The man's voice cracked on the other side of the partition. "I'm going to prison for this, aren't I?"
"You're not going to prison," I assured him through the gap in the door. A small, familiar giggle issued from the other side and the man whimpered. "What's your name?" I asked him, distracting him with small talk as I rummaged in my diaper bag.
"Why do you want to know my name? Are you reporting me to the police?"
"I'm not going to report you. Trust me."
"Do you seriously think I want this to end badly?" I listened to his ragged breaths, waiting for an answer.
"Mo..." he said tentatively. Another giggle came from behind the partition and the man cried, "Mo! My name is Mo! Dear god, please do something!"
"I need you to stay calm, Mo. Listen to me and do exactly what I tell you."
His voice climbed. "You've done this before?"
"Yes," I assured him, "I have dealt with this before." Just never in the men's room of a Walmart. "Listen to me carefully, Mo. I'm going to bend down very slowly and reach into the stall. Whatever happens, don't move."
Mo started hyperventilating in earnest. "Wait, you're going to what? I really don't think that's a good idea. There must be some other way—"
"There is no other way, Mo. Are you going to let me help you or do I need to call someone to unlock the stall door?"
"Don't call anyone!" he begged. "Do whatever it is you're going to do. But please hurry!"
I eased to the floor, cringing as I pressed my palms to the sticky tiles. I didn't want to think about what might be growing in the grout between them as I lowered my head and peeked under the partition at Mo's feet.
His slacks pooled around his ankles and a pair of Argyle socks were drawn high over his calves. My son's light-up Buzz Lightyear sneakers flashed a few feet in front of the man.
"Zach," I pleaded as he babbled and grinned at Mo. "Come out of there, right this minute."
Thirty seconds. In the thirty seconds it had taken me to relieve my bladder, my toddler had managed to slither under the door of my stall and slip out of the women's restroom and into the men's, probably on the heels of some unsuspecting young person who had never been responsible for small children or zoo animals and hadn't had the forethought to stop him.
Zach laughed as I groped under the partition for him. The baggy hem of his overalls slipped from my fingers as he retreated deeper into the stall.
"He's coming closer!" Mo shrieked, his knees clamping together. "No, no! Stay back!"
"You don't have much experience with children, do you?"
"No! Why would you ask that?"
"Just a hunch." I dropped my shoulder under the partition, my arm outstretched. Forgoing two other empty stalls, Mo had chosen the larger accessible toilet, and the commode—and now my child—were in the farthest corner of it. "I can't reach him. He's too far from the door."
"I thought you said you knew how to fix this!"
"I'm working on it. Don't panic."
"Don't panic? Do you have any idea what happens to men who get caught in bathrooms with small children without their pants on? I was just in here minding my own business!"
Zach's giggles fell suddenly, ominously silent. I dug furiously in my diaper bag. Where were the damn Cheerios when you needed them?