Alarm clock rings, legs swing out from under the sheets, arms reach out to put on my bathrobe, grab my shower caddy, and head towards the suite shower, running completely on autopilot. I had had the same dream again, haunted by the old man who does laps around Circle Road on weekends. His cold, accusatory look, perpetually asking me what I’m doing here, creates a film over my still sleeping, yet somehow open eyes. I let the hot water close them. The shower goes from hot, to hotter, to burning, then suddenly it’s freezing and I scream, “I’m the one who lives here!” The veil is lifted, I’m awake, and it’s another day in paradise.
My semester print quota takes the seasonal syllabus blow as “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls plays loud enough to block out the murmurs of the 40 people behind me in the Tabler Center SINC Site. I strut down the steps, however carefully, dutifully aware of the complete lack of traction that my Urban Outfitters clearance section shoes suffer from. They almost fly out from under me as I suddenly switch directions, deciding I need iced coffee at that exact moment or I will die. My nostrils flare as I approach Roth Cafe, a defensive reflex I’ve developed as an attempt to immunize myself from the smell. I stopped dead in my tracks. I smelled nothing.
Fourteen years ago, my family moved two blocks away from a Sorrento cheese factory. Thirteen years ago, I stopped being able to smell the Sorrento cheese factory. The effectiveness of my acquired nose-blindness was no surprise, however the rapidity of the results was. I let my cheap brand-less shoes get the best of me, and slide down the asphalt hill next to the lower half of Roth. I’m met with a new smell.
My eyes adjust to the overwhelming glare from the water-less pond filled with wriggling red and orange koi as I rip up pieces of my syllabi to stuff up my nose to escape the rot and decay. I walk over to the same undercover cop forever seated on a red metal bench as my eyes start to focus. “I always thought the pond was getting bigger,” she says, eyeing me up and down before her gaze returns to the prop magazine she always pretends to read. Mine falls upon one of the flopping koi. “I always thought there was only like, three koi fish in the pond,” I half-joke, watching the koi spontaneously grow an arm, wave, and then gesture to the left of his new ditch home, towards an old man holding a water cooler, looking accusingly around him. I turn back to the koi as he grows a second arm, and then points to a make-believe watch on his left wrist. He was right, I was late.
“...and I literally just woke up,” giggle-breathes PINK Sweatshirt, with lips pressed against her venti Starbucks drink that appears to be just iced milk.
“...and I’m going to law school,” states Poster-Child for the Far Beyond Campaign, whilst still taking notes on the syllabus. I was still attempting to tape mine back together, retrieving pieces from my nasal cavity.
“...and I’m GPNC’ing this class,” boasts Front-Row Redditor, whose hood has been up since his cheeks burst into flames after accidentally scrolling past a string of porn gifs.
I turn towards the window, watching my reflection as I hear my name being called for my name and one fun fact about myself. My reflection begins to blur, and quickly anamorph into the face of the old man again. The professor is growing impatient. The old man lifts his arm up, holding a cup of water. The professor screams, as fun facts are her lifeblood. “I’m Robyn, and I’m onto something.” Standing up, I blow the last three pieces of the syllabus from my nose and make my way towards the door.
Without warning, I leave my body, floating up the Staller steps. I watch as my hand hovers close enough to the ground to pet every international student’s puppy on the way up. I fly past the library, the SAC Loop, the dozens of lanyard and drawstring bag toting bralettes still waiting for a ride, the herd of angry robots leaving the commuter lot, and smash straight into the front door of West Side Dining. I return to my physical form, breathing heavily on top of the grill station; just another unlabeled omelet. Rolling onto the floor, I army-crawl over to the first soda-fountain and reach for a cup. I stand up, cup first, aiming towards the water lever. A hand grabs my wrist. “You don’t wanna do that, do you?”
My grip tightens, I push forward, screaming. I know I’m stronger than Mr. Business Casual, so I throw him a bone and fake struggle before I snap my neck around to initiate direct eye contact as I make the final thrust forward, hooking my finger around the lever, pushing it down as a sea of brown, orange, and red slams both of us through the glass wall behind us. I’ve won.
I stand up, brush off some sewage, before I’m immediately pinned down by the rest of the Business Casual Dining Hall Wanderers (BCDHW). Business Casual approaches, staring down at me, and pries a koi off his shoulder. He drops a brown napkin, letting it float down to cover my nose and mouth. I try to hold my breath and fail. The sky fades to black.
Fire alarm goes off, legs start kicking, I’m already screaming, back in my dorm bathroom. One BCDHW is holding my arms behind my back, another holding my head under the sink faucet. Business Casual is chuckling as he stands, facing me. He struts over to the other sink, avoiding eye contact as he turns the water on and lets it pool into his hands. “I’ve personally never minded the water, my favorite color is an opaque gray.” He chuckles again, before suddenly flinching at the knock on the door.
It begins to open, pushing all four of us at the sinks to the right. “What do we have here,” asks the old man, looking accusingly at the BCDHWs. “Well, uh, I figured you’d want to handle a situation like this-don’t worry, we got everyone out of the building first,” Business Casual shoots out nervously.
The old man looks at me. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to go for water at those soda fountains.”
I look at him. “I just want to know why.”
“So,” he starts. “We at CulinArt are big fans of recycling, and you know the water from the Sound is not much better, it’s full of chemical waste and-”
“I’m not gonna let you get away with this.”
“I’m not sure you really pose that big of a threa-”
“Do you have any idea what happens when the ice cubes in my coffee don’t contain my daily dose of anti-psychotics, old man?”
“Excuse me? ” he gestures to the two BCDHWs, who are still cramped in the corner, partially in the shower. The one holding my neck down struggles to lift up the faucet handle at the same time. I maintain eye contact with the old man until the hot water closes them.
Hot, hot, hotter, burning, burning, and then freezing cold and I scream, opening my mouth, swallowing as much of the cloudy water as I can, finally getting my fix. I kick the two BCDHWs off me as Business Casual approaches to detain me. In one fluid movement, I snap his neck and grab at the wrinkled mess that was the old man’s, holding him up against the door.
“What is it that you want?” he begs.
“Just don’t change the tap. I’m the one who has to live here.”