01 Feb Do Not Close Your Eyes During a Shower
I told her I loved her and with a smack of my lips, “kissed” my wife goodbye through the phone. Thanks to a two-day, mandatory trip to her parents’ house she and our daughter wouldn’t be back home until Monday, she said, leaving me and our labrador, Ranger, to enjoy a boys’ weekend. I laughed at her playful choice of words and reiterated my affection to the women in my life before she hung up. I poured some food for Ranger and by the time I returned from my nightly two mile run through the neighborhood he had scarfed down the bowlful and was waiting dutifully at the foot of the door.
After chugging a bottle of water, I mosied through the living room where I stopped at the bookshelf. In the six shelves meant for books, only two were used appropriately, as the rest were defaulted for rows of picture frames. I studied them, touching the glass and tracing the edges of the faces that had departed from my world; it was a ritual I created recently and partook in only when I was alone. It was a type of bereavement I only allow myself when the sustainment of the hope and optimism for the future was unnecessary. My family was away, so feigning strength was not needed. Ruminations of the past and a life once had drew tears from my eyes. I enjoyed, or perhaps required, this ritual, despite the gloom that overshadowed the fond memories.
After returning each photograph to their proper place, I undressed from my sweaty attire and ran a shower. While the water began to warm, I partially closed the bathroom door and stared at the reflection in the unfogged mirror. It was me, but it wasn’t. Misery had taken its toll, pulling and folding my skin in a manner far superior than gravity, carving hollow pockets around my eyes and filling the bags underneath with purple and wrinkles. The margins of the mirror had begun to cloud and steam whirled to the ceiling, so I opened the thick shower curtain and stepped inside.
The rings made a zizzing noise when I slid the curtain closed. Warm water, the massage of pressure, steam, the hypnotic sound of running water. All are elements in cleansing the body as well as the mind. My heart rate had slowed and that calm ripple of contentment after a brutal run swelled inside me. It was bliss. I lathered shampoo in my hair, grinning as my fingers kneaded my scalp and neck. I closed my eyes before a rivulet of foamy soap could intrude and started to wash the oils and grime down the drain.
Then Ranger nosed open the bathroom door. In my time of lidded darkness, I half-heartedly told him no but eagerly waited for the sound of his head to divide the curtain from the wall and inspect what his human was doing. Ranger entertained me in this way, the curious liberal world of pets is something every owner enjoys getting to witness, no matter how many times it has happened before. I couldn’t see anything, but like clockwork, there it was: the faint rustle of the liner, the simple chime of a single curtain ring being withdrawn. In my closed lidded state I waited for the timid whimper animals make in discovering something skeptical. But as I groomed my head with my fingers and foam covered my face and eyes, a thought sprang up.
I never heard the clitter-clatter of Ranger’s claws on the bathroom tile.
My eyes sprang open, too soon, in fact, because remnants of the soap found their way inside, causing my vision to sting and blur. I heard another ring withdraw, slowly sliding over the hollow rod with a malicious lethargy. Saving myself with a palmful of water, I was able to see what had surreptitiously aimed to join me in the shower.
Clutching firmly to the curtain and liner was a gaunt, venous hand, coated in a viscous tar that dribbled onto the tub rim. A sour, putrid odor overtook my space. The steam assisted the smell and almost compelled me to vomit. I stood there, naked, vulnerable, in complete disconcertion as what was before me. I grabbed the opposite end of the curtain but a voice, grating and androgynous, came from the other side before I could yank back the screen.
“Are you certain?”
“No,” I answered quizzically.
“Draw it back, and see me.”
I release my grip of the curtain. “No.”
“Hiding, are you?”
A string of tar fell from the intruder’s wrist and settled into a globule on the tub floor.
“Get out of my house.”
“Get out,” I shrieked nervously, the shrill tone a symptom of my fear.
A faint shadow appeared in the space it created between the curtain and the wall, followed by stringy wisps of hair coated in tar. The hair swayed into my view with a heaviness from the coagulation of the substance that covered it. Its face was just outside my observation, behind the thin barrier, and the stench intensified. Because of this closer distance, the voice grew louder and more magisterial.
“Uttering follies will undo all men. Will undo you. For all ungrateful sorrows will wither the soul.”
“Ungrateful sorrows? My soul is healthy. Get out of my house.”
“But what of the souls of Jennifer and Hayden?”
“How, how,” I stumbled. “How do you know the name of my wife and daughter?”
“I know them, beyond. For their unrighteousness, they suckle at my teat. Upon them, from me, mercies hath been shown. I can show you mercy.”
“I want nothing from you.”
“And nay with thyself. Atonement is a fiendish covenant. Draw back the curtain. See me.”
I ripped back the curtain, my arms swinging wildly as I threw a body wash container across my bathroom and screamed in a mixture of rage and terror. The body wash found it’s way to the sink where it skidded across the basin and overturned my collection of cologne.
Nothing was there beside the steamy fog and my labored breathing.
Ranger curiously nosed through the door to inspect the excitement, his claws clicking on the tile as he approached. I swivelled back into the tub but all the pools of black goo had disappeared, as well as the stench. I evacuated the bathroom, slung a pair of boxers around my waist and inspected my entire home, room to room, until collapsing on the couch, sobbing uncontrollably and pushing away Ranger’s licking attempts to mitigate my anguish. Finally gaining control of myself, I found my phone and attended to the bookcase. I lifted a frame, studied it, and selected a three year old voicemail from my phone.
Before the message started, I told Jennifer I loved her and with a smack of my lips, “kissed” my wife goodbye through the phone. Thanks to a two-day, mandatory trip to her parents’ house, (one that would end in an automobile accident with no survivors) Jennifer and our daughter, Hayden, wouldn’t be back home until Monday, she said, leaving me and our labrador, Ranger, to enjoy a boys’ weekend. I laughed at her playful choice of words and reiterated my affection to the women in my life before she hung up. I listened to the old voicemail over and over, touching the framed glass, tracing the beautiful face of my wife and the sweet, moon-faced cheeks of my daughter. My routine was depressing, perhaps even self-damaging, but it was my challenge to resolve. My hill to overcome. Despite the gloom that overshadowed the fond memories, some hills are meant to be conquered at a slow pace.