Friday, December 4, 2009

Bathroom Monologue: The Balrog Looms

Joel and Elijah knew they were in trouble even before they left for the bathroom. New kids can sense trouble like that. There’s being an awkward new kid at an empty table, and then there’s being an awkward new kid at an empty table with your brother while all the boys at all the surrounding tables stared and glared at your kippah.

Elijah fiddled with his. At this school, they were probably only used to the Pope covering his head. The two boys couldn’t even eat with all those eyes on them.

“Can we go to the bathroom?” Elijah asked.

Joel looked disgusted. “Together?”

Elijah looked warily around the cafeteria. Some kids had gone back to their mac and cheese, but others still stared, including a giant of a boy at the jock table. He loomed like a golem, or like Tolkien’s Balrog, a giant monster floating behind an army of goblins.

“I don’t want to go anywhere around here alone.”

“Fine,” Joel relented. He didn’t want to be here either.

They got up together, putting their uneaten kosher meals back into carefully sectioned plastic containers Mom made them reuse.

The air was different in the hall. The lack of staring made it easier to breathe, and talk. They went straight for the bathrooms, flanking each other.

“Mizdayen baha--” Joel began, but Elijah stopped him.

“Speak English. We need to practice it better to fit in.”

Joel scoffed. “This is stupid. I told Mom that a Catholic school was--”

This time Elijah didn’t have to stop him. The cafeteria doors did. They were several yards behind and made no noise, but the boys could sense them opening. Joel looked back. Young jocks billowed out, looking around. One spied them and elbowed a comrade. Then they were headed to the bathroom too.

Elijah went straight for the bathroom. That had been the plan a minute ago, and in his panic he didn’t think to change it. Joel grabbed at his sleeve, looking back and seeing that the Catholic boys saw that they were clearly going in. Elijah went in anyway, and so Joel went after him, holding onto that sleeve.

They went for the last stall, and Joel actually followed Elijah inside.

“Shouldn’t we…?” Elijah tried to ask. When words failed, he pointed at the lock on the door. Joel inhaled quickly, then reached out.

The stall door swung open. Three boys stood in the opening, blocking the light from the window. In the moment, they seemed much bigger than Elijah. Joel didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, occupied!” Elijah cried out, trying to stand in front of his brother.

“What are you fags doing?” asked the middle of the three boys. He had dirty blonde hair, the same school uniform as his friends, and the same sickly smile.

“He your boyfriend?” taunted the one on the right. He reached in. For what, Joel had no idea. Elijah pushed the hand away from them, but that only invited more hands into the stall.

“Fuckers think you’re tough?” said the one on the right.

“I’ll show you tough,” said the middle boy, shoving Elijah so hard that he knocked into Joel and Joel fell onto the toilet. The boys laughed.

A huskier voice poked through their laughter.

"What they fuck are you doing with these newbies?"

The Balrog came around, standing directly behind the middle boy. He was a head taller than any of them and, this close, seemed equally fat and muscular to Joel.

The boy on the left laughed.

"They're Jews."

The Balrog looked down. He also wore their Catholic uniform, and to boot wore a rosary over the jacket. Then he looked back up at the bully with an expression that the rosary didn't matter right now.


Middle boy sounded indignant. "So they fucking killed Jesus!"

The Balrog stuck his tongue in his cheek. Why licking the inside of his mouth was intimidating, Joel couldn’t say. He could have peed himself, though, when that boy looked at him.

"Were you guys alive when Jesus was born?"

Joel couldn’t answer. He couldn’t say anything right now.

So Elijah did. "No.”

The Balrog nodded. “Ever met Jesus?”


"You kill anybody?” He paused, and so did everyone else in their stall party. Then he added, “Ever?"

Elijah shook his head sternly.


The Balrog looked down at the middle boy.

"Looks like they didn't kill Jesus. Why don't you go fuck off for a while?"

Joel moved his lips, but words were not in his service today. The three jock boys flowed like one stream of water, out of the stall, and then out of the bathroom.

With room in the stall, Elijah stepped away from his brother. He smoothed out his clothes, looking like he was going to address the giant.


It seemed like words weren’t much in his service, either.

"Not a problem. It's a habit I picked up from God. Act scary as shit, for good motives." The Balrog held out a hand to shake Elijah’s. “I’m Noah.”

“I’m Elijah.”

He reached to shake Noah’s hand, but Noah withdrew it. Elijah froze.

Noah looked from Elijah to Joel, then around the stall.

“You wash that hand and then I’ll shake it.” He grinned, apparently thinking this was hilarious or cool or both. He jerked his head and took a step towards the bathroom door. “Come eat at my table. I’ll introduce you to some people.”


  1. You got everything in this story -- some middle-grade angst, bullying, religion, super writing (per usual), and a nice, neat moral. Great story. Peace, Linda

  2. Great little story.

    Oh, hehehe. Balrog. Elijah. Just need Gandalf and the tears can flow again for me!

    Well done.

  3. Linda, that's some of the kindest praise I've gotten on anything on the Bathroom Monologues. Thank you, and thank you Marisa. This felt like a departure as I was writing it, but I couldn't stop.

    I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't realize "Elijah" had a connection to Lord of the Rings until you mentioned it just then. Maybe my subconscious did, but I just picked Jewish names that sounded apt to my boys. To err is...

  4. John, this is instantly one of my favourites. A moral without being preachy, teen angst and bullying without being heavy handed. You did this very, very well.


  5. just like they taught me at sunday school. tzai gazzunt!

  6. Great tale about bullying and prejudging people, instead of trying to bridge the gap.

  7. This is a great story, very innovative with an unexpected twist on the rescue from bullies tale. Good work.

  8. Ironic twist and for some reason the word 'weird' comes to mind. As always, I enjoyed this.

  9. This was really good. Not what I expected either which makes it even better.

  10. Who hasn't felt like the outsider at some point in their lives, with what feels like the world laughing, waiting to pick on you?

    And to be school aged... you captured it. I was feeling awkward reading it.

    The only concern: why would two jewish boys be accepted and/or force to attend a catholic school? I just wanted the story to provide the reason. Otherwise, the emotions and characters were real and the bully's about being scary enough to do the right thing was fun.

  11. Thank you all. I'm glad so many people found the ending a surprise. I thought it was obvious when I first wrote it, but I liked Noah so much that I let him do his thing. That people enjoyed him makes me a proud pappy/writer.

    Peggy, I think that's a totally fair criticism, pertaining to why they're here. The boys are here because the Catholic school is the only one near where their father has relocated for his job. This sort of thing happened quite often a few decades ago with torturous results. I tried to explain it succinctly, but every time I tried to fit it in, it disjointed the given paragraph or series of dialogue. You can see where it began to be explained in Joel complaining that he'd told his mother something about Catholic school. Every method of exposition I came up with was too clunky, so I left it out. Perhaps I should have come up with a simpler reason and used that.

  12. Nah, you don't need to explain why they're at that school. Let the reader do the work. Besides, it's really irrelevant. They're the outsiders and this is what the story is about. Liked your use of the Balrog description - really threw us off the Noah scent. Good job.

  13. Great story, John. I could really feel the fear for these two guys. I liked Noah's intervention, juxtaposed against his image as a Balrog. Big does not necessarily equal bully, which is a message unto itself.

  14. This is great. What an excellent twist and the feelings of the two Jewish boys are captured so well, I was nervous reading it.

    Fantastic piece. Bravo.

  15. Thank you! I'm still buzzing that people liked the ending, for the twist and potential meaning.

  16. What a great story, and the ending is perfect!

  17. Very much enjoyed this. If only certain warring religious factions could listen to arguments as simple and logical as Noah's...

  18. John, I think this is the first time I read your work and I just loved it! The story is interesting and suspenseful, the writing is crisp and clear. There's a lot of opportunity for stereotyping, but you not only avoided it, you went the other way by showing that we can find commonalities with the most unexpected allies. Loved it! ~Olivia

  19. Love this John. Everyone said it already, but it's worth saying again - you did a fantastic job capturing the angst of these boys. Bravo!

  20. Terrific work! The tension here was unbearable, and the realism at the end was great.

  21. Really enjoyed this--and I agree w/ Linda as far as it hitting everything--bullying, religion, middle school angst. Like the ending with the withdrawn handshake (so could see a kid doing that) and also like having Elijah heading straight to the bathroom b/c in his panic he couldn't think of anything else (nice detail).

  22. These comments were lovely to wake up to. Thank you everybody. I hope you enjoy my work in the future Olivia - I write something on here every day!

  23. "...It's a habit I picked up from God. Act scary as shit, for good motives..."

    Wonderful line. I love it.

    You did a nice job with this. I liked the setup and how you flipped things neatly on the bullies, the bullied and your readers.

    Well done.

  24. I like your characters -- both amusing and poignant. Well done!

  25. Add me to the list of people who enjoyed your story.

  26. For some reason, I keep reading Noah's voice with an Irish accent.


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