“The Secret Society of the Women’s Bathroom” ~ An Audio Arts Short Story
One of the most innovative and interesting positions we’ve developed here at The Fictional Café is the Writer in Residence. We choose a poet and a fiction-writer every two years from among our contributors, creative people in whom we see great merit and potential. We hope our two Writers in Residence, who are chosen in alternating years, will help FC grow in new creative directions, and we’ve not been disappointed. Be sure to click over to the Residency link to learn more about our Residency Program, past and present.
Since assuming her new position in January, Rachel Gonzalez most assuredly has met and exceeded our criteria. One of the most innovative and distinctive ideas she came up with was to chronicle her hike up and down the Grand Canyon. Hot on the heels of that success, Rachel submitted a short story and asked if we could present it to you readers as an audio work. We had some excellent help from Hannah Edelson, one of our favorite voiceover actors, and Daniel Pinero, a professional sound engineer from Bogota, Columbia, for FX and a final polish.
And our thanks to Rachel for writing this original and entertaining story, presented here in both audio and text. If you wish to hear more audio stories, please check out our Audio Arts Page at Fictional Café. We post new material every other week, Friday, 7PM EST. So don’t change that dial!
Here’s the script:
“I’m just saying, it’s all because of Title Nine. We had to start spending the same amount of money on women’s soccer as we do on men’s soccer and that’s why they’re so much better than everyone else—other countries don’t have Title Nine.”
“But then shouldn’t the men’s team at least be half as good as the women’s team, given all that money?” I deadpanned.
Chad, that wasn’t his real name, just the one I’d given him on sight—you know the type, white, square jaw, utterly unremarkable, an underdone piece of toast of a human man—tossed back the rest of his two fingers of scotch. “You’re missing the point,” he told me and offered no additional information.
I smiled tightly and caught a snippet of the conversation next to me. Heather was being talked at about NFTs by the other half of this blind date. I think his name started with a J. I’d had enough.
“So sorry,” as I pushed my head into their conversation, “I have to use the girls’ room. Heather?”
Heather gave the two a polite apology of her own and followed me to the Women’s Bathroom. We were both silent until we reached the door, that little blocky cartoon babe a beacon to all women. We filed into the unassuming tiled room.
“Oh my God,” Heather shouted as I slid the first sink mirror to the side and entered my biometric credentials. The swinging door locked and the room shifted like a roller coaster getting
ready to go. The lights flickered as Heather and I were filled with that weightless dropping feeling. The comfortably decorated bathroom filled with the whirring light of passing bulbs as we sank lower.
“I told you group Tinder was just as bad as regular Tinder.”
I checked my teeth for spinach as the room shook and the door opened to our destination.
“I just thought having a buffer would make it easier,” she said as we stepped out, side by side. Our chairs arrived right on cue. We kicked off our heels and nestled our butts into the crushed velvet as we were whizzed away. The little robot hands under the surface worked away at the misogyny knot in my shoulder. In a matter of seconds, the chairs brought us through the tunnel and into our temporary paradise.
A high-domed ceiling that housed plants to purify the air, rows of women surrounding the pool that gave off calming vapors, light soul-soothing music floating in from unseeable speakers, the perfect temperature for everybody. Everything in the Women’s Bathroom was smooth surfaces and clean lines, a football field-sized egg of relaxation and escape.
We arrived in the crisp white spa at the same time as two other women.
“Bad date?” The one with blunt bangs asked over the sound of the tranquility fountain.
I nodded. “You?” I asked, as the cool crush of mint and eucalyptus hit my skin.
“Saw our exes,” she gestured to herself and the red-headed friend next to her.
“Oof,” Heather scrunched her nose and accepted a lemon water sliding by on a floating tray.
“Have you guys tried out the rage room?” Barbara with the bangs asked as we passed a plexiglass wall full of women wearing cream-colored safety suits taking sledgehammers to fragile glassware and electronics. “I used it on my last blind date when the guy insisted that “Lethal Weapon” is the best movie ever made. Breaking stuff really helped.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” I thanked her as the cucumber slices slid over my eyes. From behind my cucumbers I could hear the chattering of other women on their momentary reprieves: complaining about bad dates, enemies and exes showing up, a rough week, a narrowly escaped encounter. All women had their own reasons for visiting the Women’s Bathroom on their nights out. All around us, in this perfectly lit safe space, women cashed in on much-needed therapy. Sound baths, acupuncture, massage, facials, just a good ole fashioned bitch fest, the Women’s Bathroom had what we all needed, no matter what.
Heather got her feet massaged by the perfectly calibrated robot hands while I enjoyed the shiatsu chair and some light aromatherapy.
“They seemed like a good fit in writing,” she told me, reflecting on the truly mediocre dates we had just fled.
“Anyone can seem better in writing,” I said, my voice warbling as the massage kicked up. “If I call myself determined and spirited that’s just code for sometimes I’m a bitch.”
“What is ‘fun-loving and adventurous’ code for, then?” Heather asked, a direct quote from their profile.
“Threesomes and no-strings-attached sex.” Scarlet the redhead informed us, “At least that’s what it meant on my last JDate.”
“I once had a guy describe himself as having eclectic taste, which apparently was code for ‘smokes weed in the movie theater on the first date and owns two pairs of jeans.’”
We collectively cringed and groaned. The four of us shared war stories. The Purple Heart went to me for the date I went on two years ago with a professional Bon Jovi impersonator. Nothing like commiseration to get you through a truly rough date.
When the four of us arrived at the terminal we received our body scans. This one was part of the 19th-century update. It assessed exactly what you needed. And as it turned out, we all needed a quick yoga session. Privacy partitions appeared and perfectly comfortable and shapeless activewear materialized on our bodies. A hologram instructor appeared and bowed to us.
“What do you think women did before this place?” Heather asked from a downward dog.
“Honestly, probably fight club,” Barbara said. “That’s what I’d do.”
This version of the Women’s Bathroom has existed in one form or another since the 1500s. It was the original speakeasy, the very first secret society before the men and their Ivy League tried to steal the show. As the world changed, the Women’s Bathroom only got shinier and better.
“My first time coming here was in middle school. The most popular girl at school decided that she wanted my date to the spring dance, and he wanted the same thing. These eighth-grade girls found me crying and showed me the tile pattern to get in here. Back then, there were no holograms though,” Scarlet told us as she stretched into a perfect triangle pose.
“I only have older sisters,” Heather said. “For my twelfth birthday they packed me up and took me to the bathroom at the mall. At the time I was super pissed, but then Bridget started cranking the knobs on the ancient tampon machine and brought me here.”
“Y’all are lucky, I didn’t get in until I started transitioning four years ago. It was my first time in and thank God it was at a queer bar. This lovely lesbian took one look at me, saw how nervous I was, and turned all the sink faucets on at once. It was the most incredible experience.” Barbara said as we settled into Shavasana.
We all came here at different ages, but it was a lifetime membership once you got in.
Our chairs swept back onto the scene, chirping happy little tunes to let us know it was time to return to the real world. Everyone wished luck, offered last-minute advice, and promised weekend brunch plans before we were sent back. Heather and I to our hellishly standard date, and Barbara and Scarlet left to escape their awkward encounter. Heather popped her feet back into her shoes as I wiped away the cucumber residue and stretched one last time. It wasn’t the first or most dire use of the place, but it was still necessary. You never want to have to use the Women’s Bathroom on a date, but it sure is a godsend when you need it.
The boys were engrossed in some riveting conversation about crypto or podcasts, each of them with a new glass of brown liquor.
“There they are,” Chad said, we all adjusted back into our date seating. “We were starting to wonder if you’d gotten lost.”
Heather and I laughed politely.
“Yeah, why is it that women take so much time in the bathroom?” J-name postured.
“It’s the only place we’re safe from your bullshit,” I said as I smiled, feeling light and unencumbered for the first time since this date started. Looks were exchanged until I offered up that rolling laugh that makes people hear, “Oh, I’m just kidding, silly!”
“Do they really have couches in the women’s restroom?” Chad asked,
Just then Barbara and Scarlet walked through the door of the bar. I nudged Heather under the table discreetly. We all smiled at each other knowingly.
“So, tell me,” I said, ready to get this date over with and the rest of the night started. “How many Pilates classes do you take a week? I mean, it takes considerable flexibility to get your head quite so far up your own ass. I’m honestly impressed.” I wrinkled my nose in a way I knew was adorable and watched their expressions drop.