The Proper Protocol For Drinking Your Juice
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Serenity"
Originally featured on 06-03-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

A master of the universe does not use an appliance until they can conceive in their mind what that appliance might have looked like on paper before being released for manufacturing. Surer still is she who can look further back and imagine the failed designs in its evolution, and, consequently, future improvements. I forget who said that. It doesn’t matter what anyone said. When I was ten I tried to figure out how our toilet worked. Mom and Dad got me an illustrated book for Khanukkah that detailed the functional components of plumbing with kid-friendly analogies, but Mom and Dad did not allow me to remove the porcelain lid and reach my hand in the tank to feel the surface of the black rubber dome rupture softly against my palm at that moment mid-flush when the water pressure changes.

The material’s moment of decision. So I decided to shit outside.

In the woods behind the yard. Not as a matter of ethics, or as a matter of anything. Never told Mom and Dad about the poison ivy rash on my butt. I know they noticed I was walking funny, but I pretended they didn’t. I sucked it up and walked funny. Not that I was afraid of the toilet, I just… had to know. Could not use it until I knew. It got cold outside.

So I crept into the bathroom while my parents were sleeping, after a night of some occasion or another for champagne. The refrigerator whirred in and out of a level snore. The refrigerator always made that noise (I investigated its anatomy the following year); on that particular night I was aware of the sound. And other sounds.

Lifted the porcelain lid with all the strength in my ten-year-old arms. A knot of panic in my back threatened to give, but I steadily lowered it onto the three towels I had placed on the floor for muting. I don’t remember anything of the toilet after that, but when my parents found me sleeping on the bathroom floor with wet hands, they were less upset than I thought they would be. I was a science-fair rock star, and the toilet became my friend.

I could never imagine the drawings. It’s different now.


Morning rituals: trivial things that are more important than some important things. What reminds you that you're not somebody else.

I proceed to the vending machine, purchase a can of grape juice, I hear the grind of gears and the can is disbursed. If they're out of grape juice, I'll start my day with apple juice, or orange juice as a third choice; anything as long as it’s one hundred percent juice. Then I shake it vigorously. I dislike the word vigorously.

It makes me think of a question on an SAT test, one where they give you a list of four words to describe the way you shake something, or—not an SAT test, but maybe one of those online love-connection tests, something like that. Delicately? Nonchalantly? Thoroughly? Vigorously. It would not be right to say I shake it in any of those ways. I shake it like I’m trying to murder that can and I've got nothing to bang it against but itself.

While shaking, I ask Miranda how her weekend was. If her dog ever came back.

She looks down (she might be looking away from the grape juice, or maybe she doesn’t want to talk about her runaway dog; I’m no expert on Miranda) and her hair folds over itself nonchalantly. In my stomach, something under my skin leaps to the exterior of my shirt. I don’t kill it in time.


They used to do this by hand. Who’s they — I hate that word. If I ever met the all-inclusive [they] on the street, I’d—I don’t know, I’d probably run like hell. What would they look like? No face? One body blending into a collection of bodies circling me and morphing into an avalanche of mucus. With teeth. All teeth. A sea of teeth making constant noise like a refrigerator having a nightmare. Maybe a thick horizontal straight red line instead of a face, a digital placeholder that flashes on a computer. They. And where would you meet they? Nowhere, that’s why you call them they.

What I could have said was, this used to be done by hand, but instead I went for the they. Truth is, they does nobody any good. I do people good.

I use computers (although I must admit I don’t understand how every bit of their parts work, which, I suppose, is why I poop in a toilet and not on a computer). It amazes me to think…I mean, not that I wouldn’t be capable of doing it by hand, if a pen was the only resource available. It was never literally done by hand; there were always tools. Rulers, straight-edges, protractors. If I was religious, I would picture the pre-Genesis God equipped with all of those. But today’s methods—what I’m trying to say is,

It’s still a form of art.

Not so much, perhaps, what I’m doing right now. I don’t know why I’m urinating on a thirty-six-by-forty-eight inch paper spread out on the shop floor. All I know is that I’m pissing in a perfectly straight line. My body just thinks like that.


Frank eating his donut.


Grape juice. I shake it till I feel the dizziness. I keep shaking until it would be ridiculous to spend any more time shaking (when people brag about how many calories they burnt at the gym, they would do better to agitate a can of juice in this manner). Then I slam it down

on the table. I don’t actually slam it. My wrist finishes its arc of motion and it’s on the table. That ring of precipitation will be there when I lift it up; my lips produce an equal amount of liquid in anticipation. If I were religious, I would conjecture that any demons that might have inhabited that can’s interior are now sufficiently vaporized.

On the table, I bring my hand away from it gingerly, cup both hands around the cylindrical body in a protective sort of way, engendering the static electricity that pushes my hands away from the can. Juice inside can only be excited to be born.


My ex wife used to say I had the kind of body a computer geek would create if, um, computer geeks had some say in the evolution of species: small, compact, although strong as an ox, twenty-twenty vision, never sick, just enough fat on my bones to endure winter nights in the California desert, not to mention the coordination to produce technical drawing by hand, resilient…and completely lacking grace, “aesthetically displeasing.”

When I asked her if any of that was true, she looked down and her hair sort of moved. I don’t understand how things sort of move. I wish Mom and Dad would have bought me an illustrated book on her mind for Khanukkah. I told her, “Babe, I’m symmetrical, isn’t that what it’s all about?” Aesthetically displeasing. I'll never know what that means.


I pop open the tab very slightly. Miranda’s already at her work station. I'll make time for her later. The opening in the grape juice can is too small for anyone to possibly draw by hand. Just the smallest crack.

Ball of fizz forms rapidly. On top of the can with momentum. Dome of slow white motion about twice the diameter of my thumb, and controlled. I hear the hiss of bubbles escaping.

Paroxysms are necessary. After it calms, I open the can normally.


I see rounded surfaces, the curb of a sidewalk, the root of a tree, a guardrail, and they're mine. I see straight edges, the side of the bed with the covers ruffled and draped toward the door, the line of my jaw, water from a faucet. that’s all there is. Everything starts on paper. Paper is always the same. It can absorb bodily fluids.


I don’t know what time it is, whether it’s dark outside, whether I’m alone in here. Three cans of juice in the course of a day. They pass right through me. I hear the whir of machinery, and I know what most of the machines do. I don’t know if Miranda’s dog will ever come back. Or if it wants to. Maybe I can help her be a master of the universe. My bladder holds the pen now. It is a talent, this ability to be precise.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

Archives Archives