Unsoiled
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The tub cracks. It happens one evening when she is not home and she does not notice for weeks, until she is sitting in the emptying tub, watching the suds that collect around the bath’s border move toward the drain with a force like a slow-moving magnet. The tub is porcelain and many bodies have spent time inside it, bodies that are now very different than the bodies that once spent time in the tub. She tilts her head and leans close to the crack, runs her finger over it, uses touch to confirm it is not just a hair strand stuck to the base, but a break. This is the beginning of an end, she thinks. A bath is a necessary ritual, and a tub the tool through which we are unsoiled. She considers the gravity this tub has supported, the water and the flesh.

The tub lives on the second floor of an apartment, brought there years ago when the building was just being filled. The first person to bathe therein was a woman with ink-stained fingers who spent hours crying inside the tub. The woman served as a stenographer, translating voice to print, and her hearing was leaving her. She spent hours in the tub listening to the spout’s drip, mourning the loss of sound. The evening she leaves the apartment for a city on the coast, she touches the tub’s lip, leaves four finger stains from having changed the typewriter’s ribbon earlier that day. The next tenant will not wipe away the prints until he has been there for weeks.

The man who rents after the stenographer gives a boy a bath every night. The man scrubs the boy’s hair and behind his ears, under his arms and down the small of his back. Over the course of many months the man grows more agile with his hands, begins the practice of search and find. The boy is touched in ways that aren’t endorsed. He begins to dread the sound that defines the man’s approaching steps, the way the water’s crest ripples when each boot hits the floor. Years later, when the boy is a father himself, he will forbid his children from taking baths.

A child is born in the tub. The mother grips the lip with such fierce intensity the skin adhering her nails to her fingers rips. When the child is born and the mother is helped into a shaky stand and escorted to the bedroom, the tub sits for hours containing the mass of what is left when one being is released from another. [End Page 101]

Once, a book is dropped into the full tub. Gravity pulls it through the water at a sluggish rate. The book hits the bottom and stays there for days, along with the body that dropped it. When he is discovered, it is determined that he drowned after falling asleep.

A child uses red crayon to write her name across an empty tub’s base. When at first it does not work, she presses harder and the wax is smeared in messy lines. When her parents tell the girl’s lover this years later, the woman is touched. It is something about the act’s innocence, the way the bottom of an empty tub calls for branding. The night the woman’s lover requests they join lives, she poses the question in lipstick on the bathtub’s base.

A boy is bathed in the tub each night, his mother doing the work of cleaning his body. Over the years the boy’s body grows but his mind does not and so the mother cleans him every night, until his legs must bend at the knee in order for him to fit. The mother’s hair grows grey and wild, and as she works to clean each part of him, it falls out of her bun and onto her forehead and face. Finally, she cuts her hair short, cropped close to the skull, so that she does not have to battle her long locks when cleaning her son each night.

Two lovers spend...


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