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A Cup of Conscience by James Lyon


Cedric desperately needs a wee, but has a small duty to carry out first; by James Lyon.

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I need the toilet, thought Cedric, but first I must dispose of this empty coffee cup.

Cedric’s bladder had never been on his side, especially not when long journeys were involved. The train was slow pulling into the station. A volcanic argument next door, which had him tossing and turning past four in the morning, meant coffee was very much in order. Cedric’s lifelong inability to urinate on moving vehicles meant using the train toilet was out of the question. But first, the cup. The damned conscience-driven compulsion that made finding a bin for this cup as urgent as a scorching bladder.

A rush for the barriers, which opened after a few quick bashes of his phone against the ticket reader, some slow-motion seconds behind a flock of infuriatingly relaxed amblers, and Cedric was outside Leeds Station with a burning bladder and a handful of responsibility.

Nowhere, anywhere, was there a bin. Anywhere. Cedric turned back to the station entrance. An impenetrable phalanx of sauntering passengers, just off the hourly train from King’s Cross, made re-entry impossible. He scoured his mind for pubs hotels restaurants potholes hospitals bars, anything that offered privacy and a receptacle. Everything was over a minute away and he had less than a minute. Probably less than half a minute.

Cedric looked around and around; around, and around. Leeds sprawled out vaster than could ever seem possible, a cacophony of people noises and vehicle noises that assaulted every sense with confusion. Every braying voice, every chuffing car pressed on Cedric’s bladder, which had seized power as the nerve centre of all feeling and thought in his body. A bus roared past, sending him clenching tighter than a salesman’s handshake. He moved, holding the metal barriers for support, like a first-time ice skater, until he was through the underpass and out onto City Square.

I must not litter.

Cedric did not know what his cup was made of. It felt foamy, which he thought meant it was maybe polystyrene, but he was quite sure he was wrong, because lots of cups are made of vegetables now. Do you recycle this? Can I? Am I killing the whales if I don’t? He squeezed the empty cup in his hands and weighed up what would happen in the unlikely event that it made found its way into the sea. A turtle could probably chew through it, so no choking hazard. It was spongy yet brittle. A hermit crab might find it handy in a pinch, but it would be mostly useless defence against a prickleback bite. The question offered some mental respite from the screaming of his bladder, and he held onto this train of thought for dear life.

Why is a hermit crab called a hermit crab? His brain wondered. Hermits are known for being reclusive but not necessarily for changing homes a lot, which is what hermit crabs do. Maybe it should be ‘spatially infirm crab’, or ‘accommodation-precarious crab’. ‘Millennial crab?’ They actually steal shells from snails, don’t they, so maybe they’re actually just horrible little things that should – God, I need the toilet more than I need air.

Cedric looked down at the curb, already furnished with crisp packets and autumnal leaf litter. He could drop the cup, drop it, right here and right now – no, not even drop: the cup itself would fall from his loosely curled hand, plonk on the pavement, roll away – by the time anybody noticed, Cedric would be fading into the crowd, another anonymous litterbug stealing away among the faceless many.

Images formed. David Attenborough looking silently disappointed the way Grandad did when Cedric ruined his early edition Lord of the Flies with cherryade. Images of Greta Thunberg roaring at him, her words peeling flesh, aimed at Cedric and Cedric alone. Apocalyptic visions of a blasted future, skeletal cities drowned in the liquefied ice caps, a lone coffee cup floating by to tell that the world was once there. Surely the world could understand the urgency, the need, the more pressing matters at hand. Everybody, at some point in their life, has been desperate for the toilet.

I must not… A BIN!

Cedric bounded over, bent-double like there was a bullet in his groin. The bin’s rounded maw overflowed with dented cider cans and beer-frothed plastic cups. It was Races Day in York. Everybody was out, dressed up and drinking on their way to the train, selfishly clogging up precious bin space. Cedric tried to balance his cup on the point of a crumpled can, but it would not take purchase. He tried to mash the litter further in, but got only sticky hands, which meant an overwhelming compulsion to clean them joined the other discomforts raging within him.

Cedric felt he might burst – honestly, actually burst, like a sausage microwaved too long or a water balloon filled with liquid dynamite. He felt his eyes welling, his lungs inflating, throat charging up a mighty roar of pure, helpless exasperation. He looked around, calling everybody a piece of shit in his head, single-minded bastards with no regard for the pain of those around them. He had a moment of universal empathy, feeling kinship at once with the sunken-eyed beggar on a bed of cardboard opposite, with the inmates of some remote Siberian prison camp, with the lost and fallen everywhere. Cedric’s suffering had him entirely on the side of the strugglers of the world, totally opposed to those that were despotic and wicked simply by virtue of being fine.


Suddenly the cup, the source of Cedric’s woes, began to feel like it could be his relief. It was a good size – built for holding fluid, clearly.

If it holds coffee, it can hold… No, I could never…

But then…

Maybe, technically, it would only be holding coffee again. He hadn’t drank anything else that day. And it was certainly doable. He knew the area around the train station well, and while he could not for the life of him pinpoint a bin, he knew every back alley and side street. He could be alone in minutes, in the cool quiet and shadow of the backroads, unwatched, avoiding the uncouthness of urinating on the street proper while experiencing bliss beyond conceivable bliss.

Cedric’s bladder decided enough was enough and evacuated. Warm was everywhere. The shame and repulsion of self-soiling mixed with the meditative, medicative calm of every muscle from his abdomen down finally relaxing. As the urine pooled out of both trouser legs, Cedric remembered that urinating and binning an empty cup were not mutually exclusive activities, that the cup could probably have waited, and he felt as foolish as he did embarrassed. He cursed whatever forces built his brain this way.

A new problem: how do you get through a job interview without them smelling you?

Life is nothing if not an adventure, he thought, crumpling the cup in his fist and waddling on into the city.


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