It’s late last night, 11pm on a Wednesday. Having just celebrated my husband’s last day at work with dinner in Chinatown, we’ve decided to continue celebrating at Charlton’s, a nearby karaoke bar. I write down a couple of songs, put them in the mix and wait by the cigarette machine for my name to be called, while Toby and friends drink double whiskeys in the pool room. All is going well. A new song starts – three Asian guys get up and start yelling an 80s rock ballad into one mic – and I take this opportunity to go downstairs to the bathroom.
There’s one girl at the sink. We swap a cursory smile, and I go into the cubicle, where I am confronted with two toilet paper options: that one-play, waxy cardboard crap you normally only find in state primary schools, and some of the good stuff. This is located in a tall, rectangular holder mounted on the wall, made of clear plastic and designed to contain three rolls, so that when the bottom roll is done, the next one will drop neatly down and replace it. Except, somewhat expectedly, it hasn’t dropped, and so the roll is hovering about ten centimeters above the slot.
Me, I’m a pro at this dilemma. I know what to do. I turn my hand sideways, twist it gently up through the slot, and start poking the underside of the recalcitrant roll in order to coax it down. Contrary to both my experience and my expectations, however, this doesn’t work. That sucker will not move. Irritated, I decide to give up and go with the cheap stuff for the sake of convenience, when I realise something: my hand is stuck.
Surprised, I give an experimental tug. My hand does not move – in fact, it’s beginning to hurt! A few more tugs; my hand remains fixed, and the pain increases. I am trapped in a Chinatown karaoke toilet.
I say this out loud. The girl at the sink, who eviently hasn’t left, hears me. I can sense her awareness through the cublicle wall. Desperately, I wrap my free hand around my trapped wrist and pull, hard. This results only in agony. My hand is changing colour. Like a sea-turtle stuck in a plastic six-pack ring, I am incapable of freeing myself. I sigh, resignedly.
‘Is someone there?’ I call out, knowing full well there is.
‘Look,’ I say, ‘I know this is totally lame and completely stupid, but my hand is stuck in the toilet-roll dispenser.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yes. Completely. My hand is stuck.’
The briefest of pauses. Clearly, options are being weighed. Then she takes pity on me.
‘I’ll come in and help.’
I unlock the door. She steps in, frowns at the situation, tilts her head onside, studies my hand. It really is wedged.
‘Stretch your fingers out,’ she commands. Hapless servant, I obey. She tugs experimentally on my wrist, then turns my palm as far to the left as possible. She wraps both hands on my wrist. I yank my arm downwards.
With a spastic, reverberating boioioioioing! from the plastic trap, my hand comes free. It is painful! Oh, how it is painful. I make a hissed-through-teeth noise of discomfort. The girl looks sympathetic.
‘Are you OK?’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.’ I look stoically up at her. ‘Thanks.’
She lets herself out. I lock the cube behind her, finish my business, and leave in turn. At the sink, I notice two deep, pinched, white-blue bruises on the back of my hand, as though it’s been inexpertly worried by a young Alsatian. A pox on toilet-paper-dispenser-makers and their inelegant designs!
Back upstairs, the boys have finished their number. Someone else goes up. I get a glass of water, burst out laughing, and tell my husband what’s happened. He blinks at me, grins, and sips his whiskey. I resume my post at the cigarette machine. My good Samaritan girl is back with her friends. We swap the tiniest of looks. No more.
And about half an hour later, I belt out Don MacLean’s American Pie, to thunderous applause.