There’s someone on the other side of my bath water, downside-up, stretched in the shine of the taps. This person is sad, crying sapphires. I try to reach them through the water, but they vanish in the ripples. I lean in closer to the taps and they split apart and leave me, with me.
Sunshine faces fill the mirrors I look into, shop windows, restaurant silver and glass. But my bath is poured with phantasms – blue-grey on porcelain. I fill it with bubbles to cover the gloom, oils to soothe the bathtub person with ylang-ylang. Instead, a thousand sad faces crowd the soap-baubles, blinking to the plink, plink, plink of the water from the tap.
I talk to someone who talks to people for money. I tell them how sad the sad person in the bath makes me. They suggest showering. I’ve tried. But I miss the still water, and the face with the slipped smile. Would anyone understand that? I peer inside internet forums. It turns out, there are others with their own sad bath-people. Some have known them years, some come and go, some explain it with myth – naiads, sirens. Some use logic – depression. But few look between the two for an answer.
I meet up with GhostAquarium323. We laugh when we both push the ‘pull’ door, order glazed donuts and CBD coffee. We chat about our lives, and we sit tall and bright as two talking sunflowers, our gold petals never silvering. They tell me they have made friends with the sad person in their bath. Until now, it hadn’t occurred to me to do so. I listen intently to my sunflower friend. They say it took time, but now, they sit together every day, accepting each other in the safe shell of the bathroom.
I run the water the following morning. This time, no bubbles. This time, it’s glass-clear. I lower myself inside the tub and my upper body and knees make a lazy eight in the reflection. The water projects a pale lattice of light on the ceiling. It glitches as I lie back on the cold lip of the bathtub. Like always, I think of sharp moments and memories, people who haven’t been gentle with my body, people who haven’t been gentle with my mind, people who let me down, people who licked my wounds with a forked tongue. People.
The sad face appears once more in the bath. But before their tears star the water, we make eye contact. One by one on the outside of the window, beetles and butterflies land on the frosted glass, flexing their wings, casting flittering shadows around the room. The movement is echoed inside my waxing womb. Softly, I lay one palm over the swell and the other on the water’s surface.
The being on the other side brings their palm to mine.
And we stay like this, my bathtub person and I, in shimmering symmetry, feeling the warmth of each other, the warmth of ourselves, smiling as the wings on the window take off and daylight is restored, in the room, in the water, brushing the steam-beads on the walls, as the orange-gold bud inside me unclasps.
Catherine Roberts is a 2024 Best Small Fictions nominee. Her work has been published/is forthcoming in Flash Frog, Bending Genres, and Stanchion -- among other places. Find her on X under the handle: @CRobertsWriter