Broken Skin with Water and Dirt
People aren't bad. I'd like to believe people just do bad things. There are no bad people. Felicia is thinking this in the fifth hour of lying in her bathtub. The water went cold several times. This morning she has thrice emptied the tub and refilled it with hot water. The drain isn't completely sealed and the tub is emptying again. She's submerged up to her elbows and stretched in a reclined sunbather's repose. She can hear the periodic gurgling in the pipe, but she ignores it. Maybe in a half-hour she will let the water run again. Now she is just staring at the pair of bright pink flowers on her curtains. The window is open, and the flowers are swaying and turning in the breeze. They make her think of long, long ago summers spent in the country, these taunting flowers with their rosy, buoyant irreproachability. On the edge of the tub, the cat is half-asleep. Peeking at her, it meows. She slaps it away.
The prolonged submersion has made her skin all wrinkly and swollen. She notices the old scar on her leg from being bitten by a family dog when she was two-years old. There's also the longer one on her left thigh, sculpted into an enduring ridge days after she was pushed off a bicycle by her stepsister. The reddened streak on the side of her left thumb, that's new. She was peeling an apple for Mrs. Eason when the knife slipped. Poor Mrs. Eason, all she could do was hysterically stutter mmmmy god, my ggod, mmmy god, and it took Felicia a while to explain that her thumb, in fact, had not been cut off, and that the blade was dull, and that she'll be sure to be very, very careful next time. I'll be careful next time, Mrs. Eason. Careful.
Note: When she was fourteen, Felicia was alone in the house when a woman called on the phone asking for her dad. The woman was hyperventilating and crying, and Felicia couldn't understand what the woman was saying, so she hung up. The woman called three more times, and Felicia hung up on her three more times. Only later did she realize who it was. Dad never found out about the call. This was also around the same time that she was the track star at Hope Valley Middle School. She was going out with a boy named Job.
Felicia grabs a towel and wraps it around her face. She's thinking about how she'll see Mrs. Eason next week at the nursing home. She used to volunteer there every Monday evening (Cafeteria Casino Night), but soon found herself solely visiting this walker-bound woman who'll alternately call her Filia, Fiona, Flo, Frances, and, sometimes, Felice. She likes the big hugs that Mrs. Eason gives. For an old woman Mrs. Eason has strong arms, and every week there she was, ready to welcome Felicia to her shoulders. And she always said I am so glad to see you. And how are you, F*? And you are wonderful. She never said much more than that, but Mrs. Eason said the most perfect things.
On the radio a woman's voice croons her disbelief of a world she can't trust anymorrrrre. The water has receded further.
Note: The song is by a woman named Clara Wilson whom Felicia once saw singing at a bar in downtown Brooklyn before Clara was signed by a label. Clara's hair was like a bush of telephone wires, and when she sang, the strands bounced down and up, all of them, in a withdrawn bungee reach towards the ground. Felicia didn't hear the music. It was her birthday, and she was too drunk to hear anything. She just looked at Clara's hair, and wondered how it would feel in her hands. She wanted to pull it and then let go, pull it and then let go.
The cat returns. It meows. She slaps it away again.
Felicia is thinking, those flowers on the curtains, what are they supposed to be anyway, lilies, carnations? The flowers all look alike, but they weren't made by machine. Hand-stitched flowers are the kind of things her mother adored. When she meets someone and they ask about her mom, she'll say that she'd rather not talk about it. You look like your mother. No, I don't. What do you mean, you don't? They say that she looks like her mother, those that have seen the pictures, the ones she couldn't bear to throw away, because dad is in them, as well. When she meets someone and they ask her about dad, she'll say that he died in a car accident when she was nineteen, and not that it was from years of heavy drinking and a broken heart.
Felicia, I'm so sorry about your father. We're so sorry. I'm so sorry to hear about Norm. We'll miss him. The Ryans send their condolences. I'm so sorry about what happened. I'm sorry I brought it up.
Note: In the pictures her dad was nearly always in uniform. He was a state patrolman, on the force for twenty years. She understood her father's line of work as being on the side of something justifiable and right, and that each day it was his duty to go out there and round up all the bad people he could. But there are no bad people, her father would correct her, remember this. She loved her father very much. She loved her father very much. She loved her father very much.
Sometimes when she visits Mrs. Eason, Felicia wonders about how the old woman has lived her last eighty-two years. Mrs. Eason never talked about a husband or any sons or any daughters. Mrs. Eason has her spot in the rec room, right over by the fish tank, where she'd spend entire days looking at the guppies. The guppies swim from the left side of the aquarium to the right side, and then back again. She wonders if Mrs. Eason knows or remembers anything more than what is happening in front of her. If she were to, one day, say Hi, Mrs. Eason, you stupid bitch, you stupid rotten, heartless whore, you cold-blooded rat, you lying, worthless, selfish hag, that's right, you death bound, miserable woman, if Mrs. Eason would remember anything five minutes later. She wonders if she would be able to say it again, and again, and again, and remain to be so great and wonderful. Mrs. Eason will still say those lovely words, I'm so glad to see you. Me, too, Mrs. Eason, Felicia will say, as she has always said, as she has always liked to say.
Note: Mrs. Eason does indeed have a son and a daughter. They live very far away.
Felicia tosses the towel off her face. She bends forward, and turns the faucet handle, and out comes hot water. She leans back into the lathering wetness. She will do this several times today.
About the author:
Pitchaya Sudbanthad lives and writes in New York City, where he also edits the Konundrum Engine Literary Review . He'd also like to take this opportunity to announce that he is searching for the Rebecca he ran into at a bakery in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn a couple of months ago. M4W - You: pretty brunette, dark blue t-shirt, jeans. Him: sexy gray shirt, sexy black pants. Send him a note if you see this.