5: “Occupied?”

Priscilla had been working next to Shannon for a little over three weeks and nothing had improved. She’d been hoping that she’d eventually get used to the sound of her aggressively eating fruits and vegetables, like a perpetually irate woodland creature, but that had not been the case. If anything, it had grown more and more irritating as time progressed, leaving Priscilla in a near-constant state of rage. She had considered wearing headphones, like Jonas, but her desk was much closer to the pathway that everybody used to get from one end of the floor to the other. She had no idea which team Jonas worked on, but it wasn’t hers and she didn’t think her boss Brenda would be thrilled with her wearing headphones while at work. Brenda liked her staff members to be able to hear her at all times. She liked them to be able to bend to her whims at a moment’s notice.

Priscilla began using the cold bathrooms in the far corner of the No Man’s Land where no one else ever went more regularly. Firstly, she liked that they were nearly always vacant, but she also liked that they were individual bathrooms so that there was no one else in there with her while she was peeing. She wasn’t sure why no one else ever used them, except for the fact that they were freezing and reminiscent of gas station bathrooms in horror films. Other than that, they were primo. Plus she liked checking on Jonas as she walked past, partly to see if he was ever annoyed with Shannon, but also to check if he had died. Tallulah’s off-hand, far-fetched comment about him being dead and no one knowing had really struck a chord.  Priscilla wasn’t sure anybody from his team was looking out for him. She didn’t even know who his team members were.

There was at least one other person using the washrooms, though. She knew this because, sometimes when she went in to use them, it smelled like cigarette smoke. It smelled quite strongly of cigarette smoke actually. It didn’t just smell like someone had gone out for a smoke break and then went to the bathroom right after. It wasn’t the kind of smoke that lingered on someone’s clothes. Priscilla knew what that smelled like because her grandparents had smoked for almost their entire lives. This smelled like she was standing directly beside a smoker, like actual cigarette smoke was hanging in the air around her while she peed. Thus, Priscilla became convinced that someone was smoking in the bathroom.

“There’s a sign on the back of the bathroom door that literally says you can’t smoke in there,” she complained to Bernie and Rosalyn one day at lunch. “But someone is definitely smoking in there.”

“It’s probably Shannon,” Bernie replied cavalierly. “She’s the worst.”

Priscilla didn’t necessarily disagree with this statement, but it seemed out of character for Shannon, who appeared to be very invested in her health. She ate all the same things as rabbits. Sometimes she went for a jog during her lunch hour. Those days were the worst because then she would eat her lunch at her desk after her lunch hour was up and Priscilla had to endure the sound of her eating salad for what felt like an eternity. It was the sound that would be awaiting her in hell. No one had crisper lettuce than Shannon. It wasn’t even iceberg lettuce. Priscilla didn’t understand how Shannon had managed to find greens so aggressively crisp.

“Maybe it’s a ghost,” Rosalyn suggested of the person smoking in the washrooms.

“It probably isn’t, but I like where you were going with that,” Priscilla returned.

The phantom smoking continued over the following week. Priscilla used the bathroom as a frequent escape from Shannon and the sound of her chewing. She was probably going to the bathroom too often. Not often enough for anybody to question it, but still quite often. She didn’t feel she could be blamed, though. She dared someone to spend a full eight hours listening to Shannon crunch carrots in her tiny mouth with the aggression and jaw strength of a grizzly bear and then tell her to stop seeking reprieve in the washroom.

And then, one day, she discovered the source of the smoking. She opened the far left bathroom door and came face to face with a very startled Jonas, cigarette hanging from his mouth, cell phone in his hand.

“Occupied?” Jonas said around his cigarette after a moment of stunned staring on both parts.

“I don’t think you can smoke in here,” Priscilla replied dumbly. She was certain he was well aware that he couldn’t smoke in there. There was a sign. Beyond that, it hadn’t been legal to smoke inside a public building since the 90s. And yet, it was the only thing she could think of to say.

“Sorry,” he apologized, but made no move to put out his cigarette, or in fact even remove it from his mouth. Priscilla continued to stare at him from the other side of the bathroom threshold, holding onto the bathroom door handle. Jonas put his phone in his pocket. He took his cigarette out and blew smoke out the right side of his mouth. Priscilla didn’t think he really was sorry. She thought about continuing to chastise him for using the women’s washroom to smoke indoors, but then decided that she had been given an unusual opportunity to talk to him.

“Does the sound of Shannon chewing ever drive you insane?” She asked him. He took another drag from his cigarette, giving it thoughtful pause.

“We only just met and I feel like we’ve already gotten off on the wrong foot so I don’t want to give you a bad impression here,” Jonas began to reply. “But I would staple that woman’s mouth closed if I thought I could get away with it.”

Priscilla assumed other people would’ve been horrified to hear that. Other people probably wouldn’t hate the way Shannon ate carrots as much as she did, though.

“How is her lettuce so crisp?” She asked instead of being horrified. “It’s fucking romaine. Where is she buying romaine lettuce that crisp?”

“The fucking bowels of hell,” Jonas answered without hesitation. And in that moment, Priscilla felt she and Jonas had created a bond that would endure the tests of time, or at least until Shannon was no longer working with them in No Man’s Land, taking bites out of apples like a beaver working on the deeply rooted stump of a hundred year old oak tree.


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