For Johanna, the bath was never right. It either cooled too quickly, like a sudden misstep in a broken sentence, or the heat rose to meet her in such a way that it reddened her skin, pricking it, causing her to feel each pore as it dried.
Hal had known how to draw a bath. He’d use whole milk and organic clover honey, lilac in spring, rosemary and vanilla in winter. He’d kept a stock of scented candles in a large storage box in the cellar where they would stay cool and dry—eucalyptus and peppermint, jasmine, cucumber melon. He kept them for her. Once, he’d been stupid and bought cinnamon spice, hung mistletoe and holly from the curtain rod, and played Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “What are you doing New Year’s Eve”.
Johanna didn’t approve of assumptions.
She knelt over the new cast iron tub and fingered the cold, smooth array of reclaimed glass wall tiles. She imagined they were the color of far-off island inlets that spoke of desire and consent. Johanna didn’t travel. Traveling was messy; it meant upheaval. Instead, she preferred to perfect her surroundings. She believed all life could be exactly as one wanted, provided one had the temerity to make it so. This small enclave was her vision, a self-made Shangri-La to forget the world’s ugly faults.
She pressed the cold steel faucet in her palm letting her thumb slip into its gaping mouth—it was heavy and deliberate. When she lifted it out of the box, she had been afraid it would be too much for her to manage, but she learned its shape and admired its durability.
Johanna reached for the knobs adjusting hot to cold. First drips, then a steady wash of tepid water draped along the apron of the tub. She let her hand dip under the flow, and plugged the drain. Hal would have added oatmeal and rose hips, she thought. He would have chilled a bottle of champagne. Water poured in a rushing fall mimicking her frantic nerves just days before as she replaced floor boards and sopped up the sickly mess. Once the tub was installed, she started on the floor’s remaining marble tiles laying each with precision and working through to early morning.
As the tub filled, Johanna thought of Hal once more and his blessed silent vigil below. He would have left eventually, they always do. She added a dab of lavender and sage to the water, hung her robe on a large faux emerald cabochon, and plunged her foot. Finally, the bath was perfect.
Cheating a little, this was written last year and tucked away in the files.