Once upon a time, a man was in the shower with a woman who was not his wife, when his wife came home. The man and woman were washing off their sex, scrubbing hard, all red skin and clenched teeth. When the door opened downstairs–that soft scrape over the carpet, the setting down of a bag–they stopped and waited.
When the woman had eyed his house for the first time a few weeks before, she had asked if he was married and he had told her he was not. He assumed they both knew it was a lie, that they had accepted, right then and there, that they would accept each others’ lies.
The woman broke the spell the silent waiting had cast and turned off the water. She then unhurriedly grabbed a turquoise towel and stepped out of the shower to dry off. She rubbed the towel over her short hair so it frizzed up and then wrapped the towel around her chest. The man remained silent, captivated and terrified. Downstairs he could hear the fridge open and close, his wife’s keys hit the ceramic bowl she kept them in, the clink of ice into a glass. He watched the woman walk into his bedroom, put her clothes on and then slip out the bedroom door, where he lost sight of her. He stayed in the shower.
He stayed in the shower and did not come out. If he came out there was the very real danger that he would never be able to get back in, which would have seemed to him a great loss, as he very much liked the shower. They had had the bathroom remodeled just last year, and it was a dream: his and her sinks; heated limestone floor; marble countertops; an antique, pewter-framed mirror; a sauna. The shower itself had its double shower heads, multiple body sprays, mosaic tile floor and walls, marble benches, its expansive size. But if he were to leave the bathroom and confront his wife, he stood the risk of losing everything, everything obviously also including the bathroom, which–the shower specifically, still warm and steamy–was treating him nicely at just that moment.
What the shower did was preserve him. It made him immune to the feeble ticking of time. Sure, yes, downstairs he could hear faint hints that in other parts of the house time had kept up its march, but here, in the shower, the man knew he could never be touched by the clock’s hands. He imagined himself in some far distant time, when the house had been torn down, as still standing in the shower, a city ordinance passed to ensure his continued unperturbed stay.
Wars might even rage on around him, but there he would remain, under the shower head, which would possibly have been dry for a millennium. It would be good to be protected, there in his shower, from the crazy world.
And then, maybe an hour, maybe a year, into his forever-long stay in the shower, he heard the explosive entrance of his teenage daughter into the house, her plaintive calls for her mother to feed her before she collapsed on the spot from hunger. In the shower there was no hunger. It was good to be in the shower, away from so many wants. He had never felt more liberated.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he harbored the idea that the woman might even come back into the shower. He was rather fond of her and the way she fucked him, which was rough without any of that fake aggression, with only the truest of anguish. She had bit his lip hard enough to draw blood once and he had watched in the shower as it trickled, water-diluted, down his chin and then his chest.
He had not seen nor heard her actually leave the house and so it seemed like a distinct possibility that she would be coming back, upon realization of its insistent safety, to the shower. There they would stay, forever washing each other, forever scrubbed clean of the outside world.
On the foggy door he wrote, “HERE FOREVER” backwards, as an invitation or a statement, he wasn’t exactly sure.
He stood long enough in the shower for the lingering heat to dissipate, for the water to drip from his body until he was almost entirely dry. Outside, in the world with which he no longer felt any real association, it was December and cold. He grew chilly but he knew it was a false sensation, that in his shower he could not be cold, could only be content, so he remained.
He wondered if he would ever see his wife again. He did not especially want to, but still, he was curious. He was curious what she would look like now, so many years distant from when he had stepped into the shower with the woman. His wife was mostly attractive, although there were parts of her–her breasts and ears namely–that were not beautiful. She was also not such a great person. She was mean when she was mean and also mean when she was nice.
He could see her lipstick through the shower door, sitting uncapped on the countertop, and he remembered her, that very morning, now eons past, applying it with devilish distinction.
The woman who was not his wife sometimes left lipstick rings around his nipples, an act his wife would have found distasteful and, more importantly, in her perpetual joylessness, a waste of good lipstick.
He wondered, if he did see his wife again, how much resentment she might harbor in each of her many wrinkles.
He considered his nakedness and accepted his nakedness. He was only naked if others were clothed and there no longer were others. The sounds of his wife and daughter below him–the TV, the phone, the microwave–could only be echoes of a time long gone by.
The shower was a sanctuary not a cage.
He had been in the woman’s shower once, but it was nothing like his, just an old claw foot tub with a curtain on which fish swam. It was one more reason she was so likely to come back to his shower: the pure superiority of it.
When he heard his wife ascending the stairs he was disappointed in his brain for so clinging to old routines, for pulling forth such long-forgotten sounds. And when his wife appeared in their bedroom and then, seeing him in the shower, walked toward him, he was again disappointed at his lack of imagination, for recalling her exactly as he had seen her that morning; the black dress with the too-deep neckline; the red pendant necklace; her hair up and pinned with a chopstick.
And when she spoke to him, said his name in that same voice unharshed by age, it was the final straw. He stepped forth from the shower, from the promise of paradise, to correct the world. He felt, more or less, like Christ.