“Hey I could use your bathroom if you got one.”
I paused because the statement was so strange. Of course I had a bathroom. Who doesn’t have a bathroom?
We were seventeen at the time, sledding on a massive hill behind my house with most of the other kids on my street. Looking back he could be described as a Chad even though his name was James. He had moved in to our neighborhood two months prior. This was our first time speaking. The girls were wild for him.
“Of course” I said. “It’s directly off the kitchen to the right of the front door.” Chad/James nodded, breathing steam from his open mouth as smooth glistening moisture ran from his nostrils to his red lips. His eyes squinted against the bright sunlight as he shifted his weight on stiff legs pressed tightly together.
“Thanks” he said, then took off down the hill laying prone on an inflatable tube sled, arms out like a kamikaze jet in a sea of white snow.
Within the next hour it became clear that James had indeed used the bathroom without actually visiting mine. As our paths repeatedly crossed a deep funk radiated out from his lower half. A dark brown cloud, invisible only to the eyes followed James as he climbed the hill and raced to its bottom again and again, oblivious to the suspicious glances of his new neighbors.
The girls in our group, once drawn to his wide set blue eyes and strong shoulders now fled from the loamy scent that surrounded him, squealing as they jumped to get out of his way. If James noticed he showed no signs of caring.
“Has our Jamesy had a wee accident?” My sister asked in her finest Scottish accent, her eyes strangely alert as she watched the boy.
“Aye,” said I, too embarrassed to meet her eyes. ”wee might not be the right word for it.”
James carried on sledding with the conviction of a professional. If it had been a competition James would easily have won. He seemed not to notice the wide berth we gave him, the knowing stares of his peers, their eyes periodically darting to the back of his black ski pants.
As the afternoon wore on and the sky darkened the rank shroud he carried grew wider and more fierce. He smelled of spent coffee grounds, fermented cabbage and earth. All of our nostrils rebelled at the constant assault, though nothing in James’s manner betrayed a hint of shame.
As politely as I could I stopped James before he could slide down the hill. “My bathroom is available if you need it” was all I said.
He stood quietly for a few moments, as if weighing his options. He looked at his toes and pressed his legs together tightly then opened them. “Yeah probably a good idea.”
Breathing out of my mouth I led him upstairs to my personal bathroom attached to my bedroom. Once inside I heard nothing coming from the occupied room. Not a hint of water or movement. I crept to the door and listened. Nothing.
“James can I get you anything? Do you need help?” I called in weakly, hating the way I sounded.
“Ahh maybe” came a muffled reply.
I snapped into action, finding a pail in the basement. Into it went a roll of paper towels, two plastic shopping bags, a clean pair of ripped up jeans and some socks.
“I’ve left some supplies here for you. Please feel free to use the shower.” I called.
The door opened and shut quietly. I waited in my room for an hour, burning all the incense I could find, trying not to think about what was happening behind that closed door.
James emerged red cheeked and smiling, carrying two full shopping bags, the fresh smell of soapy shampoo mingling with a darker scent, more personal to him. The jeans I’d leant were too tight. The whiteness of his smile and redness of his cheeks ignited a quick jab of jealousy in me. No matter how hard I tried I’d never be as naturally good looking.
I walked with him down the snow lined road to his house in silence trying to understand what had happened. He thanked me absently for the jeans.
“James, what happened back there? Are you okay? Do you think you might be ill?”
“Nah!” He exhaled with a chuckle. “These things happen to us guys from time to time.” He slapped my arm and turned down into his driveway, the two reeking bags dangling from gloved hands.
“Not to me they don’t.” I thought as I watched him go.