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George Takes a Bath

I sit and watch as the water slowly rises up in the tub, the roaring of the water providing just enough white noise to drown out the thoughts that kick around in my head in the mornings. This is how I start most days. I strip nude and sit in the oppressively cold tub for a few minutes, trying to think of nothing at all. At some point, I turn both faucets on full-blast and let the frigid water splash at my toes, and slowly creep up my calves, my thighs — heh, well I won’t bore you with the details. It’s just, well, I’ve come to enjoy punishing myself. Just a little bit.

By the time the water reaches my lower back it’s usually starting to get warm, though only slightly. The tub is two floors up from the water heater and it takes time to clear the cold water out of the pipes, and so I sit, letting the temperature slowly change while my body acclimates itself, these two lines meeting at an ideal spot when the water reaches my mid-chest. I should paint this moment, I think to myself. This is the happiest moment of my day, every day.

I suppose I always worked from home those eight years, in a manner of speaking, but when you lose the routine of getting into a suit, red tie, lapel pin, etc, every day and going to the office, the days get harder to tell apart. Time’s texture changes. It’s easy to feel like you’ve wasted a day by doing nothing, though the seconds just seem to drag by. Why can’t I stop it? Do something, anything? I haven’t cleared brush in months, but I have people for that now. Always have, to be perfectly honest. I do wonder, sometimes, if a similar inertia could have grabbed hold of me those eight years.

And so, the baths.

As the water creeps upward, finally reaching the little side-drain thingy that sits below the faucet — does that thing have a name? — the water’s upward progress ceases, sort of. For a few minutes, it seems to have stopped, but the side-drain isn’t failsafe. Nothing is. The side-drain can’t flush as much water as the faucet pumps in, just by a bit, and the water level rises at an imperceptible rate. I’ve learned to focus on this, as a way of keeping time.

I try to work out what calculus equations would be necessary to determine the change in the rate of the water’s ascent, and I realize the pitch of the water’s gentle roar is changing. The faucet has nearly submerged itself, and it just keeps pumping water in. Well, heh, what else can it do? I’m the only one who can make it stop. But I don’t.

As the water finally reaches the two-day stubble on my chin, it also begins to cascade over the edge of the tub. (And, shoot, heh, I know what you’re thinking about, but that’s not really where my head is at when I take a bath. Probably wouldn’t take these baths if it were.) It snaps me out of my calculus daydreaming — or would it be an algebra problem? I suppose it depends on the shape of the side-drain? — and I nearly spring into action. Then I decide against it. I just watch as it flows and flows and flows, shifting ever so slightly with my breathing as my rising chest displaces just so much water. This hadn’t figured into my initial calculations, I realize, but then again it doesn’t quite matter until the system has been breached.

There are people who do this for a living, I think. The tediousness comes with its benefits. Certainty and control, to name a couple, but there’s still so much room for human error. Even engineers fail us. That famous picture with the train falling from the second story of that French train station? Or was it Belgian?

I’m torn away from my reverie by a knock at the door.

"George?" It’s Laura. "George, the water’s spilling everywhere again. I can hear it." She starts to jiggle the doorknob. I’ve locked it.

"George, now I can see it. It’s getting on the carpet. Stop this now." She’s really working the doorknob, but there’s no point. "George! George! Honey, what’s going on in there? There’s water everywhere!"

She starts screaming. “GEORGE! Just tell me you’re OK!” Pounding at the door now. I let this go on until she’s whimpering, not convinced of the fact that I’ve finally done it, but saddened that I want her so badly to believe I have. I’ve even thought about bringing red food coloring in with me, just to see how she’d really react. She never does call 911.

"I’m OK." I tell her as I reach up to turn off the faucets. My raisin-like fingertips feel alien against the steamy handles. I cautiously hoist myself out of the tub and grab my robe from the hook.

It’s time to paint.

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