the infamous neighborhood “God’s Toilet”. 


Officially named Tanner’s Square, it was home to the poorest of Fortuna City. The destitute neighborhood in the country’s richest city was like a scar on the face of the city from 20,000 feet. Rows of run-down high rise apartment buildings lined the one square mile perimeter of land. Traditional architecture of a bygone time nestled within the box outline of dilapidated buildings; it stood out in this modern metropolis like a pimple on prom night. 


Growing up in “God’s Toilet” wasn’t easy for Geoff. His father, a leather tanner, worked at the 600-year-old open air tannery Tanner’s Square was named for until he died in a car crash. Geoff was 10 at the time of his father’s death and his mother would eventually have to take 3 jobs to raise him and his then infant sister. Second hand everything was all he would ever get with clothes, toys, school supplies and most other items in the household. Dinners of rice, veggies and bread were a nearly everyday occurrence. Not because they were vegetarian, rather meat was a luxury expense. Many nights he would fall asleep imagining all the wonderful things people with money got to enjoy. Just one mile away, in Sunshine Park people were in their air-conditioned palaces enjoying another steak dinner while soaking in the view of the bay. Knowing what was so close yet so out of reach was a major factor in his getting his business degree.  


In traditional leather crafting, the use of urine and other ingredients create an incredibly noxious odor that permeates the area. It’s said the famous poet Siobhan Murphy visited Fortuna City in the late 19th century and caught the scent of Tanners Square and stated, “God must paint these sunsets as he keeps his toilet close by.” Soon after that quote, the nickname was used by all but Tanners Squares denizens. In the 1930’s, developers built the high rises that stand around the perimeter of the neighborhood. These interfered with the airflow and kept the odor locally confined. This not only perpetuated the moniker; it caused it to live up to its name. Today only 1 in 5 residents know Tanner’s Square to be the actual name of the neighborhood. Outside the city, maybe 1 in a million knew. During his college career and the 2 years at the firm, when asked what part of Fortuna City he was from, he’d state “Tanner’s Square”. Most people would just nod as if they knew the area. Many would then ask about the shopping district or the ultra-wealthy Gold Hills and, of course, “God’s Toilet”. The few who put 2 and 2 together would always look at Geoff differently after, as if he carried the odor with him. 


He was excited to see his mother and his sister, Georgia, but knew they wouldn’t be happy when they learned he booked a room at Paradise on the Beach. The home he grew up in was too small when he was living there, and he didn’t want to put them out. Not to mention, his income was substantial enough that he could (barely) afford the cost. He planned on bringing them to the rooftop pool overlooking the bay tomorrow and hoped that would soften the news and hopefully excite them as well. Unconsciously, he grabbed at the bag of gifts nestled between his feet. A brand-new laptop for Georgia and a pair of gold earrings for Mom. 


Geoff continued to stare out the window as the plane finally touched down. After what felt like an eternity, he was finally home. 



After a quick check-in at The Paradise and an overpriced club sandwich lunch at the hotel lounge Geoff grabbed a cab and headed to see his family. He had not seen Mom and Georgia since they came to his graduation ceremony 2 years ago. Georgia saved every penny for over 2 years so she could pay her way for the trip. She knew Mom wouldn’t be able to cover the cost for the both of them and she kept it a secret up until Mom had to start booking the trip. When Mom mentioned to Georgia that it was going to be a big struggle for them both to attend Georgia informed her she had already saved her entire half of the airfare and hotel. Mom broke down crying. She was over the moon that she’d have her entire family together for such a momentous occasion.  


Family was important to Geoff. It’s why he worked to get into college on full scholarship. He wanted to lift them out of “God’s Toilet” and into a better part of the city. He couldn’t wait to tell them he was able to secure a transfer to his company’s Fortuna City offices. He was coming home! He’d let them know the company was paying for his moving expenses and with his salary he could afford a 3 bedroom in Crescent Heights. Mom could rent the family home out and take a break from working for a while, maybe for good. Most importantly though, they’d be out of “God’s Toilet”. 


The big grin that lined his face quickly melted into a frown when he thought back to Bill and Charles laughing up a storm when he proudly mentioned this to them at The Martini Room last night.


“You’re from “God’s Toilet”? We should call you Mario...” Charles said, “since you’re about to play plumber and remove some floaters!”


The two of them howled at the comment until they saw Geoff’s angry reaction. 


“I’m only fucking with you, bro! You know how we are!” Charles said as he jabbed Geoff in the shoulder. 


“Yeah bro, calm down.” Bill said with just slightly more empathy than Charles. “Friends bust balls. It’s nice you can do that for your mom.” 


He wondered whether these “friends” would ever help their families in such a way or would they consider it burdensome. When his father passed, all the people in the neighborhood would drop by with meals or help with babysitting and household chores for nearly 6 months. They would check on him and his schoolwork. Most importantly, they were just there. His father wasn’t their blood, but the neighborhood was family, and family helped you when you were in need. He recalled spending time with Tommy D. the entire summer Tommy’s mother died from Cancer. Even though Geoff was 12 at the time to Tommy’s 9, Geoff knew what he was going through. He made the effort to be there for Tommy the way others were there for him a few years earlier. Tommy was a shy boy with seemingly no friends but that summer they got to know each other and become good friends through the mutual loss of a parent.  


It saddened Geoff to think about how little value Bill and Charles seemed to give to ideas like family. For that matter, his entire office seemed to share a similar perspective. He never heard stories about family events or news from anyone. Conversations always seemed to be either financially focused or about who got more hammered over the weekend. Thinking back, he wondered how obnoxious and meaningless the majority of his conversations were over the past couple years. He enjoyed all the nice things his newfound wealth could afford him, but he was starting to realize there wasn’t much substance to his life either. 



He decided to end his taxi ride a block away from “God’s Toilet”. It had been so long since he had walked the streets of Tanner’s Square and the day was like a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a summer day...absolutely perfect. It would be a roughly 20-minute walk to his home which would be a breeze. Near the center row of high-rise low-income apartments lining Trader’s Blvd. Geoff hooked a right and headed North on Cattle Hide Lane. The smell hit him by the time he was two streets down the road. He was back in “God’s Toilet” for sure. Although today the tannery employed modern chemicals the pungent odor was still powerful, and he was a quarter mile away from the Tannery itself. The high-rises lining Tanner’s Square were unknowing sentinels to any breeze strong enough to dissipate the heavy, funky air. He couldn’t believe he had once been accustomed to the fetid miasma. How could anyone get used to it? 


As he walked past the familiar shops and faces of Cattle Hide Lane, however, that’s just what he did. The odor, though there, became an afterthought that would soon mist away into a distant memory. His attention was quickly pulled to the goods in the store windows. The hard labor poured into the creation of the leathers lining the shops was apparent in the high level of craftsmanship. Generational knowledge passed down to keep rooted in tradition. Now the smells of well-oiled leather sat front row of Geoff’s olfactory theater. The shit-smelling frown he had been wearing had completely vanished as he continued to walk down the business lined street, his eyes absorbing all the window displays. A smile had unknowingly appeared in place of the frown and elicited the same from any who noticed.   


It felt foreign to Geoff initially to have a stranger smile back as they passed one another or receive a big bright smile from a shop keeper who used to chase him and his friends off in his younger rowdy days. That was not the attitude of his current city. You only smiled at a stranger when you were trying to hook up. An unwarranted “Good morning” would be rewarded with a sneer or a “Fuck off” in the city he was leaving behind next month. That foreign feeling floated away as quickly as the rotten bouquet coming from the tannery had vanished. It had been a while since he was feeling this human connection even with his robust social life. There was a genuinely positive atmosphere here that he had not experienced in many years. 



He turned left on Thimble Row. A few streets down this road would be 19 Thimble Row, his childhood home. The street, like 90% of “God’s Toilet” was devoid of grass and trees, home only to weeds that cracked the concrete around power poles and sidewalk holes. Some windowsills displayed a splash of nature with potted succulents or little herb pots. The buildings were single family houses or multi-family tenements uniform only in the fact that they all looked to be decaying. Various degrees of weather-worn paint gave the street a mishmash look of before and after pictures of a hurricane. Window frames that looked to be fabricated 200 years ago displayed sun-bleached curtains. At closer inspection, Geoff noticed there was no litter on the streets. No oil stains in parking spots. The sidewalks may have been cracking in places, but they were clean. Not even discarded gum could be found. The residents took pride in doing what they could to keep their surroundings respectable. He lived in a decent area back East but even he found trash here and there and was surprisingly proud of his childhood community. 


2 blocks from home his attention was drawn to a luxury car that lacked the patience for an elderly woman to cross the street. The driver laid on the horn and a teenage girl shouted out the passenger window “Let’s go old lady!”. This was so overwhelming to the woman that as she hurriedly scurried across the road, she ended up tripping at the curb knocking her purse out of her hands and scattering the contents across the concrete like dice on a craps table. The car and its cargo, rich kids “slumming God’s Toilet” peeled off. He could hear their laughter growing as they drew closer, and he sneered in anger at the oblivious group as they passed. 


He hurried to aid the woman in gathering her belongings and helped her to her feet. He offered to walk her home and she happily accepted. It turned out she lived on the corner of his block. She knew his mother and sister. Her name was Tanya and she invited him in for a cup of coffee to show her appreciation. They sat and spoke for nearly 30 minutes. He about his transfer and coming back to Fortuna City. Her about how she was recently widowed and lived in Crescent Heights but with a fixed budget she was ultimately forced to Tanner’s Sqaure for affordability. He asked how she was handling the transition. He was curious to get her perspective on coming to such a lower-income area. She had nothing but positive things to say and that threw Geoff for a loop. She loved the warmth of her neighbors, something she didn’t have in Crescent Heights. She enjoyed being invited to dinner with Mom and Georgia once a week and hosting once a week in return. She felt she didn’t have to check her doors were locked and could keep a first-floor window open all night. Geoff couldn’t say the same for his last few apartments. 


He took a quick peek at his phone and realized he was now nearly 45 minutes later than he told his mother to be expecting him. He apologized to Tanya that he had to rush off but she said she understood. He told her his mother would probably cry when she heard about their first meeting. She agreed. He said his farewell and headed down the home stretch. 


5  


In the handful of strides from Tanya’s to his home there was a significant amount of change in Geoff. He reflected that during his conversation with Tanya he didn’t mention he would be looking to relocate his mother and sister. The reasoning wasn’t because he thought she would laugh like Bill and Charles. No, the reasoning was because he wasn’t sure he wanted to do that any longer. Coming back to Fortuna City and “God’s Toilet” specifically was lifting the smoke and breaking the mirrors he had been living around as of late. 


Family, tradition, kindness. These seemed to be just words to far too many people in his day to day. Here it was palpable. Here it was a way of life. 


Much of his growing up he spent wishing to get out of “God’s Toilet” and when he got out, he was motivated to stay out. Now he was wondering why he ever wanted to leave such a tight-knit community. There was a lot to be said about finding happiness and money can surely help but he now knew it shouldn’t be the only motivation.  


As he walked up the steps leading to the front door, he was already rewriting his little speech on moving to Crescent Heights. Instead, he would give a little speech on remodeling and making additions for him to move back in. 


Geoff smiled from ear-to-ear as he turned the doorknob. He was home. 

End 


September 20, 2022 03:28

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4 comments

Brad Heald
01:14 May 20, 2023

I refer you to the Chicago Manual of Style for the correct way to number. Hola, My Trip Around the World. Enjoyed the story and the descriptions and street names. Your ending was perfect for completing Geoff's sort of sour to happy process and says much about "family" strength. Thank you.

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20:26 May 24, 2023

Thanks for the suggestion and thanks for reading! I appreciate the comments and I'm happy you got the journey.

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Trebor Mack
12:52 Sep 29, 2022

The chapters of short stories are rarely numbered. Numbers below 10 are best spelt out; e.g. one, two three and so on. I found your excessive use of adverbs (32) a tad disconcerting.

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Unknown User
21:38 May 30, 2023

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