My Wipes — Mazin Saleem

After the putting to sleep and waking up of my laptop and the putting on and taking off of my jacket became too pathetic even for me, but making a point to arrive flustered, alone and last, I came to your book launch after all. You were at the front, dressed very down, in hoodie and jogging bottoms, small before a crowd intensified by the amount of space available for its admittedly big numbers. Side and display tables both were piled with copy after copy.

I picked up the very thick book, neither hardback nor paperback but somewhere in between, sharp to clutch, spine as heavy as a truncheon, the front cover’s graphic design going from edge-to-edge, ‘full bleed’, a bad choice of words? Anyway, it showed a blow-up of a prize wipe.

We’d all read about your masterpiece, but part of me had come to be proved wrong, or right. I opened it at a random page. On the left was a shiny colour copy of a single square of used toilet paper; on the facing page, text: ‘Thought about what I was going to have for tea. Why’s that fly still stuck in this bathroom. How does it live. How are we meant to live.’ Turned the page, not sure whether to laugh or take the lord’s name in vain. This page practically dyed brown and black, and facing it: ‘Didn’t think much other than I wanted it to stop. Sat for awful hours.’

Each double-page had an all-caps title. Curt ones like ‘PARADIGM SHIT’. Convoluted ones like ‘NIGHTMARE OF GIVING BIRTH TO A TURD BUT WELL HAVEN’T ALL EXPECTANT MOTHERS THROUGH HISTORY FEARED THAT?’ The embittering, isolating resignation of my outraged disgust. Are you for real? Is this? Almost worse than the state of the wipes was the ‘at stool’ thoughts. The one titled ‘FIRST TIME YOU SMELL A NEW LOVER’ read: ‘I was surprised to indeed confirm his shit did stink that it stank quite as much as it did. A hottish smell.’ While I was reading with the compounded wince of rage at the book and incredulity at its estimation by everybody else, the woman next to me was mouthing over my shoulder and although I recoiled the page from her line of sight she kept saying the rest from memory.

I closed the book, looked around for someone, anyone, whom I might connect my expression with, my open-mouthed almost tear-creased stare of disbelief. But everyone else was smiling. They shook your hand then held on to it. Those queuing up to have you sign their favourite wipe stayed as long as they could to try spill out all they wanted to say.

I closed the book, looked around for someone, anyone, whom I might connect my expression with, my open-mouthed almost tear-creased stare of disbelief. But everyone else was smiling.

Then they fell quiet for you, that absolute unprompted and unresented silence you owe more to the grieving, the returned exile. Not you. So atavistic, not the giving of a speech or presentation but the reading of a reading. Your affected tight hurried patter made you sound so gormless. You read out the flyleaf pages under projected slides of your wipes that appeared on the gallery wall like immense dry rot, like roadkill scrapes, like, well, like a load of old shite.

‘They’re just the Roman scrying of entrails but taken a step further or inner. Yeah, I call them nature’s Rorschach test.’

I groaned and braved in the groan’s last half-second pushing it loud enough for at least the nearest jackets to bunch around and shush me. Risking higher volume, I said, ‘More like Rorshat’ then (turns out Russian novels were right) laughed mirthlessly.

You didn’t hear, maybe I’d not gone loud enough on purpose. You were explaining the next wipe. ‘This was the kinda bowel movement that comes out like a group pratfall through a door. Then the decorous cover-up of the corpse with the tissue paper.’ The room filled with pleased knowing laughter. The world has gone mad, there is no hope for us with your book being treated like this. No refuge for me. Worse than being where no one talked your language: this was like being the only grown-up in a world of eternal children but without the excuse of childhood.

‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ no longer touched the sides, even it missed the point. There was no more gap between pretence and reality. Before, the point had been that everyone breaks from the spell. Here the Emperor was clothed even when she wasn’t. It’s impossible for the readers of My Wipes to see the naked truth, because there isn’t any. They aren’t lying. They believe that your book is good. They can’t be saved.

The world has gone mad, there is no hope for us with your book being treated like this. No refuge for me. Worse than being where no one talked your language: this was like being the only grown-up in a world of eternal children but without the excuse of childhood.

Cursing myself out for having given in and gone to see you, I got home and back to work. To salvage the evening, to utilise my disgust, to give all my pointless rage a point, I returned to the loo.

It was the kind of shit that felt like coming home from shopping and dumping all your bags to the ground in one go. The first and second squares were no good, amateurish smears, no attention to margin elegance – the wipes almost went to the edge; I washed my hands thoroughly. But the third was a beauty. Balance, connotative shape without gross symbolism, actually manifesting the ability to capture a moment in time by recording the lines and details of a fluid gesture, concretising time, better even than Japanese calligraphy. Like you’d have any idea about this. Like you did anything but blankly wipe then without the faintest discrimination staple every sheet in to your scrapbook or should that be crapbook.

Whereas you’d gone with single ply, I use Charmin Luxury. Whereas you did a standard, going-through-the-motions pressing, I gouge and scrape, I reuse the tissues as palimpsest, and as for my at stool thoughts, I actually use a proof-reader? Know it’s less faeces not fewer. Don’t let the POV shift inexplicably from me to my rectum. Make sure there are no dangling participles, run-on sentences. Being on the loo might feel passive, but artists know that it’s not and doesn’t warrant passive voice. And I wouldn’t even think of using colour copies and not the original sheets, with mere summaries of their faint smells. Does ‘show not tell’ not mean anything to you hacks?

But flicking through my wipes sadly, I knew I’d never send them off, I had no more hope left – the last of it had been spoiled by the elevation of your handiwork. Even if I did send out my book, it’d only be as a defiant message from the gone world of clarity, care, cogency, proportion. From a time when to create was to actually give a shit.


Mazin Saleem is a writer of fiction and non-fiction at TabulitOpen PenLitro MagazineThe LiterateurBig OtherLittle Atoms, and Pornokitsch, where he has written stories about Eddie Murphyteeth and islands, and articles on 2001, the merits of Veepthe sins of Jurassic World, and what Lost has in common with The Tree of Life. His website is maybethatsthepoint.tumblr.com.

Image: Flickr, Creative CommonsMark Michaelis