Save the Bath For Last
What is flat is not one dimensional
His best friends were told he never learned to swim because his mother tried to drown him; not as an infant, not due to post-partum depression (this was the 40’s and 50’s, that diagnosis did not exist), not due to hatred, but due to numb hands from the 6 other baths she had to dole out every other night, causing her to not know her own strength, or self-worth.
Their 2.5 bedroom home housed 10 people now, after the grandparents died. Their impending deaths gained the household a bathroom on the first floor, as the walk to the outhouse was perilous for a spry teenager, let alone two immigrants, one of which would have been a candidate for a multilevel lumbar fusion, the other, a lung transplant. The home, built of limestone and clapboard, at the nearest reach, was a sneeze away from the grade school. Farther down the backyard, along the path needed to safely walk to the outhouse, tucked in the southeast corner, was the fabricated gulley. An average sized man of the day could, with effort, pull himself up and out, if needed. Wide enough to fit three bikes, side-by-side, as he and his brothers found out. Dark enough to hide things best unfound.
Into the minor abyss, fluid flowed from rains, roofs, and the occasional sewer back up, but no one any longer seemed to know the origin of the ever present trickle. The off/on stench didn’t help his reluctance to explore water, but it did skew is personal view of deep-dipped hygiene. He was more inclined to soak in the sun heated cow tank than the porcelain tub, as the skyline afforded a sense of which direction was up if he was down and keep his thoughts light, instead of cetacean blue.
He was the most reserved of the 8 siblings, but the seemingly strongest willed with the toughest silence. He would frequently loose the battle of bathing in the same water as his 6 siblings, as the baby was cleansed in the apron sink, with tap water, which he volunteered to curl into, despite his 14-year-old frame. If the early bird got the worm, the obstinate child got the epithelial tissue filled well water.
Having 3 brothers and 3 sisters, two of the sisters being more ready for daily poor people’s battles than the Artful Dodger, submerged prior to him, by the time the playground, the backyard and the street were cleaned off, the tub water was as opaque as Sister Lucinda’s habit. Thus, the day he entered after his younger brother had waded in the gulley at its high tide, he didn’t see the wriggling flatness
Putting in his head, his hair, his ears, his face, was what he despised the most. Even his penis was not a concern, as he never let go of it if he couldn’t see what it was touching. But the other orifices in his body. Those were impossible to protect with the 5 other fingers.
Finally, he gave in. With his butt leading, followed by his back, then the nape of his neatly shorn head, he tried, he really tried to go as quickly as possible, all the while hearing “soap is cheap but not free”, as his mother made sure every inch of the biggest organ of his body was scrubbed. When his ears went under, he entered the soundless, wet world. Then his eyes were covered by the water and his right hand, but his left hand still held onto his dwarfed third leg. Something different, different from the lye-laden soap, touched his eye lid. Something flat. Something vibrating.
He shot up, right arm grabbing the brass-coated rim of the tub, the left now holding on more tightly. He jumped out, frantically running away from the water, Fred Flintstone on ice, rubbing his eyes as he caught the edge of a towel, which dried 6 other children, on the hook above the mirror.
He peered into the mirror.
Nothing there. Now.
When he went to sleep, he slept hard, as he was apt to do, until his thoughts caught up with his mind. Then he saw what he felt, and he awoke, and did not sleep again as he did before.
In his third class of the day, when Sister Lucinda caught him peering out the window, she did not know it wasn’t him. It was his eye, but his eye did not see what he saw. She sent him to the corner, away from the window, away from the gulley, away from his old, and new, home. His thoughts were running from his mind, but he was awake, and he couldn’t think, and he stopped learning as he did before.
At home, he was caught peering out the window, the one closest to the backyard, closest to the gulley, closest to his, but not his, other home. He was told to go upstairs, to his room, without dinner, if he did not want to help, only to stare, a blank stare, at that, at nothing.
He went upstairs, up to the back room, the room leading to the porch, which was closest to the gulley, closest to his new home.
With the evening sky as his guide, he looked up, he gazed down into the yard, he caught sight of the cow tank, on its side, reflecting the guiding sky, reflecting towards the draining gulley. He was a math savant; the angles and distance came quickly. The speed did not, but he was just fast enough. He backed up. He ran. The angle was perfect as he jumped. Headfirst, the energy of the flatness, leading the way to his old home, their final home, in the draining water of the man-made gulley.
For his last bath.