She was afraid of her own bathtub.
She bathed nightly in the shadowy depths of a large, double-ended roll rim claw foot tub, a treasure to some, to her, a threat. It did not appear to be a vintage reproduction, so it had to have been old, as old as the musty, sagging upstairs apartment that had housed her progressively thinning hair and bones for the past twenty-five years.
She craved the convenience of a shower, but the shower kit had been carelessly installed and the enclosure ring tended to shake loose with one rash pull on the curtains. The comparative ease and simplicity of a bath made soaking in a hot tub her sole means of hydrotherapy, drug-free relief for her tortured joints.
Eucalyptus-scented bubbles often added to the sense of occasion, eucalyptus with hints of menthol and sage, or bubbles smelling of French lavender treated with aloe, white tea and calendula. These little touches varied. On bubble-less nights, Dr. Bonner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Peppermint Soap alternated with drops of essential oils.
Soothing white candles alternated with a translucent beige night-light plugged in over the sink. The room was ever and always dimly lit. Chopin Nocturnes alternated with a favorite movie on the portable DVD player, a movie she had to have seen more than twenty times so she could afford to miss a snatch of dialogue when the water slopped up around the tub’s overflow plate.
Still, these amenities did not appease her fear of death.
The delights of her bath alternated with dread. The anticipation of easing down into a whirl of steam perfumed by sandalwood, ylang ylang or rose came compromised by a sense of doom. Her image of herself disrobing like a woodland nymph and dabbing her toes into a concrete tub of water softened by organic extracts and herbal emollients did not purge her fear of death or the horror of how untimely death might overtake her one night, one lonely, candlelit, sublimely scented night in her own bath.
The fear was that the tub would split open under her substantial weight. She imagined that the tub itself suffered from porous bones, which had grown more and more brittle over time and more liable to fracture, and that its floor, which had borne her three hundred pounds for the past ten years, would finally snap. She imagined the tub’s floor cracking and buckling up into great shards of steel and fiberglass and cutting her clean in two.
Or perhaps it would not be so clean. Perhaps the fragile porcelain would shatter into a dozen jagged edges and points, deadly weapons shaped in her mind like railroad spikes or the spikes on the head of a medieval mace, pasta forks and tongs, skate blades with toe picks and the runners on sleds. She would be hacked and torn to pieces, not from behind or above, but from under, dismembered and maimed because she had achieved a bulk that even concrete or fiberglass or porcelain – or whatever the hell it was made of – could not support.
It would be bloodier than the death of Marat in his medicinal bath, which had turned bloody enough when the assassin’s five-inch kitchen knife sliced into a carotid artery. It would be bloodier than Marion’s shower at the Bates Motel, bloodier than the death of Frankie Pentangeli in Godfather 2, who opens his wrists, Roman-like, while surrendering to the anesthetic of his bath.
The downstairs neighbors and first responders would break open the door and find at their feet pinkish bubbles gurgling over an expanding pool of pink water. Inching closer, they would discover pieces of white tub stained crimson and strewn with puce-colored body parts, minced viscera and slabs of flesh. They would not see, or even think to look for, the gore of an older brother who teased her cruelly at a tender age, the roads not taken, the jobs not offered. They would not sense the absence of a career path, a walk-in closet crammed with chic clothes, carefree love affairs and rugged wilderness vacations. They would fail to see the spilled guts of a husband not snagged, the white wedding that never took place with its sentimental walk down the aisle on the arm of a father now long dead, the children not born, the voice not found, the song not sung. They would not hear the blubbering soundtrack to every major holiday, the stealthy words of reproach from slimmer, more prosperous relatives, the carping of a mother fit to live forever. They would not feel the profound silence and solitude of unrealized dreams.
Sickened, the neighbors and first responders would wade through the lone woman’s vitals and approach what remained of the bathtub. There, they would draw back a scrap of linen curtain and find propped on the rim a seeping, lonesome head with a surprised look on its face.
But why surprised? Had she not imagined this, foreseen it? Was this not the penalty for fat? Not death, that was not the penalty, not being vivisected while she bathed. But fear. Somehow she knew that her roomy claw foot tub was made of cast iron and not likely to crack open like a walnut shell. And yet somehow she forgot this as she approached her bath each night.
This was the price to be paid for obesity, climbing into her tub with the distracted look of an aristocrat jouncing in the tumbrel on its way to the guillotine. Not facts. But needless fear. The drainage of deep shame.
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