There was a knock on the stall door, and it was just like any other strike, bang, or thump that had ever been inflicted on any solid plastic surface that Taylor sat behind.
She didn’t respond. A biography about the formation of the Triumvirate lay on her lap. She was peripherally aware that it was open to a page about Legend’s teenage foibles. But it was her lunch that currently dominated her visual field, and her attention.
She’d eaten a pita wrap every single day since her mother’s death.
There were other food places on the way to school: all manner of vending carts, bakeries, cafés and grocery stores. The Greek sandwich shop wasn’t cheap. The quality of its fare left much to be desired. Yet each morning her shoes led her there as if possessed by some foot fetishist spirit, and she’d spend her meagre savings on a value meal. She would discard the drink and cup of soup—hydration was for winners—and tuck the wrap away in her hoodie pocket, where it would gradually sustain more and more damage as the day went on.
Perhaps she gravitated to the things because they reminded her of the frailty of her own exterior, so unlike the scrappy obduracy of hard taco shells or the pillowy robustness of burger buns. She peeled open the tortilla sleeve to inspect its innards.
Bland, stringy chunks of day-old white chicken breast. Lettuce leaves that had more in common with moth wings than any kind of vegetable. At the sight, she felt an ineffable sadness radiate out from her core. It was her entire life enveloped in flatbread.
She rewrapped the roll and took a bite. Mushy.
Outside her stall, girls giggled. The knocking resumed.
’Tis some visitor,” Taylor muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—only this and nothing more.”
“Oh my god, it’s Taylor!”
This voice was shrill as a raven’s. Or a hagraven’s? Taylor couldn’t identify which girl it belonged to, but she knew it couldn’t be Emma because Emma didn’t believe in religion. It was one of the many personal convictions the girl had shared under the covers while Taylor was still spelunking in the cavernous depths of mother’s-death-induced depression. Taylor had cried for a week; she’d wanted so badly to believe in an eternal paradise where the deceased could dwell forever in peace amongst their brethren, but Emma had shown her incontrovertible evidence in the form of Wikipedia articles that heaven was at best a shared delusion and at worst a lie manufactured by the Church to profit off of human insecurity.
It had been a painful revelation, but a necessary one, as even now Emma continued to prove time and time again that there was no God.
Eventually the chattering and giggling ceased. Taylor pushed the door open gingerly, only to find nobody present. The other stalls were all occupied and the people within emitted muffled moans. Taylor had long grown inured to sounds of agony (from chronic night terrors), so she ignored the noises just as she ignored the desperate pounding of fists against the partitions.
Open bottles and cans littered the floor. Pools of liquid fizzed beneath the treads of Taylor’s shoes, eliciting a squeak of indignation from the ghostly deviant inhabiting them. She approached the sink without bothering to avoid the puddles in her path. Their presence comforted her: they brought to mind long walks through the rain, which she still indulged in on occasion. Her first date had taken place in a thunderstorm. She’d been twelve and he’d been thirteen, and they’d held hands as they raced full-tilt for the nearest shelter. She still thought about that sometimes—still wondered how things might have been different if he had kissed her, or if she had kissed him. But at the time all she could focus on had been the water sloshing through the intersecting triangular brackets of the pavilion, drenching her tank top and seeping through her tangled hair.
The rain had stopped. Time had passed. The boy had gone to Arcadia. He’d written back exactly once.
Her scalp itched at the memory of carbonic acid. She regarded her reflection in the mirror. After a moment’s examination, she declared her appearance below average. The conclusion was born not of whimsy or any real rancour, only an understanding of statistics and the knowledge that she resided in the lower fiftieth percentile when it came to attractiveness. What was life, after all, if not ceaseless struggle against a beanpole body caught in transit, ever on the cusp of maturity yet never quite able to reach the physical ideal she aspired to as a result of childhood exposure to fashion magazines that had irrevocably warped the way she saw herself and her peers?
She felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around.
A woman in a suit and fedora stood there. She whacked Taylor’s pita wrap out of her hand and Taylor’s eyes followed the arc of her lunch into the dingy bathroom wall. While she was distracted, the woman snatched the biography from her grasp.
“This is a first edition,” the woman informed her in a severe tone, pointing to the spine. She showed Taylor the inside cover. “It was autographed by Alexandria herself.”
Taylor looked blankly at the mass of illegible curls.
“It would have gotten ruined by the drinks. You’d do well to take better care of your literature.” The woman paused, looking past Taylor to her backpack on the toilet cistern. “And your art projects.”
She said something else, but Taylor wasn’t listening. She was gazing at the far corner of the bathroom where the pita wrap had concluded its journey. Shreds of lettuce and chicken chunks were strewn over the tiles. Tears welled up in her eyes, unbidden.
The woman nodded at her, approving of the reaction. “I recommend dust jackets. Door.”
A white rectangle expanded in front of the sink and the woman disappeared through it.
“That was a library book,” Taylor whispered.