The restroom really can be restful, thought Ms. Wellington—her first autonomous thought on this inevitable gray morning in Hull. Her office telephone had been sobbing ruthlessly, like a madwoman in the attic, and a stream of people had been demanding this and that and the other thing as though their demands were remotely possible to meet. She had not even had time to distress herself with thoughts of the overdraft fee that she had incurred over the weekend, nor, for that matter, with the news of her sister’s strange illness back in America (the raving bat in the library, the euthanasia), which had so shaken poor Ms. Wellington and her kindly husband the day before.
But she sat in the restroom now, peaceful and free, in a silence-echoing silence, amid stately sepulchral marble the likes of which she herself could not afford even to be buried in. Her underwear dozed formlessly about her plump ankles.
There was, it must be acknowledged, something of the artist in our doughy doughty expatriate. You see, when indisposed in this particular restroom stall, as now, and therefore free to think her own thoughts, Ms. Wellington would indulge her habit of seeing into the life of the veining of the familiar marble walls, salvaging from the washes and shadowy wisps and crisscross ashes of random mineral impurity the pretty forms that pleased her. In the beginning the gray-grey gradations thereof would tremble so subtly as to seem the optical illusion of subtlety, the pulsing shade of ocular blood—but then the crystals would begin to melt down, twinkle like quicksilver, weave and re-weave themselves as in the excitement of the first creation, reform. When she had exhausted one angle she would have a go at another, not without self-criticism, for she valued the originality of her visions only insofar as she did justice to what she saw. Without her the stone would be an idiot, and the waste sands of wasted time would never have given birth to such dear little miraging creatures as were hers. She was a real mental Michelangelo.
(Her employer, Mr. Douglas, Esq., with his mean and important wristwatch, had once joked rather humorlessly that Ms. Wellington spent so much time in the lavatory now and again that he could be forgiven for suspecting her of time theft. She had laughed at how much she hated him just then.)
One of her objects there in the restroom stall was to see what she had not seen before. The unfurling fern, the mare and the colt, the sinuous ploughman on his misty hill—these were the classics of her eye. Give me more, she would implore herself, give me just a little more… This morning she was in a fine frenzy. Here, reflect these tiles down across the grout: the hanging gardens of Babylon. There, dwell: a witch confiding symbols and words to leaves scattered about her guanoed cave. Oh squint till the eye twinkles: the Redcrosse Knight on his caparisoned steed.
Ms. Wellington tended to conduct her exercises facing just to her right, with eyes level. But it so happened this morning that, somewhat unpersuaded by her overheated visions, somewhat bothered, too, by the thought that this children’s game would be the most fun she’d have all day—it so happened that she let her eyes wander hither and thither distractedly along the walls.
Oh and the telephone. Oh and the overdraft fee. Oh and that poor little bat.
Oh and how strange, she realized, that she should have for so long neglected so many other tiles as her eyes fell on now, down low and up high and farther to the right and farther to the left… Surely she had seen neither this one nor that one. Then again her brain might just be up to its old tricks again. But no, she had not seen them. Even stranger than that she should have neglected them, however, was the unalterable fact that these heretofore unseen tiles were becoming increasingly identical to those which she had spent so many minutes, so many hours, seeing into. There was that fern again, though it drooped in this clockwise iteration most unnaturally. Over here in the corner were the mare and the colt, astray, as it were, and fallen upside-down through the crust of the earth, trotting now upon nothingness. The ploughman’s twin was something evil.
It was strange, and then it was altogether dreadful. The marble had been unreal all along, its veining mechanically reproduced. How could Ms. Wellington not have realized it before? Someone else in some other corporate office, she thought, some well-fed ironical artist, must have been contracted to design the patterns on these bought and paid-for tiles, may even have intended to hide the fern, the horses and the ploughman there in the mock-veining—to hide them there in mockery of the fools who find them. Ms. Wellington had seen only what her predictable brain was meant to see, only what someone had been paid to make her see. She who had been pleased to consider the aura of a natural thing, she who had felt lucky to be graced with some modicum of creative power, recognized here in this restroom stall, just this morning, that she was late to her own vision. It struck her like the death of a family pet. And on the toilet, too.
Ms. Wellington finished her business and returned to her desk, her spectacles swinging from a delicate golden chain about her neck. She had had her rest. All along the hall of this regimented profitable world our administrative assistant could hear once more the telephones ringing and Mr. Douglas’s voice reasonably demanding the useless impossible. The sun threatened never to set from the newspaper-colored sky. A silly thing, she thought, to lose sleep over the fall of a bat and wake up all out of sorts, with nothing done and everything always yet to do. Best just to get it over and done with.