We had been long time neighbors. Our daughter babysat Mr. Johnson’s wife as the couple grew older. After the wife died, we watched out for the aged gentleman. He was still active. Mr. Johnson met with his old buddies for breakfast at McDonald’s almost every single morning. I saw them several times a week as I stopped in for three hashbrowns and coffee whenever I wasn’t running late.
Over time I saw the size of the table at McDonald’s shrink until it was just Mr. Johnson sitting by himself. . . looking a little lonely, wearing a slightly tattered coat and vest but still with a smile as he read the morning papers. About two weeks later he called me over to join him.
I sat down with my hashbrowns and coffee. “I’m getting tired,” he told me right after I joined him. “You’ve been so nice all these years . . . your wife, bless her soul and your daughter . . . I can’t be grateful enough to thank you.” I didn’t know what to do. I just raised my hand and gestured downward. I didn’t want to get maudlin.
Mr. Johnson spoke, “When I die the house will be turned over to a non-profit organization my wife loved. I can’t stand them, however. The head chief makes way too much money, and the pawns don’t get as much as they should. I’m going to die soon, and, in my will, you get the house for exactly one week. Take advantage of it.” I started to say something, but Mr. Johnson shook his head and said, “A fait accompli.” There was nothing I could do . . . besides I didn’t know what to say.
Three days later on his last day alive, Mr. Johnson stood on his front porch and waved his hand to come over. I did. He had me follow him. We went down the hall and into the bathroom. I had never really been inside the house before aside from dropping off groceries and once getting a snow shovel so that both of us could get out of our driveways.
Looking dead serious, Mr. Johnson took a deep breath and said, “You’re not going to believe me, but this in a magic toilet!” He pointed to an old baby blue toilet and barely speaking mumbled “I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and don’t really care. I’ve never shared this story before. Many years ago, I was trying to figure out where to invest a small amount of money. I mumbled my thoughts both in bed, in the bathroom and sitting on the toilet. Within two days I heard kind of a gurgle and I deciphered that it was a particular business back east I was being told to invest. Over time I’ve heard and deciphered enough to always get a payoff. Some took longer to happen than others, but always . . . always it worked. You don’t have to pray to it, nothing foolish like that, but you have to listen carefully to the voices. Also, there is a ceiling fan over the shower. They sometimes argue.” I thought to myself, as the British would say, “Pull the other one.”
Mr. Johnson walked out of the house leaving me in the bathroom kind of wondering and cold. I never saw him again . . . alive. The next day, I felt kinda weird, but in his name, I returned to the toilet and voiced a query about a particular business and thinking about the shares. I spoke into the blue bowl. I lifted off the top of the toilet and spoke and listened. I looked up at the ceiling fan and it wasn’t turning. I heard absolutely nothing. Mr. Johnson died the next day, and I returned in his name.
I followed the same motions as I had the day before and listened and looked and felt nothing. Four days later I returned and to my amazement I heard garbled words from the toilet that seemed encouraging while the fan spun strongly. I bought a few shares. The next day the shares went sky high. I went out and celebrated . . . It took a while to sleep it off.
In the afternoon I returned just in time to see the Johnson’s house being torn apart. I looked at the pale blue toilet, now busted in pieces and the ceiling fan crushed. I sat down and felt the fool. Mr. Johnson and warned me I only had a week. I started to cry over my stupidity and reached for a roll of toilet paper. As I began walking away, I heard someone say, “Gloomy.” I nodded and looked up at the clouds. One of the contractors blocked my view. He said “It’s a nice old house, too bad it’s getting torn down. My dad’s brother helped build it. He thought it a strange, but friendly place. I nodded but then asked, “Why call it gloomy?” He looked at me carefully and said, “I never said anything like gloomy.” He walked away with a shrug of his shoulders. I started towards home and stopped in my tracks. “Glue me . . . not gloomy.”