I want to celebrate finishing my essay. I decide to have a bath. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a bath. Nearly every day I have a shower. The other days I just don’t wash.
There is a robust tide mark around the bath. I look around for the scratchy sponge and surface cleaner. They aren’t here. All I can find is a wrung out flannel, still in its twisted shape. I pick it up, it’s stiff on the outside, and when I bend it open, it releases a fusty sigh from damp creases. I give the tide mark a tentative rub, there’s just no way that’s going to shift it.
“Who had a bath last?’ I shout into a void approximately 45° above and beyond my kneeling body. I’m not expecting an answer. Surprisingly my daughter answers quick as a shrew from along the hallway,
“It was Alex, he didn’t pull the plug out.”
“Alex, are you there?” I shout out again, bolstered by the response.
Another voice curves up through the banisters from downstairs,
“I emptied it, I know I did.”
I don’t answer.
I get down on my knees and try again with the flannel. This time it’s going to work. It’s got to. I’m treating myself to a relaxing bath. I look up from the scrubbing to see if there’s a candle. No candle that I can see. Probably for the best. If there was a candle I’d have to find a lighter or a match, and I know that would be a whole other mission.
While I wait for the bath to fill I undress, then sit down naked on the loo with the lid down. I feel a bit lost. It’s a relief when the bath is full and I can reach testing toes into the water. I get in, even though my toes tell me it's too hot. I convince myself that it just feels too hot because I’ve got chilly without my clothes on, and it’s the contrast I’m feeling. I sit there, noticing uncomfortable things. My hamstrings are tight. My toe nails are tipped with just 3mm of vermilion nail polish, that’s how long ago summer was.
I look down at my tummy, it’s folding over itself. What I feel internally doesn’t correspond to what I see, and then there’s a strange feeling of outside bits touching outside bits, so they become inside bits where there shouldn’t be inside bits. It just feels all wrong. I lie down. It’s too hot, but at least the weird tummy feeling is replaced by the hot water lapping me. I’d like to feel like I'm floating, but instead I feel like a dead sea mammal on the tideline, being moved at funny angles by the waves, out of kilter.
I hear the heavy sound of my husband coming up the stairs. He’s not heavy himself, it’s his tread that’s heavy. An uneven sound, like the memory I have of a dog dragging a rat up the stairs. It must have been a big rat. I may have imagined it, or dreamt it. I know it was scary, middle of the night, suddenly wide awake, heart hammering kind of scary.
Now my husband's at the door. I’m in the rat place so my heart is racing, but I don’t know if it's the rat or the hot water. I’m definitely overheating but I'm reluctant to put cold water in, I’d have to slide up the back of the bath and bend from the waist to reach the cold tap. I don’t want to feel that weird rubbery feeling around my middle again. I want to give the creases from my jodhpurs a chance to smooth out. When I was seventeen I remember getting into a bath and noticing that I was different. All of a sudden there were no folds in my bent over tummy. A clean sweep from my boobs to the beginning of my pubic hair. It was one of those moments you just don’t forget.
“Can I come in?”
My husband’s voice so close at the door.
“I think the door’s locked,” I answer.
“It’ s ok, I can open it from this side”.
I know in that instant that I’ve let myself down. I wanted to be on my own. That was the whole point of the treat. That’s why the fucking door is locked.
But I’m not going to say anything, because that would be mean. And the guilt would spoil my bath.
He’s happy, he’s looking for companionship. This is a novelty, me in the bath. It feels like a holiday to him. He’s so happy he takes his shirt off and lies on the hard wooden floor and starts reading a book.
I wish I’d had a shower now. I feel worn out with this bath business. Showering is vertical and easy. I recognise the landmarks. I'm nostalgic for the towels thrown on the floor, squished behind the door that opens the wrong way, and the cat’s paw-prints where she comes to drink and sometimes brings her mouse to eat and leaves the gall bladder. I tend to step around them, the gall bladder and scrunched up discarded towels. That’s how lazy I am.
But I finished something today, I remind myself.
My fingers are so wrinkled I have to hold them out of the water. I can’t stand the feeling, skinned, sensitive, unprepared as a newborn. Froggy fingers I call them. I lie there, hands in the air, supplicant.
I close my eyes, pretending for pleasure.
The nausea will pass.
Leonie Charlton is in her first year studying the MLitt in Creative Writing at Stirling University. She lives near Oban on the West Coast, is a mother of three and her passions include horses, reading, writing and enjoying this glorious country.