In the milk aisle at Costco, Elise’s four year old daughter Candy announced that she had to use the restroom again. She bobbed on her little feet, knock kneed and bubbling over with all the urgency of her four-year-old full bladder. She pulled at the hem of her pink tutu and tried not to make eye contact with her mom. Looking down at the top of her daughter’s restless blonde head, Elise tried to hold back the irritation that churned in her stomach like bad yogurt. They had already stopped to use the restroom four times since they left the house, and that was only two hours ago. Once for Candy, once for her two year old brother Tyler, once when the baby in Elise’s belly began to push painfully on her bladder, and once when Tyler spilled a drink down the front of his frog-dotted green shirt.
“Are you sure you have to go?” Elise said. It came out as something like a growl and split the word sure so that it had two sliding syllables. Shhurah.
Candy nodded, pigtail braids bobbing against her chest. The purple ribbons had come untied and flapped loosely against her white cotton shirt. She bit the bottom of her lip hard, turning it white between her small teeth.
Elise sighed and turned the cart toward the bathroom. In the little seat at the front, Tyler swung his legs haphazardly, his shoes bumping against Elise’s thighs. Candy skipped along beside, bladder momentarily forgotten because of the bright lights and bulk goods stacked high.
Back at the front, Elise waited with Tyler just outside the door while Candy tripped through into the women’s restroom. Elise could just make out the pitter patter of Candy’s mary-jane shoes and then the silence that follows a closed stall door. It always made Elise nervous to use this kind of arrangement, but it was easier than taking everything, including Tyler, out of the cart. Tyler started to fuss while they waited and Elise had to strain to hear through the door.
After a few minutes Elise started to feel nervous.
A few minutes more and she started to unbuckle Tyler from the metal cart. She pushed the door open with her toe while she fought the buckle.
“Candy? Candy honey, you alright?” she said. Tyler slapped playfully at her face with his chubby hand and pulled the russet hair that spilled over her shoulder. “Candy?” Her heart seemed to be creeping up the back side of her throat with every ticking second.
“I’m coming, Momma,” Candy said finally. “There’s hair on the floor, I’m trying to clean it up.”
“Ugh, gross,” Elise said to herself. Tyler came free and they pushed in through the red bathroom door.
Inside, there was more than a little hair on the glossy tile floor. Long black sections snaked down the whole length and Candy had her hands full of inky tendrils.
“I’m helping, Momma,” she said smiling and holding up the hair like an offering.
“You’re a good helper,” Elise said, but distracted and hurrying over to take the hair from her daughter’s hands at the same time. “Don’t pick up anymore, come over and wash your hands.”
Tyler bobbled against her side and reached for the hair Elise had taken from Candy’s small pink hands. The smile fluttered on Candy’s face and fell from her cheeks.
“Are you mad, Momma?” she said, sliding her hands down her shirt to wipe off the hair. “I’m sorry.” Her rosebud lips trembled, her blue eyes wide.
“Don’t do that! No, honey, I’m not mad. Where did this all come from? Was it on the floor?”
“The crying girl behind the big door, she was cutting it off and throwing it on the floor. I told her she’d get in trouble, but I don’t think she could hear me because she’s so noisy.”
“I don’t hear anything,” Elise said, growing more alarmed. She pushed Candy behind her and edged toward the gray metal door at the end of the row. It stood slightly ajar, unmoving on its hinges. “Stay here, Candy,” she said.
She shifted Tyler on her hip, tucking him closer to her side, before she pushed the door open with red lacquered fingertips.