map Bathwater

by Deborah Seidner

Published in Issue No. 28 ~ September, 1999

I got in the tub around 9:00 or so this morning, before I was properly awake. I sat there in the tepid water in perfect silence until I could no longer stand to look at my body magnified through the overcast bathwater. For a bit, I tried to cover my privates with the square yellow washcloth, but it wasn’t big enough to cover all that I didn’t want to look at. I thought to myself that next time, a shower might be in order, rather than a bath, but I thought that yesterday when I took a bath and forgot the thought come this morning, and so there I sat again, staring at my legs and everything else from the neck down wishing I had remembered to take a shower instead.

I live in my house alone, and I live in it quietly. I live with the hum of the refrigerator, and with the low murmur of an old fan my grandfather gave me about 15 years ago, when I went off to college. There is no television or radio or CD player. No mechanical boxes from which noise emanates, designed to leave a trail of audible debris. The only noise in my house is the noise inside my head, and for that I have no off-switch. I live in my silent house trapped by them and they tumble around in there like rocks in a dryer.

As I reached forward to unplug the drain, just as my hand was on the lever, I heard the front gate unlatch. I looked up at the calendar on my bathroom wall. Today was Tuesday. The gardeners come on Tuesday. I remembered this last night, and told myself then to stay in bed this morning until after they had gone. But I forgot. And so I was in the tub when the gardeners came, and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that they would be all around my house, swarming around outside like locusts, close to every window, perhaps peeking inside to take a look.

I heard the sound of boots on the gravel path just outside my bedroom window, which I had left open. Had I remembered about the locusts, I would have closed it at dawn. I would have locked it and taped the curtains to the sides of the windows to keep them out. Their peering eyes trying to make their way in. Forcing their way into my house like a trail of ants through some unknown crack in a floor board.

I stayed bent at the waist with my legs stretched out before me until my muscles began to shake. My left arm was at my side, while my right reached out in front to flip the drain’s lever. I had frozen myself so as to go undetected by the locusts. I had heard a long while ago that they respond to noise, like sharks respond to movement. If they knew I was in there, they would gather on the screen outside my bedroom window until their collective weight pushed it in, and my house would be hostess to an uninvited screeching symphony.

I could not stand, I could not leave the bathroom. There is a window directly above the foot of the tub paned with translucent glass. They would see me if I moved. I had not choice but to stay where I was.

Soon after, I heard the other gate open. The water was slowly, slowly leaking out the drain. I noticed that my kneecaps were above the water line. Exposed. Made cold by the air, by the draft moving about in the house. By the dreadful, thunderous bellows coming in from outside.

I quietly, slowly, painfully eased myself into a more comfortable position, and when my back touched the now cold porcelain of the tub, I almost screamed out loud, but bit my tongue to maintain silence. I could not let them know I was in here. And so I waited, motionless except for the inhale and exhale that did nothing to ease my fear.

I waited until past noon, until I was sure that they had left. Until the silence had re-established itself. I sat in my house, in my bathroom, in my white porcelain tub, cold as ice until I was absolutely sure that the gates had been closed, the latches secure, the locusts gone. At first, I couldn’t get up. So stiff from not moving, my body would not work for me. It began to laugh. If I couldn’t bear to look at it, then why should it work for me? I heard a cacophony of laughter, as if through a megaphone in an empty grandstand, echoing over and over again. Banging against the sides of my head.

I finally managed to get myself up, almost falling back down in the process. Teeth chattering wildly, I grabbed my towel, and wrapped it around my head. I put on my robe and made my way like an old woman walking on eggshells into my bedroom. I could see that this day wouldn’t work out for me, so I would take the train into the next. I shut the bedroom window, and taped the curtains to the wall. I wrote myself a note to take a shower the next day, and got into bed. I couldn’t forget that next Tuesday they would come again.

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Deborah Seidner currently resides in southern California with her beautiful brown and white dog, whom she loves very much. She fixates on the nearly transparent idiosyncrasies of others with much pleasure.