It was ten at night. Nancy had retired to bed with her iPad to sneak in one of those raunchy documentaries she thinks Terry doesn’t know she watches, while Terry was settling down with a scotch for his sixth reading of book fourteen, The Nutmeg of Consolation, in the Aubrey-Maturin series.
He was only a chapter in when there was a knock at the door. There was no point in ignoring it, the lights were still on in the house.
“Who is it?” he called through the door.
“Todd,” came the reply. “I’m from down the block, number 72.”
That was more than just down the block. That was past Poplar.
“What do you want?”
“I want to buy some toilet paper. Do you have any you can sell?”
“No. We’re down to a few rolls ourselves.”
“I’ll give you five dollars for one roll.”
“You could buy a couple packs at the store for that much.”
“They’re all out. All of them. Please. Five dollars for one roll.”
“Selling you a roll for five dollars would be profiteering. I can’t do that. It’s highly immoral in these times.”
“It wouldn’t be profiteering. You’d be doing me a favour. Ten dollars? Please? My wife’s got Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We go through toilet paper like you wouldn’t believe. I’m desperate.”
“I can’t help you. Good luck with your search.”
“Twenty dollars. She started using pages from magazines, glossy ones, first just the ads, then it was the articles, but there’s hardly any of those and she had to use full page photos of celebrities and it was really embarrassing for her. She’s a very private lady. Even letting a photo of Chris Hemworth see her down-theres was beyond the pale, but rubbing his tastefully shot black and white face against her down-theres was mortifying. Her despairing moans of embarrassment still echo in my ears. And now all three of our toilets are blocked. We’re banned from the service station, McDonalds, Denny’s, and every public restroom within ten miles. She can’t hold on longer than that and I’ve got real leather seats in the car. The HOA has fined us thousands of dollars for hosing her down in the backyard. That’s how we found out the neighbours had cameras pointed in there. Three of them reported us to the HOA and the police. So CPS came and took our five kids, because, get this, not having a functional bathroom is child endangerment, and a neighbour or someone at the HOA leaked the video online so I lost my job as a science teacher and we were asked to find a new church. And next month we might be on a registry of some kind.”
That sounded familiar.
“Not the video of the guy in the yellow mackintosh shouting quotes from Melville with the…”
“Oh god, everyone’s seen it.”
Well, not everyone. He hadn’t shown Nancy.
“A link was posted on NextDoor.”
“Please. I can’t take it. Don’t talk about it. Will you help me or not?”
Nancy wouldn’t like it. She didn’t want either of them to go out in public until there were vaccinations available, but she was very cautious.
“I’ll help you.”
Two ten-dollar bills slid under the door. Terry dragged them out with the toe of his slipper and slid them over against the wall.
“I’m going to go upstairs to get it and I’ll drop it out the window to you.”
“Thank you so much. I am so grateful. What was your name?”
“Thank you, Terry. God bless you.”
Terry went up the stairs to the spare room. He had to put his shoulder into it and really push to get the door open and then brace his foot against it to stop it from slamming shut. Looming above him, the packs of toilet paper threatened to fall and bury him in an avalanche.
It did feel like it was more trouble than it was worth, but he had already taken the money. He tore a hole in the plastic of a pack of 48 they had picked up at Costco and pulled out a roll. He would have preferred to take one off the top, but schlepping the ladder up here again wasn’t going to happen without Nancy’s help and he suspected she did not want to be interrupted. The stacks seemed to still be stable after the withdrawal. He stepped back, moving his foot away from the door and the mass of toilet paper crammed into the room rebounded, slamming the door shut.
He took the roll to the window at the end of the hall. It was situated directly above the front door. After opening the window he gave a whistle, held his arm out, the roll plainly visible, and dropped it.
It flew back in, bouncing off his face, then off the wall and to the floor. It was followed by screams.
“Two ply! Two ply? Keep it you cheap bastard! Keep it. Keep the money, too! You obviously need it you cheap, cheap bastard!”
The outburst ended. After a moment, after he had picked up the roll and re-wrapped the tail of unravelled paper, he heard frantic knocking from the direction of his neighbour, Tammy, at number 340.