Brief Intro: I write fiction as well as essays, screeds, and movie reviews. I have another blog for my fiction, but I haven’t gotten it up and running yet. To that end, I have decided that I will occasionally post fiction pieces here. The problem is that I tend to be verbose (duh), so even the short stories are fairly long. To give you an idea, this is one of the shortest pieces I have ever written. Enjoy.
She lifted one arm out of the water, dribbling bubbles to the floor. Her previously immaculate tiles, waxed every day by her by hand. Her husband chuckled indulgently over his wife’s finicky habits.
“Whatever my baby wants,” he chortled, a big smile creasing his moon-shaped face. He was a hearty man with hearty appetites which showed in his ever-expanding waistline. “More for my darlin’ to love,” he chortled, pinching her cheek. She would flush and inch away, her black hair covering her face.
Now, she sank into the hot water which threatened to overflow the tub. She held her head erect, careful not to dip her hair in the bubbles. Even though her hair was piled high on top of her head, she wasn’t taking any chances. She was a planner, some would say anal. Hosting dinner parties was excruciating because she labored over whether she should write the place cards by hand, or do them on the computer. Calligraphy was so elegant, but doing it by computer ensured that they turned out identical. China or crystal? Formal or semi-formal? Her mind ran in circles. Gilbert would tell her to leave everything to the housekeeper, but Mrs. Jackson was common. A nice woman, a superb housekeeper, but not an ounce of class in her. No, if Leilani wanted things done correctly, she had to do them herself.
“My sweet Hawaiian flower,” Gilbert called her. “So deceptively fragile-looking.” He shook his head in wonder that a self-made man like he had ever won the hand of the fair Leilani. He marveled at the contrast of his ruddy skin and corpulent body with her pale flesh and slender curves. He knew she was out of his league class-wise, but money is a great equalizer, and that was one thing of which he had plenty.
Leilani shifted positions in the tub, deliberately soaping her arms. Even though she was surrounded by bubbles, she didn’t feel clean. She added more hot water and judiciously turned off the tap before the running water turned lukewarm. She couldn’t abide tepid bathwater and had fired more than one maid who had made the mistake of “letting the water cool, Ma’am” before calling her to take her bath. It was easier to do it herself so she was now without a maid. She loved her gold-gilded, claw-foot porcelain bathtub. Gilbert joked that she was part mermaid, part raisin. She didn’t think that was very funny.
Her right hand starting twitching, so she massaged it with her left one. The lit candles surrounding the bathtub cast shadows on the wall, shadows of Leilani. The aromatic fragrance of the vanilla candles mingled with the smell of the lavender bubble bath. She buried her nose in the bubbles, inhaling their overpowering scent. She had the sudden impulse to dunk her head under water so she could smell the lavender from underneath, but refrained from doing so. She should be getting out of the tub soon. Gilbert didn’t like coming home and finding her in the tub. They had had a terrible fight about it the last time it happened…
“Leilani, honey? Where are you?” She sat up with a start in the bathtub. She had fallen asleep and woken up to the sound of her husband calling her name.
“In the bathroom, dear,” she said, rising from the bubbles. She wrapped a towel around her and padded to the door. She unlocked and opened it.
“Not again.” A sliver of impatience laced Gilbert’s words. “What do you do, spend all day in there?” His amiable face was stern. “Leilani, baby, I don’t ask much of you, but I do ask you this one thing-that you greet me with a dry martini when I come home from work. Is that really too goddamn much to ask?” Gilbert’s tone was mild, but the look in his eyes was anything but.
“Sorry,” Leilani said, throwing on a sundress. “I can have that martini ready in two seconds.” She zipped up the dress and began brushing her hair. Gilbert grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to him. Leilani stayed still, knowing from experience not to struggle. He looked at her, his eyes flat.
“Don’t do it again, understand?” Without waiting for a reply, he let go of her hair. “I’d like that martini very dirty.” He smiled at her, his pique forgotten. He slapped her on the rump before heading to the bedroom. Leilani finished brushing her hair though her hand was trembling, then went downstairs to make that goddamn martini…
Leilani checked the clock she had set by the tub. Four-thirty. Half an hour before she had to get out. Gilbert never came home before five-thirty, but she liked to be prepared. She would not get caught again. She reached for the remote balanced precariously on the edge of the bathtub and pressed a button. Oleta Adams’s voice poured out from the speakers. Leilani liked R&B better than any other kind of music because it stirred her. No other music affected her that way. Not rock, not country, not that dreaded rap or that horrible heavy metal. Not that so-called alternative music. New age music just made her snort derisively. Her husband listened to country pop of all things. Garth and Faith and especially that damn Shania Twain.
The water was cooling again, so she added more hot water. Water reminded her of home. She felt a flash of homesickness before tucking it away. It was a self-indulgence that she could ill-afford. Every year, Gilbert promised he would take her to Hawaii to visit her parents and every year, he reneged. Every year her hopes would raise only to be shattered again. She didn’t know why still asked when it was obvious he was never going to take her home. She sighed at the thought of her parents patiently waiting to see her again. They were not young when they had her; they were in their seventies now. She didn’t know if she would see them alive again. She sent them money every month, but knew that was no substitute for a visit. She would go by herself except she was on a strict allowance. There was no way Gilbert would shell out money for a ticket to Hawaii.
She turned up the volume of the music. She sank further into the bubbles, well aware that her skin was starting to shrivel. She liked the sensation. She turned off the water, making sure there wasn’t a drip. She started soaping up her skin, although she didn’t need the extra cleaning. After sitting in the tub for an hour, she was more than clean. It was an old habit of hers, however, not to exit the tub until she had soaped herself thoroughly. It started when she was a child, and it was a tic that continued to the present day.
She checked the clock again. That was quickly becoming another nervous habit, one she could ill-afford to add to her growing list of compulsions. She already had to check the door twice after locking it to make sure it was locked. She had to rap on the nightstand table three times before either going to bed or getting out of it. Those were two of her tamer compulsions-the ones she didn’t mind doing. The clock checking one was getting on her nerves, but she knew better than to piss off Gilbert again.
Leilani got out of the tub, remembering to open the drain this time. That was the catalyst of another fight-she forget to drain the tub once and Gilbert had had to do it himself. You would have thought he had to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa the way he carried on about it. She hadn’t been able to leave the house for days after that particular argument. She peered into the mirror, touching the corner of her eyes where wrinkles were starting to form. Thin, spidery lines snaking their way towards her ears. Very faint, practically unnoticeable. Except by her. She looked every bit her thirty years, which was still better than Gilbert’s forty-five.
She turned away from the mirror and hurried into the bedroom. She padded to the closet to pick out something to wear. It would never do to greet Gilbert at the door wearing nothing but a towel; he might think she had nefarious purposes for it. She rejected anything too revealing. Gilbert bought her clothes that showed off her body, but she shied away from wearing them. She was raised to be modest. She pulled on a blouse that buttoned to the chin and coupled it with a long, flowing skirt. She twisted her hair in a knot and secured it. Gilbert also liked her to wear her hair down, but she rarely complied. She looked in the mirror atop her dresser and nodded in satisfaction. She caught sight of something crumpled on the bed.
“Oh, honey, I forgot all about you.” Leilani crossed the room to the bed where Gilbert lay, his head spilling blood profusely. His eyes were open and staring blankly at the ceiling. His flesh was a shade of blue that precluded the possibility of him being alive. “You really shouldn’t have startled me like that.”
He had come home early, to surprise his wife. She was in the bathtub, as usual. When she heard rustling outside the door, she had grabbed her hairdryer and rushed into the bedroom, stark naked. Gilbert had taken one look at her before starting to cuss her for taking another bath and for dripping on the carpet. He had advanced towards her, his arm raised. Without hesitation, she brought the hairdryer crashing down on his head. The first blow stunned him, but didn’t knock him unconscious. The third or fourth blow did that. She didn’t remember how many times she hit him, but she continued long after he was still. When she was done, she had tossed the mangled hairdryer aside and walked back into the bathroom to slip back into the bathtub for a long soak.
“You had to come home early,” she whispered, staying as far away from the body as possible. “I am a good wife. I keep the house spotless while you throw your things everywhere; I make you wonderful meals even though you need to lose weight; I put up with you climbing on top of me whenever you could get it up; I even have your precious martini waiting for you when you walk in the door except for that one time. It’s not my fault you came home early today. It’s not my fault you’re a disgusting, filthy pig. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t let you hit me again.”
She studied her husband’s body dispassionately. She erased the countless times he had pressed himself on top of her, sweating profusely from every pore. He was a sweaty man, which, while being the least of his flaws, was also one of the more disturbing. Every time they finished having sex, she had to suppress the urge to leap up from the bed, race to the bathroom, and plunge herself into her tub. How she wanted to scrub away all traces of him from her skin.
“I never loved you,” she informed him. His mouth was slack and his tongue was protruding from it. She turned away in disgust. She glanced at the clock on the wall, noting that it was time to start cooking dinner. “I have to go, honey, and get your martini ready. Wouldn’t want you to have to wait for me. Mustn’t make you mad.” She slowly unwound her hair and let it fall to her waist, shaking it free from its captivity. No need to wear it up any more. She nodded at herself in the mirror before switching off the lights. Leaving the bedroom, she closed the door firmly behind her.