by Kristen Bealer

As Ted was walking through the hall before school one day, he heard a voice coming from the girls' restroom. "Oh, no. The toilet is talking to me again."

Ted stopped dead on the spot and stared at the restroom door in shock. I couldn't possibly have heard that correctly, he told himself. He moved a little closer, just in time to hear the voice say, "Talking Toilet, you may call me 'Jane.'"

This is incredible! Ted's thoughts raced, and he would have burst into the room to see this marvel if it weren't for the fact that a boy going into the girl's restroom was considered a social taboo in most circles. He'd learned that the day he'd decided to try out his parents' advice to "shatter restrictive gender-binary stereotypes based on outdated thinking."

It turned out that iconoclasm was all well and good right up until the point half a dozen shrieking girls started throwing things at you.

Still, he was desperate to witness a toilet that had miraculously developed the power of speech. He sprinted across the hall to enter the boys' restroom, then shoved past a boy who was about to enter one of the stalls. "Excuse me; it's very important!" he called out.

"Obviously," the boy said, rolling his eyes. "Hey, aren't you at least gonna shut the door? Privacy and all that? And no one here wants to see that, anyway!"

Ted looked back at him with mild amusement. "It wouldn't really make any difference if I shut the door," he pointed out. "You'll all be able to hear me either way."

"Dude. Gross." The boy turned away as some of the other guys in the room either snickered or groaned. Ted ignored them all.

"Can you hear me?" he asked the toilet. "Are you able to reply?"

The laughter immediately stopped as the other boys in the room stared in confusion at him. "Dude, are you--" one started to say.

"Shhh!" Ted hissed, not taking his eyes off his porcelain companion. "It might be about to speak!" He winced as a sudden realization hit. "Oh, please excuse me. I hope you aren't offended by my use of the pronoun 'it,' but I'm not yet certain whether you're male or female." He looked at the other boys, who were starting to look a little nervous. "Do toilets have gender?" he asked them.

"Somebody better get Mrs. Manson," one of the boys said quietly. "I think we're dealing with a nutcase."

"Hey!" Ted cried, offended. "That is not a nice way to refer to a toilet!" He turned back to his new friend. "Don't pay attention to them, Talking Toilet. May I call you 'Talking,' or would you prefer I stick with the more formal 'Mr. Toilet'? I'm going to assume that you're male, since you're in the men's restroom, but please do correct me if I'm mistaken."

The toilet emitted a faint gurgling sound.

"I'm sorry; I didn't quite understand that. Could you repeat it, please?" Ted looked around the room at his incredulous audience. "It's possible that Mr. Toilet is feeling shy and doesn't want to speak in front of so many people. If you've all concluded your business in here, would you mind giving us some privacy?"

The room cleared out quickly, with a few mutterings about crazy people and freaks. Ted shook his head sadly as he turned back to the toilet. "I hope you won't take any of those insults personally," he said. "I've found that my fellow students tend to be a bit rude about people or things they don't understand."

He waited for a reply, but received none. Ted felt deeply sad about that, and yet he felt a strange connection to the commode that he'd never experienced before. "I have to go to class soon," he told the toilet. "I'll be back later to chat some more, all right?"

The toilet still said nothing, but somehow Ted was certain it understood him better than anyone else he'd ever met. He emerged just in time to see Jodie Landon about enter the girls' restroom. "Wait!" he said, worried about what her reaction might be if she met a Talking Toilet without any warning. "There's something you should know about--" But he was too late. As the door swung shut behind her, he heard someone say, "Hey, Jodie, check out Daria's navel ring."

Ted checked his watch and decided it was time to head to class. "A navel ring?" he mused out loud. "That sounds utterly fascinating. Not as fascinating as an articulate bathroom fixture, but I think I'd like to try it, too!" Before he left, he poked his head back into the boys' restroom again. "Talking Toilet?" he called out. "Guess what! I'm going to get a navel ring!"

The first thing Ted had to do upon deciding to get a navel ring was to find out what, exactly, a navel ring was. He knew what a navel was and he knew what a ring was, but the connection between the two was the tricky part. He started by going to the library after school and sitting down with the dictionary, but came up blank. He tried looking under "naval ring" too, just in case it was actually some kind of nautical term he was unfamiliar with. No luck.

Next he tried an internet search, which immediately turned up a variety of very enlightening--and sometimes disturbing--images. The search also returned a business listing: Axl's Piercing Parlor, a local shop on Dega Street.

"Perfect!" Ted murmured, writing down the address. "What better way to experience this new adventure than by relying on the skill and expertise of a qualified professional?"

"...ain't gonna be liable for anything that goes wrong wif your piercing, so if you're gonna be one o' them crybabies who presses charges over a lousy little infection or some swelling or body parts falling off then you might as well bugger off right now," the proprietor was explaining to Ted. "An' if yer underage then I'm goin' to need to see either written parental permission or a reas'nably convincing fake ID." He walked over to two cardboard boxes full of needles. "Aw, piss," he muttered under his breath. "Which box is for the clean ones again? I really hafta get a label maker or somefing for these."

Ted was too busy looking over the piercing menu to hear any of what Axl had said. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "I never knew that you could punch holes in so many parts of one's body!" He pointed to one of the items on the list. "You should probably correct the spelling on 'uvula' here."

"That's not 'uvula,'" Axl replied as he wiped his hands on his pants to clean them and picked up his piercing gun.

"Then...what is it?" Ted asked. Axl murmured the answer in his ear, and Ted grinned. "Interesting! Can I have one of those, too?"

Axl shook his head. "I don't fink so. But if you're into that kinda thing, I could do you a Prince Albert."

"What's a Prince Albert?"

Axl told him. Fortunately there was a garbage can nearby for Ted to throw up into, although it's hard to say if one more questionable stain on the floor would have really made a difference.

" that's when I decided that body piercing really isn't for me." Ted finished telling his story to the toilet, which had turned out to be a very good listener. It never interrupted or gave him strange looks like his peers did when he tried to talk to them.

"I haven't given up yet, though," he assured his new friend. "It'll take more than a horrific description of body mutilation to keep me from experimenting with this intriguing new subculture." He stood up from where he'd been sitting on the floor. "I've done a little more research, and now I just need to do one more thing."

Ted tried out his idea that weekend by going back to The Zon, an alternative music club he had once taken Brittany Taylor to on an unsuccessful date. On that occasion, almost every member of the audience had had at least one piercing visible, and now Ted knew that they might have had even more that he couldn't see.

That night he felt right at home among them. A few people in the crowd noted his fourteen piercings and gave him a brief nod of approval, which made Ted glow with pride. So this is all I needed to do to get people to notice me!

The lead singer of that night's band came onstage. "Hello. We're Mystik Spiral and I want to say happy birthday to my sister, Jane."

Another band member leaned forward. "This for you, Jane," he added.

The band began playing what for lack of a better word Ted decided to call music. "Little sister, little sister you came into my life like a twister," the singer rasped into the microphone. "What can I get you that you haven't taken? What can I get you that hasn't been killed by corruption and greed?"

The crowd around Ted began to sway back and forth to the music, gently at first but then with increasing force and energy until he found himself slammed in all directions at the center of a wildly-thrashing mob. My first mosh pit! he thought with delight. How extraordinary!

He was just starting to enjoy both the chaos and the feeling of being part of a shared group experience when someone's shirt caught on one of his nose rings and yanked it off. Then someone else's hair snagged his eyebrow piercing and jerked it free. Before long his other rings, barbells, and studs were getting ripped away from him until almost all of them were gone.

Ted touched the places where the piercings had once been and sighed. So much for that idea, he thought as he disengaged himself from the mosh pit. On the bright side, just imagine how much more painful that might have been if any of those piercings had been real!

"...and that's why I decided to just steer clear of body modification, at least for the time being," Ted told Still-Not-Yet-Talking Toilet. "Besides, I haven't decided yet if my parents would view it as a feat of rebellion against the narrow preconceptions of society or an act of conformity to an increasingly consumer-driven fad. What do you think?"

Ted heard the toilet clear its throat, and he eagerly leaned forward to hear its advice. "Is everything...all right?"

The voice sounded familiar, and Ted realized that it wasn't coming from the toilet. He turned to see his history teacher, Mr. DeMartino, standing just outside the stall and peering in at him with something that looked almost like concern.

"Oh, yes," Ted cheerfully replied as he stood up. "I was just discussing something with my friend here. But if you don't mind," he scolded gently, "this is a private conversation." He pushed the stall door closed, shutting out the teacher.

"Right," came the voice of his teacher from the other side. "How rude of me to eavesdrop on your heart-to-heart with the plumbing fixture."

As he heard Mr. DeMartino leave, still muttering under his breath, Ted looked back at the toilet. "Now, where were we?"