The bath is its own season, a submerged oasis, scented vaguely of almond bark, diffident toward the stark onset of Winter in the valley. She peels the washcloth from its stiff perch on the soap dish and whisks it slowly through the water like the tail of some rough crocodile, swimming lazily on the current with not the slightest hunger – full, satiated with the steam rising from its body like smoke from a bed of embers when the tamper blots out the excitement of the flames.
The bruises swell, concealed in the thermal cocoon of bubbles. She washes her toes, methodically, unhurried, getting at the betweens and even under the nails. What matters is the feeling of clean and the simple movement of hands which, despite anything, are still hers after all. Sometimes the motions you go through are more real and generous than the gestures that constitute your life.
She folds the washcloth over her forehead, over the bandage that newly rests there. She closes her eyes under the warmth, walks backwards through her mind, and stands in front of the tall, oaken door engraved with the only word that really matters to a door – “knock”. She lifts the handle and lets it fall with a rattling clack that speeds her heart a little, no matter how many times it has struck before.
The face that answers the door is always a little different – a worn, dog-eared memory trampled by bleary years and muddled by all the guile that wanting imposes on a hope visited out of need. The hands are the same, though. Slow, methodical hands. Hands that have bathed and held and surrendered only reluctantly. Hands that have soothed things hurt and bandaged the simple griefs of falling down or missing something really good, like a Saturday show.
There are occasions to have entered life by a different door. Sometimes it’s held open by some happy soul passing through, and you think of running for it but hesitate, because you might not make it. A hesitant life is easier – at least it’s predictable, and maybe it feels more like your own. She holds back a little, swollen and maroon with shame – not that different from a skinned ankle earned by skating in the park. She looks up from those hands, sucks in a long breath, and asks the thing a proud child can want to ask but never quite manages for fear of drowning. “Help.” She says it in her mind and aloud and with supplication as the shape of her hands. Her eyes are open – they are closed – and she feels the heat slowly draining away where it touches red skin.
In things already past, the only answers are your questions. Hers is the fall of a knocker, ricocheting and repeating from an open door, like those recoil driven weapons she’s read about from a war that was supposed to end all wars but that itself has never seemed to end – instead entering a permanent freeze, punctuated by shards of ice. It pierces wood, and empty space, and all things corporeal. She lifts the cloth from her face and waits as the latch finally bursts onto the bathroom floor. It’s always the weakest part of a thing that gives way, letting in the thing you dread, as easily as cold permeates a membrane of skin, making you shiver from an unwelcome freshness of the air.
She raises a slow finger, breaking the wet, tepid surface like some elusive beast, serpentine and repeatedly curling at the neck. She eases her lips apart, and makes her eyes turn from the hand on the knob, a hand that won’t hesitate, and she hold hims first by his blinking eyes. You can only turn what you hold, after all. They made love back when she liked to, and it might even be a kind of love the way he has started liking it, which always seems to be a beating down of something soft and a shattering of something hard. If you can hate what you love, maybe you can also love what you hate.
The bath is a valley. The season has changed, and her coating of white drains thickly away like the drop of some gauzy negligee. It swirls down the drain with a ticking slurp, and she waits for him – the man who treats her like a door you have to force in a place that, once you open, you can only ever have in the way you have a memory or a dream.
Asher wrote this at:
Flash Fiction Writing Intensive
Hosted by Laurie Stone
Hudson Opera House