by Rae White
I don’t see the unicorn at first. I’m walking with my head down, thumb scrolling my phone in search of movie reviews. I kick the cubicle door open with my foot and catch it with my elbow. I’m immediately struck by the fresh smell of eucalyptus but even that doesn’t get me to look up.
It’s not until I lock the door behind me and put my phone down beside the sink, that I notice the small mound of glittered feathers curled beside the toilet, their long tail reaching up and hanging loosely around the flush lever.
I stare at the vivid plumes and muscular curves, taking in the distinctly Australian scent of their tiny form: a combination of strong eucalyptus, wattle and mulch. There’s another smell too: the smell of shit.
As I walk closer to the breathing shape, I notice three things: the glassy cone, riveted and curved, which sits nestled on their forehead; the blood-encrusted gash above their hoof; and, of course, the final thing I see is a massive dump. The creature, which I’m now certain is a unicorn, has taken a huge shit, which sits waxy and stinking in the corner.
‘Well done,’ I say out loud, crinkling up my nose. At the sound of my voice the unicorn squirms. Their feathers remind me of peacock plumage, that iridescent train of green-blue lustre.
I lean forward a little and speak very quietly. ‘Hi there’. The unicorn’s sleek eyelashes swoop as their eyes open. I find myself looking into the swimming galaxy of their blue-black pupils.
‘My name’s Cody,’ I continue. ‘Who are you?’
Their muzzle twitches slightly and their gaze remains unblinking on my face.
‘I don’t want to freak you out. I’m here to help.’
In all honesty, I’m here to pee. But with a unicorn sitting wounded under the loo, I feel like taking a wee can wait for a bit.
I sit on the bathroom floor and zip open my backpack. I rifle quietly through the contents to see if I own anything that might help the unicorn. I have my wallet, phone and keys, an empty packet of chips, two hairpins, a permanent marker, a lighter and some rolling papers. In conclusion, I’m fucking useless to help this creature.
I glance up at their sleek form crumpled on the bathroom floor. I’m shocked at how not-shocked I am to see one of my most beloved fantasy creatures in real life. To be honest, I did just indulge in five back-to-back hours of a fantasy movie marathon, which has primed me for the possibility of otherworldliness. But when you’re planning to take a wizz and instead meet a unicorn, it’s a bit extreme even for me.
I shuffle towards the creature and use the torch function on my phone to get a look at their injury. At closer inspection, the gash is smaller than I thought and no longer bleeding. The crusted blood makes up most of the incision and it shimmers against the bright light. I can see their throat muscles twitching and hear their teeth grinding.
‘How did you get this?’ I ask them, though the more important question is probably, ‘How the fuck did you get into a unisex bathroom in Rosalie?’
The unicorn doesn’t answer and I realise to anyone outside the bathroom (hopefully there’s not a queue) it would sound like I’m talking to myself. I take a hot second to question my overactive imagination before getting on with the job: I need to help this unicorn. Firstly, I need to wash and bandage their wound. It’s a good thing I have a very full bladder.
The unicorn’s eyes follow me as I stand up and take the withering chrysanthemums out of the vase on the bathroom countertop. I wash the glass with soap and water as best I can in the tiny sink.
I hesitate in undoing my belt. ‘Do you think you could close your eyes?’ I say. The unicorn continues to stare at me, before slowly closing their eyelids over their glossy pupils. I’m stunned. They do understand me, at least to a degree.
My bladder is aching by the time I lower my jeans, squat and take aim over the vase. ‘This is weird,’ I mutter to myself. My muscles are clenched and I can’t seem to get on with it. I wiggle my hips around a bit and close my eyes. ‘You can do this,’ I whisper. ‘This is a natural thing. Even unicorns do it. Probably.’
It takes another couple of seconds, but before long I’m peeing like a champ. When I’m done I place the bulbous vase full of pale yellow wee to one side and pull up my jeans. I look up at the unicorn and see their eyes are open and fixed on me. ‘Oh come on! We had a deal!’
The unicorn blinks and I shrug my shoulders. Does it really matter that the most stunning creature I’ve ever seen has just seen me with my pants down?
I shuffle on my knees towards the loo and take some toilet paper off the roll. ‘I’m going to cleanse the wound, okay?’ I murmur. ‘Please be still.’
I reach out gently for the unicorn’s hoof and they whimper. I try again and in one sharp movement their head snaps and their glassy horn smacks away my hand. My fingers are throbbing and I look down to see a red mark on my palm. ‘What the fuck!’ I squawk. ‘I’m trying to help, you little turd!’ The unicorn makes a high-pitched whining noise and shuffles further towards the back of the cubicle.
‘I’m sorry,’ I sigh, massaging my hand. ‘You’re injured and you need help. I have delicate hands and a strong stomach. I’m your best shot, honestly.’
At this, the unicorn stops moving and closes their eyes. I wonder again if they know what I’m saying. I shift forward and realise I’m upsettingly close to the massive shit. Plus there’s static hairs escaping my ponytail and clinging to the outside of the toilet bowl.
I close my eyes and breathe slowly through my mouth. When I open my eyes, I focus my attention on the task. I take the wad of toilet paper and dip it into the vase. I give it a squeeze and almost gag from the feeling of my own piss dribbling down my palm. I told the unicorn I have a strong stomach, but it’s an outright lie. I swallow deliberately and breathe through my mouth, as I hold down their hoof and start dabbing at the wound.
Apart from some tiny yelps, they’re a very good patient. Cleaning their blood-soaked feathers is like washing the softest blanket in the world. The feeling against my fingertips is like velvet and duck down. It helps distract me from grabbing more toilet paper, infusing it in the murky liquid, and continuing to irrigate the jagged cut. I use my fingers to lift small pieces of gravel out of the wound.
When I’m satisfied with my effort, I flush away the leftover wee and bloody toilet paper. I thoroughly wash my hands and contemplate trying to remove the unicorn’s poop, which still festers in the corner. I decide against it, if only because it’s not like the unicorn shit you see in memes: glittery, rainbow, cupcake-infused.
I have no idea how to dress a wound, so I decide to delicately place a couple of my rolling papers on it, then wind more loo paper around it and seal it with a hairpin.
I sit back on my haunches to admire my work. I don’t have any first aid qualifications but I think I did a damn good job. ‘What do you reckon, mate?’ I glance at the unicorn, who doesn’t give a crap about my handiwork and has fallen asleep, their flank twitching and their nostrils quivering as they breathe.
For a small creature in a fairly sturdy backpack, the unicorn is bloody heavy. I seem to have gained some level of trust with them, because it’s no issue to take their dozing form and lay them in my backpack. I take off my hoodie and curl it around them. I only hope they don’t reward me for my trouble by pooping in it.
I zip up the bag and carefully haul it onto my back. After a couple of wiggles, I feel the unicorn settle and hear their breathing slow.
I make my way down the stairs and notice the cinema foyer is almost empty. I’ve been here for so long that other movies have started and the staff are busying themselves with wiping down tables and clearing away empty glasses. I get a couple of glances thrown at me, but there’s probably the assumption I’m either going out for a smoke or I hated a film so much I left halfway through. Either way, it’s easy for me to confidently walk out the glass doors and onto the street.
It’s dusk now and there’s a crisp chill in the air. I wish I could wear my hoodie. As I walk slowly towards Gregory Park, I can see a tree full of bright lorikeets up ahead. Their harsh trills cause the unicorn to shuffle restlessly and I stop walking.
‘It’s okay,’ I whisper. ‘We’ll be at a safe place soon.’ A person strolling past looks at me quizzically. Their wiry terrier grumbles at my backpack. I guess to others I must look like a longhaired weird boy who’s talking to himself. I adjust my bag and stride forward. I’m not weird or a boy. I’m a genderless human who’s been given the important duty of saving a magical creature.
I reach the park and open the gate. It makes a squeaking noise and the unicorn mews loudly in response. I walk through crackling leaves and the rustle of well-trimmed grass, until I find a secluded area near a picnic table. I ease the backpack off and rest it on the damp concrete.
I chat soothingly to the unicorn as I unzip the bag. At first there’s no response, then I’m suddenly greeted with an energetic thrust of their head poking out from the opening of the bag. ‘You look like a meerkat!’ I giggle.
They start to wriggle about and I help edge them out of the bag. Their tail is wrapped around the chord of my hoodie and it takes a couple of attempts to untangle their tufty feathers.
When they’re finally free, it only takes seconds before they hop away and start climbing a wrinkled fig tree. Their ability to gallop at a vertical angle is impressive and it’s not long before I can only see glimpses of their iridescent coat flitting through the foliage.
I hear them yowl and realise it sounds very similar to the echoing wail of the Bush Stone-curlew. I wonder how many unicorns are in this park? Or just as importantly, how many there are in Brisbane? As if in answer to my question, I hear another call, further away and more guttural.
As night seeps in around me, I sit on the concrete with my hoodie (smelling faintly of eucalyptus) wrapped around my shoulders, and listen to the rebounding cries of the unicorns and curlews.
Rae White is a non-binary poet and writer living in Brisbane. Their poetry has been published in Cordite Poetry Journal, Antithesis Journal, Woolf Pack and others. They’re the editor of #EnbyLife, a collaborative zine about non-binary experiences.
Photo credit: Noah Jacquemin via Flickr, All Creative Commons. Image is of a dark purple unicorn stencil spray painted onto a pale orange painted brick wall.