mouse larisheva


There was a sign on the door.


And on the other.


He stood with one little hand curled into each of his palms, eyes flicking between the doors. Since when were four-year-olds responsible enough to navigate public locker rooms alone?

"Daddy… I really have to go."

"I know, I know. Just—one second."

Swim lessons. If only he could have afforded that house with the pool, slinging burgers at backyard barbecues and birthday parties. Their tiny apartment didn’t even have a gym. If only his wife was around to lend a hand. If only there was a fucking family restroom. If only, if only—he'd found himself saying that a lot this past year.

"Why are we waiting?"

He shook his head and let go of one of the girl's hands, holding open the door to the women’s room. Surely they would understand his predicament. Humiliating himself was worth it, he told himself, but his racing heart said otherwise.

A familiar tightness filled his chest as he let the door close behind him. He wasn’t supposed to be here—even the sign knew that. It had been so long since he'd been in the wrong restroom that he’d completely forgotten what it felt like, and he focused his eyes squarely on his feet as he shuffled over to the stalls. He herded the girls inside one, ducking down to hide behind the so-called 'privacy' walls.

"Careful… Here, let me put this down—wait, don't touch that…'' His voice boomed against the high-pitched chatter, and he whispered to his daughters as he struggled to keep an eye on them both. One pig-tailed twin ripped the sanitary paper off of the toilet as soon as he’d placed it down, and he scrambled to get another one, helping the other squirmy girl onto the seat.

“I said don’t touch that. Did you hear me?” The words hissed out from between his teeth, and the girls replied with giggles. Stiff with nerves, he peered into the toilet. Waiting. Listening.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Every second spent kneeling on the dubiously-clean bathroom floor was torture, his heart beating as if he was already swimming laps. Pink and green sneakers entered the stall to their right, and he felt lightheaded. “Do you still have to go?”

The girl nodded, swinging her legs. “There are too many people…” She pushed her bottom lip out, peering at the shoes in the other stall. He placed his hands on the sides of her head, focusing her attention on him.

“Nobody’s here. It’s just us. Try to go, okay? We don’t want to be late for swimming.”

“And I have to pee too!”

“She has to pee too.”

The girl squeezed her eyes shut and focused all of her concentration on the task at hand. Waterfalls. A trickling steam. Rain pattering against the window. Finally, he heard her let go, and he sighed in relief.

As she finished, the restroom door opened and a dozen women filed past the stall. His other daughter reached up and played with the latch on the door, and he pulled her back over to his side as he cleaned her sister up. Halfway done. Was it the coffee, or were his fingers trembling from anxiety? He hadn’t felt this nervous about something so innocent since the first time he’d walked through a door labeled ‘MEN’.

Fifteen years ago.

* * *

He’d made up his mind. Still, he couldn’t shake the lead from his shoes as he watched the line dwindle in front of that looming door—the one with the little stick figure on it. The one he’d been dying to walk through for years, but he hadn’t worked up the courage to do it until today.

The last boy went in. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Usually, he would have avoided the bathrooms completely, but his substitute physics teacher had tried to win the class over with a demonstration of centrifugal force using his favorite cola… It was simply impossible to say no when the teacher offered him the rest of the bottle on his way out.

He peered out from his hiding spot, tucked behind the stairwell as he stared out between the steps at the bathroom door. Why hadn’t this guy come out yet? There were only two minutes left until class… They’d both be late, no doubt. The hall had emptied, students meandering towards their post-lunch destinations, and he balled his hands into fists as he put his head down and gunned it for the bathroom.

It smelled of piss, without the ferrous scent that usually accompanied it. No coin-operated machines on the wall, but urinals in their place. Though he was intrigued by the angle and force it would take him to be able to use one, he didn’t allow himself to dwell.

The handicap stall was taken, so he used the one closest to the exit. Latched the door, turned around, stared down at the grimy porcelain. It was true, the girls’ bathroom was cleaner. He looked over the stalls but saw no sign that the other boy had moved, mouth dry at the realization that he probably wouldn’t be able to wait this one out. Now that he was in front of the toilet, it was like his bladder was twice as full as before lunch had started.

His jeans fell to the floor, belt buckle clattering against the tile, and he ran a wad of toilet paper across the seat. Just in case. Finally, he sat down, and he leaned over until he could see the boy’s feet in the other stall. He was sure the boy would say something as soon as he heard the sound. But was he even awake over there? Playing his Gameboy, maybe, or… No, he couldn’t hear any movement so it definitely wasn’t that.

He bounced his knee, chewing on his bottom lip. Was it even worth it to wait? Another glance under the stall. Nothing. What if someone else came in? It’d be twice as hard to get this over with. No, it—it would be fine. The faster this was over with, the better. One, two, three, go. One, two, three… Go.

Tense fingers laced through his overgrown hair. They should play music in here, or bang pots and pans together. Anything to cover up the sound. It always takes longer when it’s quiet, doesn’t it? Like some sort of endless nightmare.

But it did end, and the anxiety was replaced with adrenaline. He barely had his belt latched before he was out of the stall, toilet flushing behind him, hands only under the sink for a second. When he looked back, the handicap stall was shut just as tightly as when he’d walked in.

He pushed the door open with his shoulder, heart fluttering, and stepped out with his head down. Never in his life had he been happier to be late to class.


He jerked his head around. A boy that knew him from a few of his classes. A boy that had known him since sixth grade. A lot had changed since then, but not this.

“Were you just in there?”

One glance and he knew it wasn’t worth the fight. He walked as quickly as he could in the other direction, hood up and hands in his jacket pockets. Faster, faster.

“Turn the fuck around! I’m talking to you!”

The boy’s footsteps were heavier than his own, but he could surely outsmart him. He grabbed the handle of the first door he came across and ran inside, pressing his back against it as he stared, bewildered, at the class he’d just interrupted.

“Excuse me? Do you need something?”

Every pair of eyes was on him. He swallowed and licked his lips, jaw hanging open and heart beating in his throat.

“Y…es… I… There’s someone… Followed me out of… The bathroom…”

The teacher walked over and he moved out of the way of the door, watching out of the corner of his eye. She was only in the hall for a moment before returning.

“There’s no one out there. Why don’t you get back to class now?”

He was frozen until she motioned for him to leave, and he gave her a slow nod as he turned to look out the little, rectangular window in the door. She was right. The hallway was empty. He dragged himself out of the classroom and stood to the side of the door for several minutes, waiting. A janitor walked by. Nothing.

All of his limbs were rigid as he continued down the hallway, turning at the end towards his classroom. Up a flight of stairs, around another corner, where a faded light flickered on its last breath. He lifted his gaze as he passed by the last row of lockers before his chemistry classroom, and there was no time to think before a fist came barreling into his face.

His lip split, making the scene look bloodier than it really was. He got away with a black eye and a bruised ego, and the boy was suspended. He himself went to a different school after that.

* * *

“Daddy, I’m done!”

His focus melted away. The chatter increased outside of their stall, and his thoughts could no longer drown it out. He cleaned up his daughter and helped her back into her swimsuit as knuckles collided with the stall door. The memory made him jump.

“Sir? Sir, this is the women’s restroom. This is the last time I’m going to ask you to leave before I get a manager.”

He raced to gather his things. “H-hold on! Just a second, I’m in here with my daughters!”

“You are not supposed to be here. I’m getting the manager.”

The locker room door squeaked shut and he threw his duffel bag over his shoulder. His girls clung to his arms after he unlocked the stall door, and he opened it with his knee to an audience of glaring women. Having four arms would have been helpful, though he already felt like he had extra appendages sprouting from his body with the way the onlookers were staring at him. Head down, he completed his walk of shame and hoped that his daughters were too young to remember this when they grew up.

His legs were too long for the girls to keep up with, so the walk from the locker room to the aquatics center was agonizingly slow. Slow enough that the manager standing at the end of the corridor decided to come to him, rather than wait. Despite standing taller than her, he felt tiny, curled in on himself and barely looking at her.

“The sign says no men over age three are allowed in the women’s locker room, sir. If you would like to continue using our facility, you will have to abide by these rules.”

“Yes, I understand, I really do, but my daughters are only four and they needed to go to the bathroom, so I—”

“Unfortunately, sir, this rule still applies. It’s there to make sure that our guests feel safe and comfortable in the locker rooms. Maybe your daughters’ mother can come with you next time? I’m sure it is a handful dealing with them by yourself, anyway.”

“She… She’s not… Around. Not anymore.” It was the wrong day to wear his wedding band. “I—I just… Is there a way for me to get some sort of exception? They’re too old to be in the men’s restroom now, and—”

“I’m sorry, but there is no such exception. We will be forced to terminate your membership if we find you breaking this rule again. Please enjoy your time in the pool and have a good day.”

The woman passed by them and he felt the weight of lead return to his shoes.

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