A careful man in a black coat walked into the main office for the Department of Psychological Sciences and notified the secretary that the toilet on the fourth floor had overflowed. The man gesticulated with long fingers, describing the problem with as much delicacy as the situation allowed.(1)
The elderly secretary, Dolores, nodded and asked questions. (2) Her years on the job had given her a great deal of expertise when it came to the electrical and plumbing systems of the building, and when she heard about problems such as this one, she enjoyed grasping them with her thick old hands and twisting them until they gave way to satisfying solutions.
So when the man in the coat walked out, his blue eyes darting about in discomfort,(3) Dolores scooted her chair to her computer and pulled up the service request page for the university’s power plant. But on the page, underneath the explanation box, the power plant had set up five new spaces for picture attachments. Dolores hesitated. One had to move along with the times, she realized, no matter how strange the times got. So she reached below her desk for her purse, (4) pulled her phone out, and lumbered up the steps to the fourth floor.
When she knocked at the door, no one responded, and pushing her gray hair behind her ear, she stepped inside. The boy at the urinal—an international student who had just arrived to the States (5)—widened his eyes when he saw her and turned so suddenly that he splashed the floor tiles. Dolores mumbled an apology and stepped back into the hallway. She waited outside, setting her phone up to take a picture. When the boy walked out, he took one look at Dolores and her phone, pulled his backpack strap higher up on his shoulder, and scurried away with tragedy in his eyes.
Dolores took five pictures of the swirling fecal matter. Weeks later, due to the university’s promotion of the new Initiative for Student Safety, she was brought before a departmental committee and let go for sexual harassment.(6)
(1) The man in this uncomfortable predicament was a world-famous German pianist who had received a visiting appointment with the university. His parents had encouraged him musically from the tender age of seven primarily because of his extraordinarily long fingers.
(2) Even though Dolores shared the name of Nabokov’s Lolita, she had always been too large and pale and clumsy to be a considered a “nymphet.”
(3) The man was hurrying to his student’s recital, and the bathroom incident left him in an inappropriate headspace for the whole matter.
(4) Dolores’s late mother had told her time and time again not to leave her purse on the floor. Her old mother believed that placing one’s purse on the floor caused one’s money to run out. She even had a concrete example to prove her point. The neighbors’ daughter, Dina Jeffreys, would leave her purse on the floor for years, and then one day, unexpectedly, she plunged into bankruptcy and had to move in with her parents.
(5) The boy was in a daze, because, due to Visa issues, he had arrived to campus two weeks into the semester and was trying to catch up. Also, the foul smell of men’s bathrooms in the States was leaving him prickly.
(6) Dolores’s mother was right, it turned out, in claiming that her money would run out. If she had still been alive, Dolores’s mother would have greeted her with a bitter I-told-you-so stare.