I am utterly enthralled with Sam Shepard’s story “Four Days” in the new Paris Review. With a scene, specifically: a man is trapped inside a restaurant bathroom and is driven mad by the Shania Twain playing on the sound system all night. Despite the material being absolutely insane, it’s written quite well. And for both those reasons I wanted to share it. Excerpt after the jump.
Cracker Barrel Men’s Room: (Highway 90 West)
I understand there was a man who got trapped inside a Cracker Barrel men’s room once. (I’ve heard the story three or four times now in various convenience stores and gas stations just outside of Butte, so there must be some germ of truth to it.) He was trying to take a dump in peace in one of those oversize stalls for the handicapped (even though he wasn’t). He liked the extra space around him, the aluminum handrail, the hooks to hang his hat and coat. It must have been after closing hours, I guess, because the night manager had mistakenly locked him up in there and had also left the sound system on and, evidently, Shania Twain songs played all night long in an endless loop. Over and over, that’s all he heard was Shania Twain. She sang songs of vengeance and good riddance, infidelity of all stripes, callous treatment at the hands of drunken cowboys; maudlin ballads of deprived youth, the general inability of men to see into her hidden charms. Songs where she refused to be a slave anymore to the whims of men, like for instance making toast, doing the dishes, washing clothes, frying an egg, shopping for groceries. She wasn’t buying into any of that stuff. Then she had songs full of praise for her mother, prayers to her baby sister, her great-aunt, her sister-in-law, her sister’s sister-in-law. She praised God for making her a woman. She praised Jesus for her spectacular body and her luscious red mane falling down to her luscious ass. The man became desperate to escape the Cracker Barrel men’s room. He tried to dismantle the door hinges with his trusty Swiss Army knife. He tried pounding the walls. He tried screaming his head off but there was nobody there. No dishwasher, no waiter, no cashier, no janitor, no night manager, no one but Shania Twain, over and over and over and over again. There was no escape from the onslaught. The man collapsed to the tile floor in a heap of resignation and tried to fall asleep but sleep wouldn’t come. Shania’s voice taunted and tortured him. She clawed at his ears with her long silver talons. He hauled himself up off the floor and turned all the water faucets on full blast. He punched all the hand dryers. He flushed every toilet but nothing would drown out the piercing voice. He could still hear it pealing through the background somewhere, whining away in mawkish misery. He tried climbing up on top of the toilet stall and unscrewing the speaker but he stripped all the screw heads with his trusty Swiss Army knife and fell backward to the floor, impaling himself with the open knife blade. He writhed in pain and managed to extract the knife from his left thigh but blood gushed freely into the overflowing water of the sinks and steam was rising like off some primordial stew. He dragged himself through the darkening red mess of it, back toward the door, moaning like some butchered stockyard animal. He kicked with his one good leg and flailed his hands and screamed one last time but nobody answered; nobody but Shania Twain in her endless refrain. Then he surrendered completely and did something he’d never done in his entire life. He prayed. He prayed to Jesus to stop the bleeding. He prayed to God for a little peace and quiet. He prayed someone might find him before he drowned in his own fluids. Then a miraculous thing happened (and this has been verified by at least two eyewitness accounts—window washers at the very scene): the men’s-room door swung slowly open and there she was—Shania herself, towering before him in her spectacular body, her spectacular red hair, her spectacular lips, her spectacular tits. She was singing her head off. She was singing like there was no tomorrow. She didn’t seem to notice the man on the floor, bleeding to death. In fact she stood right on his chest in her green-satin stiletto high heels and kept right on singing. She seemed to be focused on something in the far, far distance but it was hard to tell through the steam.
From The Paris Review.