Sunday Stories: “The Balloons”

Balloons

The Balloons
by Jonathan Perry

The greatest trial of Winston’s career was the pissing. The pissing was an epoch-defining event, akin to the death of Caesar, the crucifixion of Christ, the invention of the iPhone. There was a clear before and clearer after, a life without the pissing and a life with, and he could envision no relief. 

The first time it happened was in Gloria Lake’s apartment. Gloria was the youngest partner at Humphrey Howard, the global white shoe law firm where Winston worked as a junior associate. She was his supervisor. She was tall and dark-haired, strict and despotic in a seductive way, and his infatuation bordered love. 

One morning, after a night of heavy client-schmoozing and heavier drinking, Winston woke up beside her. In those first paradisiacal moments of dawn he was elated, and as he watched her sleep his heart seemed to boil over. But then, after a few seconds, everything from his waist down grew warm, wet, and heavy. He looked toward the feeling and quickly grew hysterical. He patted his crotch and her bedding in a frenzy, discovering with each touch the appalling breadth of his leak.

He rose quietly and tip-toed to Gloria’s kitchen for paper towels. When he found them, he returned to the bedroom and quasi-gasped at the sight of the dark pool that had formed on her gray sheets, that great abyss. He placed some of the towels gently down over it, and dabbed his thighs with the rest.

“What the hell?” Gloria whispered suddenly, her eyes widening to the morning light, her face cringing at the pungent odor and this gangly man– who until last night she’d seen only in a conservative suit — squirming nude in her bed, rubbing his pale wet thighs with her white towels. 

“Oh my God,” Winston moaned. “This has never happened before. Never, I swear. It must have been the alcohol, the coke!” 

She laughed, almost maniacally, and then more guffawed, and then after many more laughs and guffaws said, “oh my god, just go. This was a bad idea from the start. Oh my god, my linens. My linens! Just go, you have to go.” And so he went. 

Though ashamed, Winston in his heart believed the pissing episode was a one-off, a product of vyvanse, coffee, cocaine, ten too many Dewars, lack of sleep, stress, shoddy genetics, whatever else. He would overcome the Gloria debacle. Win her over, even, in the end. He would make her see the incident not as something disgusting and to be forgotten, but as a moment of vulnerability to be admired, a gaffe worthy of shared laughter over anniversary drinks. He would try not to think about it. 

To the extent possible, he brushed the incident off and continued on with his day, confident Gloria would not and could not tell their colleagues at HH (she was his boss, after all),  confident that on Monday he could explain himself, confident the pissing was just a blemish in his thus spotless physiological record.

Until it returned, the pissing, the next day at the gym. He was running on the treadmill when all of a sudden his shoes began squeaking. Only after he’d seen the shining treadmill track did he feel the warm stream trickling down his right leg, down down down into his socks and into the paddings of his running shoes. He’d hopped off the treadmill, darted out of the gym, and ran home, his heart thumping to the point of palpitations. 

And the day after that, another sudden warmth about the you know where, this time at the office. When he noticed the warm pool, he emailed the relevant HH partners immediately, Gloria CC’d, claiming that one of his neighbors had called in a panic saying they heard water trickling from his unit. Surreptitiously, he snuck out of a back stairwell and waddled piss-soaked several blocks home.

At this point, he considered visiting Dr. Bose, his family’s physician. Thirty was both too young and old an age for pants wetting. But instead, believing he could conquer the problem on his own, he turned to Google, which prescribed deep breaths, either less or more salt (depending on the blog), a warm bath, and kegels. He spent the evening implementing the above and, after his bath, sat for many hours in his armchair visualizing a dry future and tensing his pelvic floor muscles, whispering to himself, “I will not piss, I will not piss.” 

But it was no use. About twenty-four hours later he pissed himself on a Tinder date he scheduled in an attempt to forget about the Gloria thing. When he heard a dripping on the bar floor and felt the emerging warmth, he said he had to go to the bathroom (somewhat true), excused himself, and walked one mile home in the dark, patting his groin and sobbing.

After this fourth occurrence, Winston started working from home as much as HH permitted. He couldn’t risk an incident in a meeting, God forbid. Surely, urinating in his drawers would be quash the image  he’d cultivated of  a hawkish, youngish white-collar litigator destined for partner. So he spent the following days and evenings nude and alone on his leather couch, researching, emailing, conducting teleconferences and googling “how to stop peeing yourself,” with a tin bucket tight between his ankles. 

 After a fifth occurrence, this one in his bed while on the phone with his mom, Winston finally relented control of the situation. He scheduled a visit with Dr. Bose, the Sargent family’s general practitioner. 

“I’ve been peeing uncontrollably for about a week,” Winston told Dr. Bose, scratching the side of his head. “It just happens. One moment I’m dry, next moment pissed. No time to catch it or stop it. Just happens. It’s embarrassing. Ruining my life, really.” 

“Ah!” Dr. Bose said enthusiastically, spinning toward Winston in his swirly chair. “Uncontrollable peeing! Urinary incontinence! Let me see.” He perused Winston’s chart. 

“Your prostate, Win? It seems thus far unchecked?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“Oh, you’d be sure,” Dr. Bose said. Then he stared at the floor and slouched his shoulders, exuding an air of sadness.

“Well, hm,” he mumbled, rubbing his chin. “Is a prostate exam something you’d like?”

“Can’t say I’d like one?” Winston said. “Not unless it’s necessary?”

“Right!” said Dr. Bose, looking up again and straightening his shoulders. “Let’s not! What are you, twenty six? Jeez, I knew you when you were this big. Just a little guy. Wee big. Time! Wowee. But given the Sargent family history, I’d say come back when you’re thirty.”

“I am thirty.”

“W-what?”

“I just turned thirty.”

“Twenty six, thirty, who cares? It can wait. It’s not necessary. Truthfully, Win, I don’t much care for prostate exams. And patients don’t either. Everyone comes out a loser. And honestly, Win? Unless they are absolutely necessary? I try to avoid them outright. Especially when it comes to friends, like you or your dad. That way, everyone’s happy, and nobody accuses anyone or starts behaving weirdly at barbeques or leaves bad reviews online, you know that game. Happiness is the most important thing in life, Win, in life and in medicine, and good reviews, too, this being a private practice, and it’s also important to not be accused of anything lewd or looked at funny. So let me just write you a little script here, how does that sound?” He swirled back to his desk, scribbled something on a sheet of paper, tore it off, and handed it to Winston, all in one smooth, rhythmic movement.

“What does it do?” Winston asked.

“Why, it shrinks the prostate,” Dr. Bose said, making a large OK symbol with his hand, and then a smaller one. “And stops the peeing! And it may even put some hair back on that old bean of yours!” 

Winston ran a hand through his thinning hair. He looked at his fingers and counted ten strands, three of them gray. 

“Any side effects?”

“A statistical minority of patients lose all function in their genitals, but I stress statistical minority.”

“Jesus,” Winston said.

“I promise it almost never happens.”

“Hey, well, jesus. Okay, thanks doctor. Thanks. You have no idea how frustrating this has been, never knowing when it’s gonna happen, always looming over me like a dark cloud. One moment it’s life as normal, next moment it’s piss. It’s awful.” His eyes welled up with tears 

“Are you very anxious? Stressed?”

“Quite.”

“Quite stressed,” he said. “Well, all I can say is try to be mindful, Win. Try to meditate, find peace, that sort of thing. Where am I? What is happening? What is that smell? That sort of stuff. They make great apps for that, Win. Great apps, I’ll swear by them. One of them is narrated by Viggo Mortensen himself. Can you believe that?”

Later that evening, Winston swallowed his first pill. He stood up from the couch, stepped over the piss bucket, and retrieved his phone from the kitchen counter. He clicked it on and with great dread saw an email from Ebenezer Howard Jr., which read:

Mr. Sargent, Susan Martin Pfizer exec coming into midtown office tomorrow 10 am please handle as partners tell me ur well acquainted with case. Gloria L. will sit in direct any questions to her i will be back from turks and caicos on 7/26 deposition date 7/30 its my anniversary keep in mind the Daubert angle take good notes dont mess up E.H. Esq.  Sent from my iPhone. 

Winston dropped the phone and slammed his fist on the granite countertop. It was eight pm. Contrary to Mr. Howard’s assertion, Winston knew little about the Pfizer case. Plus, he was tired, and he had this pissing thing, and Gloria would be in the room tomorrow, watching his every move. It was all too much. Sometimes he felt like lying down in a ditch and watching the sky pass by for as many days as possible until he died of dehydration. 

But when Mr. Howard writes, one must reply “yes,” especially if one anticipates making partner at HH. And so he did just that, committing himself to a full night of document review. He lugged his briefcase from the living room to the kitchen table and sat in silence.

Outside the window just above the sink, the last hue of twilight lingered over the city. In the building across the street, many of the lights were on such that he could see inside. He picked a row of windows and prayed for a person, any person, to come into view. In that moment, this was his greatest wish in life. It was all he wanted, but he didn’t know why. After ten minutes, nobody appeared. Dejected, he opened his briefcase and began his reading.

Six hours later, at or around three am, Winston fell asleep at the table. He had a dream in which he lived in a small hamlet on the outskirts of a towering city. A very important person had tasked him with delivering a valuable artifact to another very important person who lived at the top of the tallest building inside the city center. Somehow, Winston was very late. He rushed to his bedroom to retrieve the artifact, which he had put on his desk upon receiving it from the first very important person one day before. When he went to his room, the artifact was gone. His desk was empty. He called for his wife, who might’ve moved it somewhere, but she was inexplicably gone. He tried to reach her on her cell phone, but he could not find his phone, either. Panicking, he ran outside and shouted for her. But it was raining, and his voice hardly carried. As he walked around the shack looking for her, his feet sank deeper and deeper in mud and muck until he came to a complete standstill. He tried to yank himself free, but at every yank sunk deeper. He struggled and struggled, sank and sank. Just as the mud reached his hips, Winston awoke, alone at his desk in the dark, having for the seventh time in a week pissed his pants. 

The meeting now six hours out, Winston rushed to the kitchen counter and took another pill. Then he poured a tall glass of orange juice and consumed a third pill, just in case. He wiped the mess from the kitchen floor, threw his sweatpants in the trash, took a hot shower, and continued reviewing the deluge of medical records spread across his kitchen table. 

Four hours after that, he stopped. He could not persist. He’d reviewed just enough to skirt by without seeming incompetent to the Pfizer lady or completely dumb and unsexy to Gloria. It was all talking. Big words, bullshit, posture. He would scrape by. 

But what he could not do, what he could not risk, was another sudden, uncontrolled piss in the Pfizer meeting. The prostate pills would take some time to have an effect, and a piss would be the end of his HH tenure, the end of prestige, possibly the end of  life in the private sector. He had a terrible vision of future interviews with smaller firms or god forbid the public interest people: “you’re the piss guy, yeah? The associate who pissed in the Pfizer meeting?” The legal world was small and full of ill will. He would try to lie through interviews, but he was too pale for that, and too weak, and his flushed face would betray him. He needed to fix this, but the time dwindled mockingly. 

There was a brisk morning gale on Avenue A. Winston scurried to the pharmacy on 10th Street, clad in his Kiton suit, silk tie, undershirt, and sweatpants. He carried his suit pants and an extra pair of boxer briefs in a Duane Reade plastic bag. Inside the store, he perused all relevant aisles for the adult diapers, but after fifteen minutes of finding nothing he gave up. He went to the counter, where he found an old caucasian woman far beyond retirement age. She resembled his grandma. 

“Excuse me,” he said with a trembling voice, “do you have, uhm, adult, ehhh, diapers?” His face felt like melting iron.

“Aisle 19,” the woman said. She looked up at him, and then down at his sweatpants, and then up again at the Duane Reade bag brimming with the lower half of his expensive suit. 

“Aw,” she said. 

“They’re not for me,” Winston said. “They’re for someone else. It’s different than it looks.”

“Well, alright,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. 

But for the old lady, the store was empty. A sort of elevator music droned on quietly, and Winston, by now exhausted, wandered toward aisle 19 thoughtlessly, carelessly, and in a trance as if hypnotized. When finally he got to the diaper section there was an empty shelf above a tag which read “Adult Undergarments.” 

“The undergarments,” he said, having returned to the cashier. “They’re sold out?”

“Hmph,” she said, smiling at him with a motherly warmth. “I’m very sorry.” 

“Do you have any m-more in the back?”

“No, young man, I am very, very sorry.” 

She stared at him as if he was an injured, dying animal squealing on the side of a road. He turned around to go. But as he was going he spotted, on the right side of the checkout aisle, hanging with all the little trinkets they hope you buy at the end, a package of multicolored balloons. He grabbed them.

“Just the balloons then,” he said, dropping them on the counter. “I don’t need a bag.”

In the cab to the office there was time for reflection. The notes he’d taken the night before sat in his lap. He tried to read them but nothing stuck. His eyes burned and his hands trembled. “I do not want to piss,” he thought. “Please, God, don’t let me piss away my career.” He laughed. The cab driver glanced back in the rearview, and Winston laughed again. 

 

Jonathan Perry is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at New York University and a public interest attorney. He was born and raised in Cleveland and has lived in Brooklyn for four years. His work has been published in Eastern Iowa Review, The Kraken’s Spire, and Scene & Heard.

Image source: Sagar Patil/Unsplash

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