You’ve Got the Lurgy

Meganrose Lewis

           Every girl in junior school knows that one must never, under any circumstances, touch the door handle to the girls’ toilets. It is common knowledge that long ago a girl rubbed her fanny on it. It will forever hold ‘the lurgy’, which will be transferred from said door handle to anyone who grasps it to leave the toilets. The door cannot be opened any other way once inside. This often results in a traffic pile up by the sinks, with multiple girls waiting for someone to push the door open from the corridor. When, finally, someone comes in for a wee, they are likely to be taken by surprise, a stampede of schoolgirls running full pelt at them, screaming “RUUUNNNNNN!” The incoming girl will not be able to push through the outgoing tide. There is nothing to be done other than to accept one’s fate and be swept along in the hysteria.

           It would render you suspiciously guilty should you point out the obvious: that there’s no way a girl our size would be tall enough to rub her fanny on the door handle to the girls’ loos. Not even a grown up would be able to reach the handle with her crotch. This fanny-rubbing girl would have to be some sort of giant with super-human strength to lift her body weight up and somehow latch herself onto the door: unless it was wedged open, and she clung from the top, there is nothing to hold on to. How would she go unnoticed, hanging from the open door with her knickers round her ankles? And if she somehow managed to clamber up without anybody seeing, and used her super-human strength to lift her extra-long body onto the door, how did she perform the requisite movements to ‘rub her fanny’ on the handle? What does that even mean? You know this act is impossible, not to mention completely pointless. This does not stop you, however, from joining the throng. You wait eagerly for the door to swing open from the outside, hands clasped behind you in case someone should see you come too close to the metal, and accuse you of touching it, thus having caught the ‘lurgy’. (This has happened to you once before, and no one would come near you for two days. In fact, there’s one boy in your class – Ryan Snelling – who can’t seem to forget that you once had the lurgy in, like, Year 3, and once in a while he’ll blurt it out in Art, or when getting changed for PE. You hate Ryan Snelling.)

            When it’s just you wandering the corridors after hours – which is every evening, seeing as you’re the only one whose mum is a class teacher there – you just open the door using the handle and carry on with your life. There is no one to push the door open from the other side, and needs must. You’re in the loos quite a lot, actually, because you’ve taken to entering the first cubicle, locking the door, then sliding through the gap between every other cubicle doing the same until all of them are locked from the inside. After, you sneak out and wait for Mr Cather, the caretaker, to go in with his mop and bucket on his rounds. And you wait for Mr Cather to come storming back out again half a minute later, swearing under his breath, to fetch his screwdriver. This has become one of your favourite pastimes. Sometimes, Mr Cather catches you lurking and marches you back to your mother’s classroom, where you are mildly reprimanded then sent out on your merry way again.

           There is much more mischief to be had. It does not all centre on the girls’ toilets, but that is definitely the hub. Gracie Miles – whose mum is part time – sometimes stays for a bit after school. When the two of you are together, things escalate dramatically. Gracie Miles shows you how to make wet cakes out of soggy toilet roll and hand soap, which you then catapult onto the ceiling of the girls’ toilets. Whoever makes the largest one that sticks, wins. So the ceiling has begun to resemble a papier-mâché mountain range, and the door is contagious with decades-old fanny germs. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

            One day, three girls in your year take it upon themselves to clean the door handle during the lunch hour. They have barricaded the door open with bookbags and are scrubbing it with wads of tissue paper. You watch them from the sinks and notice that all three are taking great pains not to touch the handle with their skin. You admire their tenacity and also feel a gnawing in the pit of your stomach. You know they will never shake the lurgy after this.

           The three girls are beginning to gather quite an audience when a dinner lady walks in and asks them what on earth they’re doing with the door handle.

            “We’re making it clean again,” they explain. “So that people can open it.”

            The dinner lady is irritated but also curious. She asks, seemingly in spite of herself, “What do you mean? Why is it dirty?”

            The girls cleaning the door handle go silent and the girls watching them clean the door handle all burst into hysterics. It is also common knowledge that the dinner ladies have no real power, so a cocky girl called Lois Leevy takes it upon herself to explain the issue of the fanny rubbing in great detail. There are parts to Lois’ story that even you haven’t heard before, and you’ve been around a while.

            “This girl was mad, Miss, and she used the door handle to… to practice.

            To practice what, you wonder? Lois Leevy has always been knowledgeable about things that make you squirm. Lois was the one who told you the word ‘dildo’ in Maths class and got you into trouble for talking when the teacher was explaining long division. The teacher asked you to enlighten the rest of the class, and you were forced to make up a rubbish excuse about asking to borrow a pencil sharpener while Lois Leevy sat there looking angelic. Strictly speaking, you didn’t know what a dildo was, so it’s not as if you’d have been enlightening anyone, really.

            Lois Leevy is still explaining the backstory of the fanny-rubbing girl to the dinner lady. The dinner lady’s face is slowly contorting, her lips baring away from her teeth, her eyebrows rising into her hairline. Maybe she is thinking about all the times she’s touched the door handle in ignorance. These germs last a lifetime, after all. 

            Finally, Lois comes to the end of her story. The dinner lady looks each girl in the eyes, shaking her head. “I’ve never heard such a lot of filth from young women in all my life,” she says.

           There is a deathly silence. You become fascinated with your shoes.

           “It’s true,” says Lois.

           “It’s an absolute disgrace, is what it is,” the dinner lady snaps. She makes every single girl open the door with their hands. You pretend this disgusts you, but really you’re sort of bored and want to go outside now.

           Mr. Casey, the Headteacher, holds an assembly that week on the danger of being a sheep. It is a thinly veiled metaphor.

           The story of the dinner lady’s punishment spreads like wildfire. The lurgy eventually extends to the communal water fountain, situated just outside the toilets. This takes some pressure off the girls; even if they’re not entirely immune from catching the lurgy, at least the burden is now shared among both sexes. Though the three girls who cleaned the fanny handle suffer keenly for their actions. No one will sit with them in the canteen. No one will swap reading books. They remain steadfast in their friendship, but you can see that it bothers them – this unspoken understanding that they will never be free of the stain.

Meg Lewis has had creative work published in Notes, Willesden Herald Short Stories, Moxy Magazine and the Write Launch. In 2020, her creative non-fiction received a special mention in the Spread the Word Non-Fiction Prize 2020 and was shortlisted for the Creative Future Writers’ Award. Meg is a recent graduate of the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA, for which she was awarded a Distinction. She currently lives and works in East Sussex.