Like a lot of men, Bill thought he was different. He was wrong.
‘What?’ said Bill, blinking up at his wife Ruth, who was sitting up in bed, wide awake. ‘What time is it?’
‘It’s time to get up, but look at this!’ Ruth said, shifting herself to one side of the bed.
The big wet circle on the bottom sheet spread out from Bill’s hips. Bill felt a flush of fear suffuse his body. This couldn’t be happening to him. He stared at the disaster.
‘Don’t just lie there, Bill, give me a hand, please,’ said Ruth, getting out of bed and dragging the upper bedclothes off the mattress.
Bill stood mutely in his sodden pyjamas. He didn’t know what to say.
‘Sorry, Ruth,’ he said, searching her face for a sign of forgiveness.
‘Sorry won’t help, Bill. I was hoping this wouldn’t happen. Here, put this in the washing machine, please. I’ll ring Jane and we’ll try to get you sorted out,’ Ruth said.
‘I don’t need sorting out,’ Bill protested. ‘It was just a one-off. I’m sure of it.’
Ruth looked steadily at her husband.
‘We’ve got to get on top of this, Bill,’ she said. ‘And I don’t want any more “Not me, I’m different”, OK? You’re just a man, Bill, like any other man. You read the papers, Bill.’
‘I try not to,’ replied Bill as he gathered up the wet sheet.
Ruth rolled her eyes.
‘You can toss your pj’s in too,’ she said. ‘Top and bottom. The back of your top is all wet.’
Bill glanced back at Ruth as he left the room. It’s OK for her, he thought. The New Woman. Three months of bliss - no more work, playing golf, lounging around the house… OK, a few chores, but they were easy enough. Like doing the washing. Bill had that down pat. Clothes in, powder in, spin the dials, set and forget. Even hanging things out was a cinch. Plenty of pegs to hand, start at the far end. It just needed planning.
The rise of women in management had reached a kind of tipping point a few years ago, then a small tidal wave of young women seemed to fill any available positions. It was the same with politics. Men seemed to have had a mass change of heart, or got smart, more like it, Bill used to tell himself. Why not leave it to the women? They think they know everything anyway. Life was to short to spend organising halfwits for little return. The fun had gone out of it.
Even socially, things had changed. One of Bill’s mates at work had been sacked for telling a blonde joke. You had to be kidding. The poor guy’s boss overheard him, and she went ballistic, quoting the new Workplace Behaviour Rules at him before telling him he had done his dash. Even the other guy, the one who laughed, only hung on by the skin of his teeth. He was put on three month’s probation, and was demoted from area manager to merchandiser. He did the work trainees used to do. He lasted about a week, then told the bitch to stick it. That was the end of him.
Bill didn’t agree with the new rules, or the elevation of women’s sport and all the rest of it. He had given notice, at the urging of Ruth, actually, but he was glad to be home for a while. He thought he’d wait it out until enough guys got pissed off with the way things were going and redressed the balance of things.
The trouble is, they never did.
Bill had been home now for almost four months. It had been mostly good. He had a few gripes. The new management at the golf club had restricted men to two days a week, and the championship games were now all-female. Or all New Women, to be correct. That was a bummer, but complaining was a banning offence, and caddying for one of the big swinging New Women at least got him onto the course on Saturdays. The bar was women only, at least for alcohol now, but one good effect of the sugary Elixir he was on was that he lost his taste for beer and scotch.
The Elixir was supposed to help men adjust to their new roles. As an ‘Authorised Provider’ Jane dispensed the stuff. Bill would have quietly spat out his doses, but he had to be swabbed once a month, a bit like a racehorse, he thought, and if your saliva showed you weren’t taking your dose, you were sent for ‘Adjustment’. One of Bill’s old golfing four had been ‘readjusted’, and now he was practically scared of his own shadow. He’d given up golf, and his wife now used his clubs. When Bill asked her how he was getting on, the guy’s wife had laughed, and said ‘As well as could be expected.’ Bill didn’t want to ask any more. To tell the truth, he was feeling a bit intimidated by some of these bossy New Women himself. Roll on the revolution, he told himself.
‘Jane can see us at 10:30,’ Ruth called from the kitchen. ‘You’ve got time to do the dishes and clean things up around here. I’ll come back and pick you up.’
Not driving was another jolt to the system. At least the Elixir stopped him from getting to upset about it, Bill thought. What was the point? It was rare to see a man driving these days, unless he was delivering something somewhere. The way these women drove made Bill feel a lot better as a passenger anyway. At least that was his excuse to himself for feeling so frightened of the other cars hurtling around the roads these days.
Bill finished in the laundry and went, naked as he often was now walking around the house, into the bathroom to have a shower. I pissed the bed, he thought angrily. He’d heard of it happening to other guys, but hoped it was a sort of urban myth. Like the stories of men having to give up their credit cards and bank accounts to their wives. You heard stories.
‘What the hell?’ said Bill as he stood in front of the toilet.
There was a sticker on the cistern showing the silhouette of a guy pissing, in a red circle with a bar through it. Next to it was a green square with a man sitting on the toilet. There was a big green tick over the image. Underneath the pictures, it said Male Hygiene Is Your Business.
Bill had his piss, then went to look for Ruth. She was packing her briefcase and was getting ready to leave.
‘What’s that bullshit on the toilet?’ he asked.
‘It’s not bullshit, Bill, as you so crudely out it. It came in the mail.’ Ruth said. ‘They’re taking the urinals out of hotels and clubs, too, if you hadn’t noticed. Standing to pee is filthy, at home as well as anywhere else. I hope you sat down just then.’
Bill felt as if he should say something in his defence, but what was the use?
‘No,’ he said. ‘I just read it.’
‘For heaven’s sake, Bill,’ Ruth said. ‘Hygiene. And after you’ve wet the bed, too. I want you sitting from now on. For everything. Is that understood?’
That was the problem. Ruth, like most women now, seemed to think she was in charge. Her command and expectation of obedience in this case was only a little thing, but it was symptomatic of a lot more.
‘Bill?’ she prompted him. ‘Hullo?’
‘Yeah, OK,’ said Bill. ‘But I’m…’
‘But nothing, Bill, you’re sitting from now on. Look at me and tell me that you will sit to use the toilet, please?’
Bill took a deep breath. He knew this routine.
‘I will sit to use the toiket from now on, Ruth,’ he said.
‘That’s better,’ said Ruth. ‘I’ll be back at 10. Dishes. Bye, honey.’
Ruth blew him a kiss. Bill felt a bit better, and smiled back at her.
‘Bye,’ he said.
Sitting to piss wasn’t such a big deal, he thought.
To be continued.