The scene: a venerable public building, once highly trafficked, now home to forty different municipal bureaucracies. The sort of place with limestone staircases that have been worn down by eighty years of foot traffic into treacherous concavities. Round windows on the landing. A lot of decorative brickwork on the outside. And, importantly to our tale, public bathrooms that were once fancy, but are now unventilated and somewhat squalid museums of quaint plumbing fixtures and even more quaint architecture. The bathroom doors — like all the other interior doors in the building — have frosted glass windows, and directly connect the bathroom interior to the busy hallways, with none of the modesty-preserving right-angle vestibules one sees today.
The characters: A young mother and her preschool age daughter, in the building on some stressful bureaucratic errand. The child is bored, the mother tired and distracted.
The story: As they pass the men’s room door, someone pushes through it, slamming it wide open against its stops. As it bounces closed again, mother and daughter catch a momentary glimpse of this tender scene:
The dialog, which opens in that loud piercing tone that only a curious four-year-old can manage: “Mommy, what is that man doing to that other man?”
Long silence. Finally: “Hush, dear. Don’t worry. He was just helping him wash his hair.”
(Picture credit: Bound Gods)
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