Like an explosive mash-up of Donald Barthelme and The Pixies, Alan Baban brings a frenzied urgency to a uniquely surreal situation in his short story It’s a Recession, Errbody Broke.
“The plan, I tell him, is that we lock the door before anyone finds out. Say it’s Out of Order, keep things on the down low if you get me. I bring my fingers close to my mouth like Shush. Nobody can find out she’s missing, as in Nobody. “
Read the story after the jump.
It’s a Recession, Errbody Broke
I have never once understood why Eudora Welty sits on our toilet, but I’ve been content to poop on her face everyday for the past five years. Then one day I go in and Eudora Welty isn’t there.
Where’s Eudora Welty? I say out loud.
I pull my drawers up and leave. Matt is joshing round the corridor, holding on his crotch.
What took you so long?
He’s garbling and holding on his crotch. I move to one side so he can move in, but he doesn’t. Motherfucker wants an answer.
What took you so long? he asks.
Eudora Welty isn’t there.
And looking something like shit-scared, he guns into the toilet where Eudora Welty used to be but now isn’t. I hear a scream but keep walking. This is frightening but I keep walking. Before I reach the end of the corridor a hand touches my shoulder, but I try and keep walking. Two hands. I turn— Matt’s face is like a small shriveled tomato with sweat on it.
Annie! he’s crying.
I have to slap him hard and say, Shut up!
Yes yes I know but shut the fuck up, Matt. This is obviously a big deal but shut the fuck up. I have a plan.
The plan, I tell him, is that we lock the door before anyone finds out. Say it’s Out of Order, keep things on the down low if you get me. I bring my fingers close to my mouth like Shush. Nobody can find out she’s missing, as in Nobody. You know I know we all know what would happen if that happened. So calm the fuck down. Once the toilet is secure, we’ll get to the bottom of the why and where and what.
But first, to the 13th floor storeroom— and step on it!
But it’s already too late. Matt is pointing behind me with one dripping finger. His face’s gone the colour of slow-cooked bolognese. And by the time I turn I’m feeling mad queasy myself, following the line of his one finger pointing at the toilet where Eudora Welty used to be but now isn’t, its door silently swinging on two well-oiled hinges, ready to scream.
Nobody here knows much about Eudora Welty, except to say we all got used to her very quickly. One day she just appeared in our bathroom. Pasted on the toilet seat. Now – Vamoose! – she’s just gone. ‘Just’ seems here like a suitable modifier for essentially not knowing the hell I’m talking about. Nobody knows why. We don’t ask: we accept. The real mystery is who did it, and where they are and what can be done. To paraphrase Prince, If you can describe funky, you ain’t funky. All I know right now is that this ain’t funky. I look at Matt bent over and decide enough is enough.
Lauren came out of the toilet in tears with her drawers round her ankles, wailing the high-pitch wail of shit-scared people the world over; of hostages camera-phoning in as they see the AKs come down.
She’d ditched her heels. Holy fucking shit, I heard someone say behind me. Like Holy fucking shit.
Running starkers into the editorial suite, drawers now dangling on one ankle, lack of footwear totally beside the point, she starts screaming as if being bats naked from the waist-down isn’t enough to get a girl some attention in here already. Eyebrows everywhere kilometers off the scale. Temperature diving to a cool one-eight as people suck it in, excited.
People are registering the nakedness before they’re even beginning to register the whatever-it-is that brought the nakedness on in the first place. (Lauren’s hot.)
News rooms are knotty places to be at times like this. What with all the editing and splicing and cutting we do: putting the pages in line for a series of chain-shots, our expanding mess of paper falling in interesting splatter across floors, we stick it to our walls, or maybe it sets in our hair like confetti when it’s shredder-time, which is always fun for four or five seconds; shredding.
The walls are tattooed with black and red paint.
People here are used to seeing things stripped down. In a weird way, people are also used to seeing other people as things. Though this might be more a comment on things than it is a comment on people.
Still, Lauren is naked, and Lauren is hot. Literally sweating. I guess you could say her thingliness is what defines her as a person when she’s hot, naked and sweating.
The person as person thing comes out more when you hear her screaming, Eudora Welty! Eudora Welty!
So when both happen at the same time, it’s understandably confusing. People stand transfixed, not knowing whether to focus on looking or listening. Shredders stop their shred.
Then all hell breaks loose.
I run into Helen’s office.
Our editor is speaking angrily into a phone, assuming a quaint posture like most people who spend time speaking angrily into phones. She’s entirely still. The gesticulating, after all, need only be done in person.
She exhibits me the finger like Shove. I mouth that it’s really really important. She looks at me for the first time since I’ve come in and brings the phone down to her chest.
I think about what I’m about to say.
What. What. What.
Helen is wearing apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur on. I am the grasshopper to her sensei.
Eudora Welty is missing, I let it out.
She drops the phone and stamps on it till the circuitry snaps. Then she takes me by the arm and yanks me to the office outside, where half our staff is in tears and the other half are taking running leaps towards the west side’s wall-length plate glass, which is making creepy noises but doesn’t break. And though people are like trying to literally push themselves through plate glass, nobody’s really taking a run at the situation to say it – what needs to be said, out loud, so we all of us might get on a single level, which is—
Eudora Welty is missing. Eudora Welty is missing. Eudora Welty is missing.
Which is why Helen had to call a crisis meeting at 1 to say, As far as Eudora Welty goes, we’re working on it people, not just me but Upper Management too are scouring databases online for an exact replica image, and that as soon as we find Eudora Welty again we will put her back in her rightful place, which as you know is on the toilet seat, where you all say hi to her everyday as you poop and where today you couldn’t say hi.
Nods of assent round the room.
Helen is standing on my desk. Some of us are lying on stretchers. Lauren has been ushered out into the Quiet Corner where Matt has wrapped her in a towel and is now rubbing her back like a real dedicated guy who knows exactly how to rub people’s backs in situations like this.
A couple of the older people from Foreign don’t so much nod as they mallet their sternums with gavel-shaped chins. Some chins are dripping what I hope is just saliva. Helen looks like she’s rising out of my cactus plant, from where I’m sitting, so it looks like I’ve kind of planted her. Kind of.
What this means to me now Eudora Welty is missing, who knows.
Helen finishes. So stay bright and breezy, she says. Three thumbs up if you have three thumbs, which I know some people here do.
It’s a joke, but no one laughs. We share constipated looks. We are constipated— or maybe, more precisely: constipating. It feels like an active process, the process of keeping shit up.
Helen is still planted on my desk.
But, she continues, saying, And that to please please please let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We’ve got a deadline to meet. Mr. Zigarelli wants the print out by day’s end.
As if we’d give two shits now. For the past five years our genitals have got so used to hanging motionless before the smiling face of Eudora Welty that having her not-there makes it that much harder. For us. It makes it so that we know what we’re carrying down there, inside. And it hurts.
It hurts! Marcus shouts out.
Everybody turns to Marcus, who moves a china cabinet off Brad’s desk so he can stand up. There’s a piece of paper stuck to his argyll sweater. It says, IT HURTS!
We’re gonna see, he brings his hands out to us. Today we’re gonna see, Floor Thirteen, what we are really made of.
Marcus scrunches up the piece of paper and tosses IT HURTS! into Tom Hanks’ mouth. And Tom, predictably, is like T.HANKS.
And then Marcus is like, Let’s have sex!
Brian is the first to strip his clothes off. I can see Matt now looking at Lauren with an interest that our multiscanner would read as making a huge mistake, because Lauren, even in a Welty-less state, would not no never consider that, you sick deluded piece of… and c.
I look round the room to see horny faces everywhere. I think Helen might have jumped out a window? People are removing items of clothing in an orderly and non-orderly fashion. Psoriatic and non-psoriatic fingers beckoning like, Call me bad— but call me still. Old people pitching forwards as they try to manoeuvre chairs, and chairs pushed aside to clear a big circular space of carpet. Someone switches on a fan.
I guess this is it.
I run to the bathroom and pull my drawers down.
The sweat is like someone’s cracked an egg between my ass-cheeks.
The rim seems to be smiling affectionately as I press my cheeks down, waiting to give what others gladly receive.
 There is only the one toilet, and it’s unisex, so people have to wait.
 In our office the trashcan is Tom Hanks, and let me tell you right now that compared to Eudora Welty, Tom has seen some real shit. I’ll be like, Yo Tom bite on this, before tossing him some grey falafel to which he’ll always be like, T.HANKS! He does that with everybody. Give him a used tampon, he’ll be like T.HANKS! It’s stencilled next to his face.
Alan Baban is a London-based writer. Alongside short stories and reviews for the online magazine Cokemachineglow he is writing his debut novel.