Fiction, Vol. 6.3, Sept. 2012
Like all words, he didn’t know where they came from, but he said these nine out loud: “I don’t want to get out of the tub.”
Later, his mother asked his sister, Kate, where he was.
“In the bathroom,” the 10-year-old, thirteen years her brother’s junior, said. She was home thanks to a teacher’s planning day. She grinned. “He’s been in there for two hours.”
“No,” his mother said. “He has not.”
Kate nodded. “I wanted to take a shower like—” she looked at her watch, “—two hours and two minutes ago. I’m timing him.” She folded her arms. She stopped nodding and began to shake her head, but the shake was mischievous, the criticism feigned. She looked up to her older brother. Actually, she adored him.
“Dan!” his mother called out, calling over the radio and the television playing in the kitchen. The noise was typical. Daniel’s mother brooked no silence.
She marched toward the guest bathroom’s door, her arms swinging purposefully.
She tried the handle.
She could hear the fan and the running water.
“What?” Daniel said, having to shout too. He was warming the water.
His mother took a deep breath, relieved. “What are you doing in there?”
“Taking a bath,” he said.
“I want you out of there,” she said. “Now, Daniel.”
“No,” he said.
“No, I’m not getting out.”
He had no classes, wasn’t scheduled to work, and the family could just as easily use the other bathroom.
“You’ve been in there for over two hours,” his mother said.
Two hours, he thought. How pleasant.
“Open this door!” his mother shouted.
The water, which he had to heat at regular intervals, was warm, the air was thick, and the light, entering only through the skylight, was dark. His skin was waterlogged, but it didn’t hurt, just looked funny, like an old man’s. He liked that.
When his mother heard no change, she said: “Do you realize what a waste this is?” She emphasized “waste” with a critical, criticizing voice.
Daniel knew his mother’s voices.
“I’ll throw you a few bucks for the water bill,” he said, shouting into the steady stream of water and over the fan which was also loud, loud and comforting, another barrier between him and everything that had come before this bath.
“What did he say?” his mother said to Kate, who was standing off to the side with the same mischievous look on her face, her brother growing more mythic with each passing minute.
“That he’d pay for the water.”
“Danny!” his mother screeched. “This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to call your father.”
“Bye, Mom,” he shouted, closing his eyes. He reached behind him to close the faucet, then sank down into the water.
His mother pivoted.
“Your brother is—”
She stopped herself. She was going to say crazy. Furious, she marched back to the kitchen, turned down the radio and the TV, picked up the phone, and called Daniel’s father at work. She told him their son was having another situation at home, that he was taking a 3-hour bath and refused to come out.
Daniel’s father, who didn’t like his work and didn’t like to be reminded of what he was missing at home, said that it didn’t sound like another situation, that it didn’t sound serious. “Deal with it,” he said. “I’ll be home at five-thirty.”
At five-thirty the bathroom door was still locked. Kate sat next to it. She was cross-legged, playing solitaire, eating popcorn out of a large bowl, every so often dipping a piece or two in Ranch dressing, also by her side. Her mother—in the kitchen, which afforded a clear line of sight through the living room to the bathroom—was manically baking. First cookies, then banana bread, Daniel’s favorite, then pies she only ever baked on holidays. Since it was January, she still had the ingredients.
“What’s going on here?” his father said, seeing his daughter and sniffing the air. He was tired. Under his arm he carried a folded newspaper, the copy of USA Today he got for free from work but never got around to reading. Sometimes he glanced at the headlines. Lately, thanks to the new government, they droned on, incessantly, about change.
“He’s still up to it,” said Kate, motioning with her thumb toward the bathroom.
“I want you,” Daniel’s mother said, “to break down that door.”
“Now wait a minute,” he said, surprised to find the living room’s television off. The kitchen’s was on, as was the radio, but both were muted.
“I’m serious,” his mother said.
“Wait a minute. I just walked in the door here. I’ve had—”
“I’ve been waiting seven hours and,” his mother checked the clock, “fifty-three minutes.” She added the two hours she had been unaware of.
“Just wait a minute,” his father said. “Nobody’s going to be breaking anything.”
He started walking toward the kitchen, pleased by the smells in his house. “I’m going to have a beer,” he said. “I’m going to get these shoes off.”
Daniel’s mother, like a famished mosquito, persisted, so his father finally collected various tools from the garage and went over to the bathroom door. The tools were cold and they—two screwdrivers, a hammer, a chisel, and an adjustable wrench—were largely for show. Besides using brute force, he had no idea how to open the bathroom door.
He set the tools on the carpet, next to his beer, and remained in that position, kneeling, regarding the door. Eight hours, he thought. He couldn’t get his mind around the number, couldn’t imagine such uninterrupted time. For a fleeting, uncomfortable moment he felt an emotion his son had never provoked before: Envy.
Daniel shifted in the water, startled by the waves and plops he produced. What had begun thanks to a voiced whim from the ether had become a sort of quest, or a question of will, or both. He was facing the silence. He was, he thought, getting somewhere, getting closer, but it was nice to hear his father’s voice.
His father picked up his beer, alcohol a necessary prop, necessary for a man like him in a situation like this.
“Son, what exactly are you doing in there?”
His father’s voice was shy, unsure of itself, and the light was darker, almost black with the coming of night. Daniel had never bathed with the lights off before. He liked, now that he had the time to notice it, the weirdness of it, the way it made him afraid, but also the way he realized his fear was irrational. He thought about how to phrase it.
“I’m taking a bath,” he finally said.
It was embarrassing to admit this to his father. He attributed the embarrassment to the fact that he had never known his father to take a bath. He didn’t think he did. Ever. He couldn’t imagine it.
His mother, a few steps behind everything, had her arms crossed. She leaned forward. “What are you doing?” she snapped.
His father shooed her away with his free hand, the one not holding the Budweiser.
“Are you all right?” he asked the brown door, the one he had to have installed two years ago after Daniel, on New Year’s Eve, had put his fists through the old one.
His mother rolled her eyes.
“Yes,” Daniel said. I’m fine, he thought, thinking it interesting that his mother didn’t take baths either, nor, come to think of it, did Katie, who had announced a few years back that she was getting too old for them.
“What are your intentions in there?” his father asked.
“I don’t know,” Daniel said, “but I’m getting somewhere.”
He was working through it all, from childhood and adolescence to the last five difficult, wasteful years. Yes, waste. He knew something about real waste. And yes, working through, which is to say letting the stillness and the water and the imagination work on his history, work toward a future, work in that mysterious way undisturbed time works on a man.
“I’m fine,” he yelled.
“He’s fine,” his father said.
“Fine,” his mother spat. “If you don’t break down that door, I’m calling the police.”
“Now wait a minute,” Daniel’s father said. “Something’s going on here, but it’s not like before.” He stared at the woman he had slept next to for twenty-four years. He thought of his son’s face, and the frown he had come to associate with it. If she hadn’t acted yet, she wasn’t about to start now. “You’re not calling anyone and you know it.”
Daniel’s mother, who wasn’t unaware of her tendencies, respected her husband’s judgment, though by no means did she think she was over-reacting. Nonetheless, she returned to the kitchen, glad, after a long day, to have her responsibility lessened. She turned up the television’s volume, anticipating the noise from the National Nightly News. She thought about what to make for supper.
Daniel’s father followed her, grabbed another beer, and set himself up on the other side of the bathroom door, just like Kate.
“Aren’t you going to watch the news, Daddy?” she asked.
“No,” he said, reaching for a piece of popcorn. “Not tonight.”
Something was happening here. Something rare. And he didn’t want any distractions, no noise but the sound of the fan through the thin door. I need to be here, he told himself. I need to see this through. This is important.
He smiled to reassure his daughter, but she could see that the look on his face wasn’t one of fear or even determination, but more like the look of a curious, slightly anxious, slightly impatient bystander waiting to witness historical events, one wondering if he’d see anything before the boredom triumphed.
After a minute, he asked: “Winning any?”
“Eh,” she said, shrugging. “So-so.” She continued to flip down the cards. “You know how it goes.”
“Son!” he called.
“Yeah,” Daniel shouted.
“Just wanted to let you know I’m out here. That everything is fine. Just fine.”
“Thanks, Pop,” Daniel said.
It was, Daniel knew, time to get out. He glanced down at his naked body in the pale, discolored water. He watched the floating hairs, the weightless genitals, the scarred forearms. Yes, just a few more minutes. In just a few more minutes, everything would be fine.