Driving for ten miles on I-75 South, his gut still didn’t feel right. After putting some seventy miles between him and Troyer, his stomach groaned and knotted. The earlier nausea had given way to a hollow feeling in his gut. He kept watch for an exit where he could grab something light to eat and fill his gas tank at the same time. A Coke sounded good, too. The odor of apples overcame him, and in his rearview mirror he noticed a red and white quilt covering the bushel basket of apples in the cargo space of the Cherokee. He saw a sign for a Marathon Food Mart in Pinconning ten miles south. He hammered the gas and got it up to ninety. Cops be damned, he thought.

As his car was parked in the bay, filling up with unleaded, he walked stiff-legged to the back of the food mart and found a line of one at the door of the men’s room. An old man stood in front of him, and Mauro tightened his pelvic muscles to control his swollen member. He clenched his buttocks to hold off his brewing stomach. The short man smiled, his liver-spotted head shaking from some kind of palsy, causing the few wispy hairs he had to wave.

“One or two?” the old man asked, an odd smile tipped on his face.

Mauro looked at him. “I’m sorry?”

The man exhaled, rolling his eyes, clearly frustrated. “In this land of fun and sun, we do not flush for number one … ” the man took a breath, “ … but, if you do a number two, a flush is what we ask of you,” he finished reciting.

And then he dipped his head and asked Mauro again, “So. One or two?”

“Uh, just one, I think.”

The old man nodded, accepting his answer.

The door opened and a father and his toddler son scooted out. The old man shuffled inside and closed the door. From within the bathroom, Mauro could hear the toilet seat drop and the man emit explosive gas. Loud, grunting noises were accompanied by unabashed laughter and “Oh, yessir thank you for that!”

“Great,” Mauro whispered.

Ten minutes later, the door opened. The old man emerged, his short-sleeved shirt riding out of his pants, pulled high on his hips. He grinned at Mauro, completely brazen.

“Beets and broccoli never agree with me,” he said as he waddled past.

“Number twos don’t come around so easy these days.” He added, “Not flushing good, by the way.”

Mauro walked in and was overcome by old-man smell mixing with a strong odor of toxic stool that had run through the geezer’s abdominal tract. He unzipped and urinated without looking down, trying to get it all out before needing to take another fast breath. He inadvertently peeked down after the initial rush and saw a chunky, dark smear on the toilet seat. He gagged once and short-breathed it, not inhaling again while he tried to finish. Cutting it short, he dribbled urine on his pant leg and hastily zipped up.

Fleeing the food mart, trying not to soil himself, he ran bowlegged. Still, he flew past the old man who was dawdling toward his Grand Marquis, parked in a handicapped spot, making it only another five steps before retching all over a pallet stacked with gallons of windshield fluid.

A female attendant changing plastic numbers on the gas prices saw him vomit. He was still on all fours when she finally got to him.

“Hey, you OK buddy?” she asked, leaning over.

“No. I’m so sorry. Oh, what a mess,” Mauro said. “That men’s room—it’s really gross, better have someone clean it. The smell … I’m really sorry about this,” he said.

“Don’t sweat it. I’ll just spray it off. Make sure the locals don’t buy it, but no one else’ll know the difference.”

He picked at his tongue as he walked to his Cherokee. He went back into the station and paid for the gas, returning with a bottle of warm Coke. He pulled out and nursed the pop as he drove. It burned his throat going down.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri, www.skidmorestudio.com