My bathroom has one of those bathtub Jacuzzis. It came with the place. I've never used it though. I'm not one for baths.
I dated a girl who loved baths. She'd carry a book in with her and some tea, light candles and just sit there. When I mentioned she was soaking in her own grime from the day, she laughed. "You just can't appreciate baths," she said.
When she left me, she said the same thing, as if that were a reason, as if that explained everything.
"That's no real reason," Tim told me over drinks a few months later. I nodded my head and we clinked glasses in an Amen. But, when I thought about her, she didn't seem crazy, and I didn't normally drink.
I started dating her a year ago. She was bright, taught history in high school and was working on a book about some obscure state politician from the Civil War era who had apparently become obscure thanks to his progressive views in a less-than-progressive region. "He had more guts than any politician you'll meet today," she said. "He was heroic, and people should know that about him." I always nodded my head when she spoke about him, but I didn't really listen. I watched her work, though. Man, I loved that. Her face all squinted in concentration, she'd gnaw her pen caps into points, elves hats. She looked sexy when she worked and sexier still because she had no interest in me when she was working. So I would wait until I saw her forehead relax and she'd stretch her back and lower her pen. Then I'd make sure I was somewhere nearby, in a place where, when she turned her head, her eyes would fall on me and slowly, like a person waking up, she'd smile and wrap her arms around me and I'd know my importance again.
"I miss her," I said in Tim's direction. And he nodded his head, but his eyes were scanning the bar.
"Sarah said she'd be here," he said. "She's bringing a friend."
"Sure," I said and turned back to my drink.
Sarah showed up with a friend from work. The friend was cute and pleasant, and I could feel the start of a headache creeping in around my temples. She got up to say hello to a friend across the bar, and Sarah and Tim leaned in close.
"So?" Tim asked
"She seems nice," I said.
"I knew you two would hit it off," Sarah smiled and gave Tim's arm an I-told-you-so squeeze. I pictured the two of them sipping coffee over breakfast, discussing me, and I tried to figure out how that image made me feel.
The night before Emily left me, I let the L-word slip out. It seemed like a good time...all tangled up in each other and happy. She propped herself up on one elbow when I said it and studied me.
"What?" I asked.
"Do you really mean that?" She wasn't asking to be coy or to wheedle some compliments out of me; she was just asking.
"Sure," I said and kissed her shoulder.
"What do you mean why?"
"What's you're reasoning?"
"I don't know. I just said it. It seemed like the thing to say."
She just kept looking at me, so I continued. "I thought you'd like hearing that. Doesn't that reveal some level of commitment on my part? I thought chicks dug that."
"Not if the person saying it is just saying it because it seems like the thing to do. That's not commitment; it's just talking. I want to know if you're just talking or if you really think it."
"I haven't found anything better," I said, and that was true. She paused for a second then and her face changed. Something almost imperceptible. But then she smiled and gave this little shrug like she was shaking off a mosquito. She said, "Me neither," and slid her arms around my waist and tickled my love handles, and then I knew why I'd said what I had, and we crawled back under the sheets and tangled ourselves up all over again.
But afterwards, after she'd fallen asleep with her arms around me, I thought maybe I shouldn't have said it, maybe I wasn't feeling love. I mean, how would I know? And then I lost focus of the bed and her arms and the room, and I stared at all the things that follow on the heels of that word. I moved myself out from under her arms and sat up and headed for the couch in the living room.
There was a blanket on the back of the couch, and I curled up in it and stared at the television, but I didn't reach for the remote and turn it on. I just stared at the dead screen. When I woke up, Emily had crawled behind me on the couch, and she was kissing my ear.
"What happened to you last night?" she asked. She tried to crawl in under the blanket with me, but I was wrapped up tight and I wouldn't untuck myself from it to let her in.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," I said.
She sat up then and climbed over me and stood in front of the TV screen. "What's wrong?"
"I am," I said. "I'm broken."
"You're fixable," she said and smiled. "Show me where you're broken and I'll help." But I shook my head. I didn't want to be fixed, and I told her so.
So she left, and on her way out she brought up the bathtub.
I ask Sarah's friend for her number and say I'll call her soon. And she says we should get together, go downtown and check out some of the new bars they've been opening up down there, and I agree and help her with her coat and walk her to the street and wait with her while the valet runs off to grab her car. I drop her business card while I'm rooting around in my pocket for a dollar to tip the valet. I don't pick it up though. I don't have the energy.
I leave my car there and walk. It's not far, and I feel like I could do with some outdoors for a bit. It's a cold night; and, when a gust blows, I feel like I have to suck in extra hard before anything reaches my lungs. It's not unpleasant though. I like the feeling.
When I get home, I look at the couch and the TV and the blanket; and I look at the answering machine, but the light isn't flashing and the feeling I had walking is gone, so I root around in the pantry until I find the top shelf tequila I got for a graduation present. It's mellow enough to sip, so I pour myself a glass and stare through the den and in through the bathroom door. I've left the light on all day, something I hate, and I start to lecture myself on my environmental and economic irresponsibility when I see the bathtub...really see it for the first time, like it's a new, gleaming porcelain installment.
I unbutton my shirt and fold it and place it near the sink. Then I unbutton my pants and fold them too and set them on top of the shirt. I pull the drain tight, start the water and pad off into my bedroom for a book. There's a collection of poetry I've wanted to read. I just haven't ever gotten around to it.
Emily's left a bottle of bubble bath. The label calls it foaming bath gel though, and it smells clean and I add a capful and test the temperature and then slide in. I pay attention to how it feels to slide into a tub, and I think about Emily and what she would think and how she would notice that feeling too, how she already had an thousand times. Then I start the jets and sink into the tub until the water covers my ears and mutes all the noise outside.
A few days pass and I decide to call her. "I took a bath in my tub," I say when I hear her pick up. And I hope she'll understand. I hope what I'm saying will be enough.
I can hear her on the other end, and her steady breath tells me her answer, but I wait anyway to hear her response. And as I wait I listen to the hum of the connection. For the first time, I notice how vacant it sounds.
About the author:
Perrin Patterson is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Texas at El Paso and her story "Le Morte de Barbie" will be published in the Rio Grande Review in April. She currently teaches high school English in Houston.