FICTION: The Long Walk by Michael Pogson

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I need to relieve myself. Yet I cannot let myself go. Not yet.

Let us not concern ourselves too much with the details of how I find myself in this uncomfortable predicament. I am quite sure I am not the first to have made such a careless miscalculation, blindly striding into a desperation so piercing it waters the eyes and punctures the soul.

It was a perfectly pleasant evening. Three pints of stout. A handful of scratchings. A fatty mass of flavour coating my mouth. Conversation, chit chat, nattering, banter. It was everything I needed for that familiarly warm embrace of happy carelessness to descend upon me, obscuring those parts of my life I currently found myself to be on less than good terms with. And how that carelessness had embraced me. For now there was something else I found disagreeable about myself. My bladder – already pushed well beyond its usual operating parameters – was escalating its dull nagging to something more urgent.

I am walking. On a pavement. Past the sterile glow of the number 3 bus stop. Past the lamp that doesn’t work. The patch of flagless pavement crudely repaired with sticky black tarmac bulging above where it should rightfully be. Past Mrs. Shapiro’s perfectly manicured lawn, hidden in the darkness – I know it’s there, she knows it’s there, although if I stop to think about it, do I know it’s there? There could be anything occupying that dark space, I can’t see a damn thing on this moonless night, she could have replaced it with a swimming pool for all I know. What do I know? I know nothing! I am an idiot, if I stop to think about it, I am a careless fool!

The unrelenting desperation for this sack of water to discharge itself has long ago subsumed the modest glow of happiness conjured out of the last few hours and is now beginning to define my entire existence.

Mustn’t stop. Got to get home. Past a decaying cast iron litter bin, the recipient of so much refuse that it’s gone and spewed a glut of stinking rejects onto the ground around it. Was that some sort of awful metaphor for my own situation? Would I follow suit? Would my bladder be so contemptuous as to decide that enough’s enough and, without due warning or concern for what is right or wrong, unseemly or acceptable, similarly hurl its contents into my pants, leaving me powerless to do anything other than endure the unwelcome trickling warmth as it slips along my legs in its filthy search for the ground below?

The pavement. Why is this pavement not moving more quickly?! None of the landmarks are moving quickly enough, and I seem unable to make them go quicker. Wait a minute, was that…

Step. Hmmmm.

What was that?

Step. Hmmmm. Step. Hmmmm.

Was that my bladder? Were its walls now so taut they were literally resonating with every step I took? Was that even possible?!

There’s the corner shop. I can see the corner shop. It is a little under five minutes’ walk from there to the sanctuary of home. But I do not know if I will make it that far before losing this internal struggle and pissing my pants.

This physical feat of endurance is laced with an underlying inevitability that makes me quite uneasy. The despicable consequences loom before me, playing out in one of two ways, neither of them at all appealing if I am to maintain my standing in the community. My standing in the community! You are ridiculous! Ha! I have no standing in this community! Idiot.

Must. Keep. Walking. This mental game, for it is both a game I am playing in my mind and indeed quite insane, is turning my good character the wrong way around. Many a gent has overestimated how long – three guest stouts, that’s all I had! – has overestimated their capacity for holding water and decided unwisely not to tend to business before leaving the local watering hole. And I will surely not be the last. Although, I concede that this was not a decision, it was a most awful oversight, the consequences of which are likely to be quite horrible.

Wait. Stop. I must focus. I must focus, but not stop. Don’t stop. Must keep going.

It’s getting worse. With every step I can feel my kidneys pumping more and more into something that is able to accept less and less. Will it burst? Can it burst? Can a bladder actually burst? Am I about to rupture? Will my insides be left awash with beery metabolites? Would this be preferable to an explosion of piss all over the pavement?

The world is closing in around me, there is little else to think about besides the odd sensation of discovering that I am in a competition with my own body. Arguing with it. Bargaining with it. I can almost hear it, straining against everything that is good and natural. COME ON YOU BASTARD, I scream inside, HOLD IT FUCKING IN. Squeeze. And squeeze. And squeeze. To the stuttering rhythm of my increasingly desperate gait, I start to hum The Police’s most enduring hit… Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you TRYING NOT TO PISS YOUR PANTS, YOU WEAK-BLADDERED BASTARD. Just a few more steps. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. I have it on a leash, this body, I am the master of this aggregation of cells. It will not rule me. It will not!

It is a lie. I am lying to myself. I can feel my body slipping out from underneath me, with its slow but unrelenting loss of respect for my higher cognitive processes. I coax it forward. Just another few steps. Seducing it with false promises of future rewards: lie-ins, chocolate, sex, massage. I’m throwing everything I’ve got at the increasingly immediate problem of being betraying by my physical being. But nothing is working, the only thing this body wants is relief, and millennia of natural evolution are now perilously close to dictating the outcome of my argument. I feel my efforts tipping into futility, spilling into the inevitable. But here I am! I’m at the door. I fumble with my key. I’m nearly there. I may yet be saved. I may…


I spin around. My landlady.

“Henry, how are you?”

I cannot answer. I can barely see.

“Henry I need your rent. You promised me you’d have it to me by Wednesday. It’s now Friday.”

I stare through her wizened old face with hideous intensity, never have I been so completely focused on something other than what was being said.

“Henry! Did you hear me?!”

“Yes, of course, horribly sorry, I’ll see to it first thing in the morning.”

“See that you do, Henry.”

I return to the lock. An almost otherworldly discomfort now gripping my body. I’m sweating. The key is in, I turn the barrel, the door swings open, I take a step towards salvation.

“Oh, and while you’re here, Henry, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at my TV. I can’t get Channel 5 for some reason. It’s a recent thing, never used to be a problem. Would you be a dear?”

I lurch backward and stand before her. Here it comes. I know it’s coming. Something trickles forth. It stings. I am surprised by the tiny quantity. Maybe I can get away with just a little wee. A small wee in my pants now would buy me the capacity I need to get to the toilet without a more substantial aberration. Yes, I can do this.

Except, it turns out, all the delusional thinking in the world isn’t enough to hold back this reservoir, this mass of liquid lying behind that initial visitation. God is angry, and an unstoppable flood bursts forth, drowning my dignity and my landlady. I have released a terrible fountain of relief upon the world. Purcell’s Aria from Dido and Aeneas, Remember Me, runs repeatedly through my head. Oh God how I can remember thee, I think out loud. What the fuck does that mean? Who do I remember? I am standing here pissing myself in front of someone. The only thing I am going to remember is how I am now no longer the person I was before this evening.

The pressure eases. The gushing dwindles. Spasmodic spurts are all that’s left, closing out my expulsion, completing my humiliation.

I am disgraced. But I am satisfied.


Michael Pogson

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Michael holds a PhD in molecular microbiology from the University of Exeter and works at a London advertising agency. His commercial work has received international recognition, his private work is more camera-shy.

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If you enjoyed ‘The Long Walk’ leave a comment and let Michael know.


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