Today’s short story comes to us from guest author Louise Timothy. Louise is currently an unpublished writer, so this will be her first publication. based on the quality, we are sure it is the first of many.
He woke to the sound of her voice creeping into his consciousness; she was reading poetry in the bath.
He couldn’t see the drop of water slip down her chest to the water from the bed in the next room so he made do with imagining. He stayed there a few minutes while she read a poem twice. Perhaps she liked the way it felt in her mouth.
His thoughts returned to his own body and he kicked off the duvet to shake off his restlessness. He grabbed her discarded yukata and slipped it over his shoulders. Visions of her as a geisha drifted into his mind. The image pleased him, but he was anxious to see her so tiptoed across the linoleum of the hall towards the bathroom. The water draining into the overflow almost sounded like applause – now the only sound. He leaned against the doorframe as a fragrance seemed to flutter into his lungs. It was floral, probably rose or jasmine. It reminded him of something old and pretty, but he couldn’t say with certainty.
Her back was towards him, she didn’t turn but lifted both arms, holding her book aloft, in a salute. He instinctively understood it as a Sunday morning welcome from some other plane, where her mind was at present.
Though her hair was pinned up, a tendril or two escaped to chance a dip in the water. A pair of pearl studs were her only decoration, in the second piercings of her ears. Almost the entirety of her body was visible, save for the freckles covered by petals floating on the water.0
She hadn’t read any more since he got up so he asked why.
“I’d rather talk to you than read.”
Scrunched up wrapping paper was discarded by the toilet along with a little gift card. He could just make out the writing as he moved closer to sit on the toilet lid: “Happy Birthday! Pamper yourself! x” in a curly hand with a circle over the letter i. It occurred to him he had no idea when her birthday was.
The water reflected the bright, white tiles. A feeling of sweat and grime suddenly swept over him. Until the sight of her face relaxed his brow, he hadn’t been aware that he had been tensing his face.
She grinned a good morning.
“Good morning” he replied.
“You rock that dressing gown.”
He adjusted it. There was no belt, so it was difficult to keep shut. After a second unsuccessful attempt he let it fall open – there was no point hiding from her anyway.
Her hand fell over the edge of the bath, dangling the book open at a page he couldn’t decipher from his current position.
“I liked hearing you read. Will you read another?”
Her eyebrows raised briefly before she squinted at him until he assured her he meant it. Once satisfied, she flicked through a few pages, alternately smirking and frowning at sentences. He wanted to know why, but didn’t ask. She was choosing for him and he didn’t want to interrupt. The word ‘choosing’ didn’t seem to have the right meaning, where latin felt better for its reverence. She chooses – Quae elegit.
The book was an anthology of love poems. She read Sylvia Plath, saying that it was her favourite of them all. Well, the favourite that wasn’t heart breaking. He asked her about the heart breaking one and she read out another. She was telling the truth like the past week and a half of always.
She dropped the book down the side of the bath and sank down until the water came up to her collar bones.
“You read one. I like your voice, the way you speak.”
They were both strangers in this city. From opposite ends of the country, both found themselves stuck in the middle. It was some sort of phenomenon they wouldn’t have known the name for that they would cross paths eventually.
He leant forward and picked up the book. The cover was battered, but he saw from the publishing information that it was printed four years ago. The bookcase in her bedroom was full, and the books were in excellent condition.
“How come you messed this one up so much?”
She shrugged and murmured “I read it.”
He was more of a classicist, so flicked past the modern names. He passed some comment on the lack of writers he knew but it barely reached her. She was already resting her head on the bath, waiting with eyes closed and a half smile across her lips.
He read an excerpt of Paradise Lost. Even though he knew she didn’t like Milton as much as he did, he read it anyway.
She smiled so earnestly when he got to the end he almost kissed her. He stood and stretched instead. His spine cracked.
She invited him to join her but the water was too hot for him. She spent a while laughing and toeing the cold tap until he could stand to get in.
She announced that she wasn’t sure about religion, but believed we were all gods in our own right. She didn’t trust the power given to us, so tried her best to ignore it.
She asked, “If you had all the stereotypical godly powers – powers to create, destroy, change anything into whatever you wanted, what would you do?”
He thought about touching her. He looked down at his body and said he would want to be happier with himself. A wrinkle crossed her forehead. She leant backwards and gazed up at the skylight that was flooding the room, biting her bottom lip.
He asked her what she would change, in return.
Still gazing into the light, a lonely droplet slid along her jaw, down her neck and across her breast. As it fell back into the water, she looked him straight in the eyes, and said nothing.