Devil’s Lake

Fall 2015 Issue

Tahnee Salkey: The Men’s Room

On any given day of the week one could find Juicy Palumbo in her party dress, a flouncy sky blue frock plastered with cumulus clouds, standing outside the men’s room of the local train depot. Men in suits, men who took trains—this had to be the solution. Dashing, and always dashing, a whirlwind of masculinity—Juicy set her sights on all of them. No longer would she frequent the men’s rooms at the gas stations, or even at the diner. Juicy found hope at the train depot. These men were innovators, inertia-busters. They were really going places. As they would come out of the men’s room, one by one or in small bunches (although one at a time was better), she would smile at them and say something like, “My goodness, it’s so hot … however do you manage in that suit?” Sometimes the men would say, “Manage what?” Juicy would fall silent then because she was never prepared to have her coy and come-hither questions questioned.

Sometimes a man would take the bait and ask Juicy to go out on a date with him. She had dated quite a few of the men from the men’s room over time. Sometimes Juicy even had more than one date with the same man, a short series of dates, and to her this was tantamount to a relationship. But the end was always the same. The number of interested phone calls would dwindle to a halt as the men would suddenly acquire girlfriends, even wives, who needed their attention far more than Juicy. They were always, usually, sorry and wished nothing but the best for Juicy. They told her they’d see her around at the men’s room, and this was true. They would.

There was one man who stood out from the crowd as he exited the train. His name was Russell Melody. He had sad dewy eyes like two little splashes of mud and scraggly red-brown hair that seemed to want to be tucked behind an ear. In his own way, Juicy felt he resembled the Brawny Guy, circa 1970. Although Russell might have been a bit too scrawny to actually be brawny, he wore a plaid shirt, and Juicy was surprised at herself for finding this to be a pleasing respite from the sea of suited men.

“Hello,” Juicy said on the day they met, just like she said to all the others, “I’m Juicy Palumbo, please make my acquaintance.” Russell looked around hesitantly at first, as though it were possible someone could be playing a trick on him, but when he shook her hand, he shook it firmly, and Juicy preferred a firm handshake. She shook a lot of hands in a day and aside from hoping that a hand was washed, she also hoped it would not be placed lifeless inside of her own. Juicy found that the men with the weakest handshakes were the men who turned up with wives the fastest. She tried not to date the weak handshakers at all, but sometimes she conceded, in spite of herself.

It hadn’t always been men in suits. No, that was progress. Before men in suits there had been men in backwards sometimes sideways caps, men in ill-fitting slacks with shirts un-tucked—the un-business types. There had even been men in uniforms: umpire, exterminator, salesman of ice cream. Yet, when all was said and done, none of them ever chose Juicy. Dating had become an awkward dance, a fruitless standstill, which always seemed to leave Juicy quite by herself.

It was something unexpected, therefore, to find Russell so hopelessly appealing. Russell, who appeared lost amidst the businessmen. Russell, who mostly just appeared lost. Juicy soon found that dates with Russell were not like dates with the other men from the men’s room. The other men usually took Juicy to restaurants or bars, or first a restaurant, then a bar, with the occasional movie in between. Russell, on the other hand, took Juicy to an abandoned warehouse where they sat out back on a little rotting pier. He said he wanted to show her someplace that would let her understand something more about his soul. None of the other men from the men’s room talked like this, never at all. Juicy sat quietly, wide-eyed and listening to what he would say next.

“You see all of this?” Russell began, and Juicy looked from the still, gray water to the rocky palisades to the toothless old buildings covered in soft creeping ivy. “This is all you really need to know about me,” he said with a loopy smile that was so peaceful and satisfied. Staring off into the blue-fading-to-black sky of the fresh summer night, Juicy thought she felt something new pulling inside of her, like a wish that might come true, the hope of love itself.

On the next date, Russell took Juicy to a hidden staircase in the woods, the foundation of which had rotted away. They sat on the steps together listening to the hush of the trees and the plants. In these moments neither of them spoke much, except to say that they were having a nice time with the other. The date after that, Russell suggested they sit together inside of an old Buick that had been parked at the local towing lot for months. It was a beautiful old classic with a leather interior that only slightly smelled of mold, or mildew, or must. Juicy was wearing her best party dress for the date in the Buick. Accordingly, it was the best date she had ever had. The dress was yellow.

Russell kissed Juicy in her yellow dress inside of the Buick. The men from the men’s room often kissed Juicy. Sometimes she let them do more. But with Russell, she wanted to wait. Suddenly, Juicy wanted to do everything right, acknowledging to herself that she liked Russell with the very pulp of her soul. It seemed worthwhile then to slow down and try to channel the grace associated with fine women, the women men chose. So she said, “Let’s wait,” and he said, “Okay.” And it was simple.

With an arm folded around her shoulders, Russell and Juicy sat for a very long time inside of the Buick. Together they grew sleepy, and when Russell nodded off, Juicy searched his face for secret meaning, and counted the freckles on his nose. Outside, the moon loomed overhead, a warped and golden menace. In the morning it would still be there, but a pale and distant version of the face it had shown the night before. At sunrise, Russell kissed Juicy again, and he whistled as he walked her home.

Juicy began to look at Russell in a new and wondering way. She looked at his arms, and then she looked at her arms and wondered if they would one day share an armrest in a Buick of their own. The possibility that Juicy’s life might begin right now, at this exact moment, instead of much much later like she had thought it would, scared her and made her entirely giddy at the same time.

Juicy took to wandering through the neighborhood at night, full of dreams. She listened to love songs and tried to believe in all the optimistic things they said. She took long hot baths and sat in front of the vanity afterwards, her skin so pink and steamy. She smiled at her reflection. She even blushed. Juicy began to see herself through eyes she imagined belonging to Russell.

Russell would call Juicy from time to time to say goodnight and to tell her that he’d been thinking about her, which she almost couldn’t believe. “Hey, you know what?” he said into the phone one night, and Juicy did not know what. “You’re different.” He paused, and Juicy held her breath. “Yeah …” he went on, “I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

“If I had a dime for every time I heard that …” Juicy said as though she were really thinking about it, “I’d have a couple of dimes I guess.” She laughed nervously at herself. Then Russell asked if there was anything nice she wanted to say about him. Juicy squeezed her eyes closed and pinched herself a little, trying to conjure up a side of her that was poised and forthcoming with compliments. “Let me see …” she began, but then she collapsed. “No … it’s silly … I can’t.” But Russell was curious now and asked what she was going to say. “I don’t know …” Juicy mumbled, “something about your pants … Nice pants, or something like that.” Through the silence, Russell sounded disappointed.

Another complaint Juicy always got was that she never said the names of the men she dated aloud, to their faces. Instead, she addressed them namelessly. Some of them never even noticed, while others were bothered by it and told her so, but Juicy would never say a name out of force. She would just as soon stop dating a man than have to hear the unfamiliar name leaving her mouth, awkward and imposed. It wasn’t that Juicy was timid; it was rather that saying a man’s name often felt like a lie. The idea that she would come to say the name over and over again, in pleasure, or in anger, or in passing, like, “Pass the butter, Jim,” well Juicy had trouble believing in this. For this, someone would have to stick around awhile. Long after their conversation had ended, Juicy stared down at the receiver resting in its cradle, no longer a connection. She whispered Russell’s name to herself, “Russell Melody,” and although she was afraid, she said it again, a little bit louder.

Juicy called Russell for their fourth date, because she was too excited to wait for him to call her. She said, “Hello, Russell?” Then, purely for show, she said, “Russell, are you there?” But he sounded surprised to hear her voice and did not seem to notice the great hurdle she had just overcome by saying his name. Whatever it was he was distracted with, it was distracting him too much.

”I’m a bit busy at the moment, Juicy … come to think of it, I can’t talk right now,“ he said. Busy with what? She wanted to know. But she held back, silently referring to articles from women’s magazines, now posted on her refrigerator, although it was getting harder to stick to their keep-it-cool rules. And then it happened, just like it had happened with all the others. “I’ve got something to tell you,” Russell said, “and you could look at it in a good way, or you could look at it in a bad way. I hope you choose the good way, Juicy, because I care about you, after all.” Although she was not in front of the mirror, Juicy could see herself clearly: a rabbit frozen in fright. “I’ve found a girlfriend,” Russell said. “We met at the diner.” There was the loud crack of silence, and Juicy was enveloped in the white noise. “I’m sorry,” he said through the static, “but she’s a great girl. I hope you’ll be happy for us if you can. I wish you the best.“

But this is not the best, Juicy thought looking down at the receiver with a scowl. This is the worst. Juicy was struck with the panic of a sudden accident—the dreadful alarm that a bone might be broken. Only in this case, a bone was a heart.

Juicy’s impulse was to go to Russell’s house, to sit lovelorn on his doorstep and wait there while he figured out that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. But she didn’t know where he lived. Nor did she really believe she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. All she could think to do was to go back to the men’s room as usual, but her heart just wasn’t in it, and the men, they would sense this. No, surely Juicy would have to quit the men’s room. Laid off, she told herself, too scared to fathom herself a quitter.

That night, Juicy got into the wine. One glass turned into four, and before she knew it, she was seated at her vanity in tears. There on the mirror was a childhood photo of herself from the fourth grade. She held it in her hands and noted that her skin no longer looked like that, so smooth. Juicy indeed looked her age, all of her twenty-one years, no longer ten, no longer ten, she cried. Splayed out on her bed, hiccups muffled into the pillow, the thoughts that spun ferociously all day long started to slow and Juicy’s mind picked up nonsense instead, the edges of dreams she wouldn’t remember.

A week went by. Juicy wore her yellow party dress every day, and every day she went back to the rotting dock behind the warehouse, or to the staircase in the woods, or to the old Buick. No, Russell was not to be found, but she kept up a ritual attendance at all of their former places. One day Juicy decided to go inside of the abandoned warehouse, wherein she found a great oblivion covered in grime. Here was a place full of mysterious drips feeding pools of rusty water and stray pieces of furniture dispersed at random, an upturned metal desk here, a couch robbed of its stuffing there. The wind whistled through broken windows that ascended to the ceiling, and invisible doors creaked open and closed, breathing life into the emptiness. Here, Juicy felt the phantom spirit of Russell the most.

So Juicy climbed up into the rafters. Maniacal and yellow, she stayed there all day. She had thought to bring along a paper bag lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut into a lopsided heart, a fortune cookie she had saved for just such a desperate moment, and a beer. The fortune said: the greatest danger could be your stupidity. Lightheaded from the beer, Juicy took this to be quite true, but hardly the comfort she had hoped for. From the highest point in the warehouse, with her face up against a cold and gritty pane of glass, Juicy watched the five o’clock train go by.

On the final day of her fanfare of grief, Juicy went back to the towing lot to sit inside of the Buick as she had done so many times that week, but it was gone. Mr. Dosin, the tow truck man, told her that it had been shipped to Texas. Juicy’s face went white. Dosin was an astute man. He asked, “Is this about a fella?”

“If someone told me I had to stop thinking about him, or I’d die,” Juicy answered, “then maybe I could stop.” Dosin softened his eyes and looked thoughtful a moment. And then he went back to work. Somehow, from the warehouse, or the tow lot, or maybe even from the woods, Juicy had managed to get soot on her best yellow dress.

Then, to Juicy’s surprise, there was a phone call. It was a man. They had met at the men’s room a while back, and he wanted to know how she had been, and for that matter, where she had been. Juicy said she had been just fine, she hadn’t wandered far from the men’s room … and didn’t he have a girlfriend?

“We broke up,” he chirped. She agreed to let him take her out again, but she did not wear a party dress this time. She wore jeans and a sweater and very much fit the part of an ordinary girl.

The man’s name was Greg or Bill, or Matt or Brian. It was a very common name, and as well, he was a very common man. He wore khaki pants and beige socks, and he smelled familiar, like a cheap brand of cologne that came in a canister. Juicy only vaguely remembered the man from when they had met before. He had a round face, but appeared to have lost some weight, smiling at her now over just one chin. He took her to a restaurant, he took her for a walk around the park, and then he took her back to his apartment. Being as Juicy felt nothing for him, she also felt she had nothing to lose, so she allowed him to feed her nightcaps until she passed out, diagonally, on his bed. In the morning, he said brusquely, “You snore.” Juicy acknowledged that this was true. Her date had convinced her of one thing. She would have to return to the men’s room.

The next day the trains whistled brightly, and the men seemed all to be washing their hands and buckling their buckles in the men’s room, emerging refreshed and handsome, with their suits crisp, gleaming against the blue-blue summer sky. It should have been so fine, yet something still wasn’t right. Juicy recalled the day she watched the train from high up in the rafters of the warehouse, all of the little people getting on and off the trains. Now, Juicy began to look around her and wonder. Hadn’t she always wanted to get on a train? Hadn’t she ever wanted to? The conductor stepped onto the platform and tipped his hat to her. “Good day,” he said.

“Good day,” she said, her high heels clacking against the concrete, “I’ll take a ticket please.”

Once aboard the train, Juicy surveyed the car. There were all kinds of people, businessmen to be sure. In fact, here it seemed that the world curtailed the scope of regular people, and widened the scope of men in suits. Juicy had never known them to be so still, sitting on the train in a medley of grays and browns and blues. They appeared to blink at her through a dazzling collective eye that she had never seen before. “Best to take a seat,” one of them said heroically as the train charged into motion.

As Juicy bounded from car to car trying to find a seat, she was overwhelmed with a feeling of luck. Batting her eyes at everyone, she moved all the way through the train until she reached the very first car. She took her seat, right next to the control booth. Warehouses lined the water’s edge. Leisurely boats and dawdling barges bobbed in the waves that broke upon the shore, and the palisades fanned open like an accordion, never ending. A new hope began to rise inside of Juicy. It was the rush of knowing that her life could begin today on the train to Poughkeepsie with any one of these benevolent, suited men.

It occurred to Juicy that for once, she was moving in the same direction as the men she wanted to date. And they would see this. Now Juicy was going someplace too. She wanted to laugh out loud at how unreasonable she had been before. How could these men have taken her seriously when, unlike them, she had always been without a destination? Oh, there was such freedom in knowing that soon there would be no more idling about at the men’s room, no more crooked glances, or whispering behind her back. That was Juicy’s old life, and this was her future, a clean straight line, just like the tracks that ran beneath her.

Rising from her seat, Juicy was overcome with anticipation. She would shake all of their hands and introduce herself to each and every one of them. She positioned herself in the aisle and smoothed down the skirt of her dress, ready to make her introductions. She held her breath, imagining the timbre of their voices, their hands closing over hers. She looked out at the wide, gray river flashing in and out of view from behind the trees. It appeared to flow inland in the same direction as the train. Juicy exhaled and offered her hand to the man in the very first seat. She was certain that if someone wanted something badly enough, the way that she wanted to be chosen, it was bound to come true. She carried this with her for the rest of the day as she shook their hands, as she made their acquaintances.

TAHNEE SALKEY holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and a BA in English. Originally a New Yorker, Tahnee currently lives and teaches in San Diego, California, where she
tells stories through her website,, an episodic narrative featuring dolls as characters. This is her first publication. More from this issue >