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Fiction #171
(published March 18, 2004)
Working Nights
by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

The two doors that lead to the toilet stalls are propped open. I stand in the doorway of the first and watch the retarded boy (No, the custodian with special needs, my supervisor has previously corrected me) at the sink, his cleaning cart behind him.

The retarded boy uses a sponge, swirling the cleaning suds up and around like he were decorating a birthday cake.

I have to pee, so I cough and he looks up at me. Startled, his face reddens as if he'd been caught touching himself.

"Are you almost done in here?" I ask.

The retarded boy looks at me with dead eyes.

"I need to use it," I explain, pointing to the toilet cubicle.

He mutters something, his hand moving above the sink and counter. He's trying to explain that he's cleaning, I think. Like I'm the retarded one.

But I haven't the patience for him. "I HAVE TO GO," I yell, unbuttoning the flap on my slacks and heading for a cubicle.

As I close the door, he is again muttering, but he leaves and I hear him working the stops out, the wooden doors closing behind him.

I rip my pants down and seat myself. Relief rushes from my body. Looking at the floor, I see slight muddy tracks from my shoes and for a moment I'm sorry to have disrupted his cleaning, making another mess.

I sigh and lean back against the porcelain tank.

The feeling passes; I don't feel sorry for the retarded boy.

I hate working nights and finding he's the custodian on duty. I teach developmental writing and when I work late at the university, he seems to always be scheduled.

Pulling that stupid cart, when anyone with a clue would know to push it. Or him stupidly pushing the vacuum in rows up and down the hall, counting each stroke as if he were paid by the number. Him staring at his reflection in the glass case as his hand goes round and round, as if he has no idea who he is.

I question why he bothers me so. It doesn't take long to realize it's because he's male, and right now, I'm hating every fucking man on this campus. In this building. Inside and out of this department.

I bet he works through one of those programs that guarantees him a job as long as he doesn't fuck up in a big way. Though I'm sure that would make little difference. I've seen three fuck-ups receive tenure "guaranteed employment " one, just today.

I refuse to let my mind question the fairness of it; the equal opportunity office is headed by a penis, as well.

I hear the retarded boy knocking, and suddenly, I'm tired of men short-circuiting me. Tired of them thinking what they do is more important than what I have to do.

Pulling toilet paper from the roll, I am suddenly hit by the desire to even the score. I wonder what I might do and then I remember: the retarded boy, he's male.

I flush the toilet and exit the cubicle. He can perform the simplest of tasks. Can be trusted not to kiss-and-tell.

He knocks on the outside door again. In a frustrated tone, he mutters something that sounds like "work."

"Done," I yell. He reenters the rest room.

My pants are folded and sit atop the paper towel holder. I stand before the sink, my shirt open.

He is flustered at the sight of me and it is all I can do to keep from laughing. Finally a male who will not get over on me.

It is late. Though we both have work to do, I take his trembling hand and place it on my breast. His fingers curve inward and my nipple strains through the material of my bra to meet his palm. He begins jabbering, but I don't mind.

The two of us are now speaking the same language.

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