- A Brief History of One Bath
Saturday evening waits for you. You have to decide what to do with it.
Maybe she would take a bath. She imagines a tub full of white mounds of fragrant suds. The water would be a warm sheath she could wear for thirty, even forty minutes, a garment of fluid lace, delicate and soothing against her skin. A bath, she thinks again. Maybe a long soak would stop this pulsing in her temples, the iron vise of the muscular fist grasping at her neck and upper back. Tension creeps up and down the length of her spine. That settles it, she tells herself as she turns on the tap, holding her left wrist under the coursing water to get the temperature right. You’re lucky, she tells herself. At least you don’t have a migraine.
Every action you take is made of a tapestry woven of the same action, taken throughout time.
Hildegard braces herself against the bitter chill of the air squashed between the stone walls of the convent’s great kitchen. She’s not an old woman yet, not really, but she’s always been sickly, even as a child. Another winter means another long season of aching bones, of rough, wind-bitten skin. She’s prepared for at least one of those ravages though. Now she cooks up a pot of barley under mountains of water. A handful of grain, from the storage room, covered in piles of snow, gathered from the courtyard. The frozen mass was so white that the color burned her eyes, which have always been sensitive to light, but now the white has faded to a melted, bubbling puddle. There’s a frothy skim floating across the surface of the water, the barley’s detritus. Hildegard knows what to do next. She’ll strain the barley out of the mixture, using a cloth, collecting the water in a wide earthenware jug. She’ll use this water, moderately warmed, to wash her face, to fight the redness brought on by tough weather. Hildegard’s not vain, not really, not vain at all, there’s no place for such vanity in the convent, but she won’t stand for tough, irritable skin. In the way that bodies throughout time have striven to rework those bodies in private moments. But she doesn’t get the chance, not this time. The vision comes quickly, like a slice of lightning dividing her eyes. Points of shimmering lights, flaming eyes. The heavy pot slips from her hands, spilling hot water and soft barley all over the stone floor. Hildegard knows what will happen. The brilliant lights will rise and fall until the eyes fade altogether. Then she’ll take to her bed. Pain will pass through the left side of her head, molten, like quicksilver, but also as a grip. Like talons. Like razor-sharp claws. Her body will belong only to this throbbing cloud, as so many bodies have [End Page 137] before, and will again, no longer hers alone.
Do you belong to yourself? Are you sure?
She reaches for the brown plastic bottle of bath milk, flipping open the black cap to inhale deeply. The label says the product contains chamomile, as well as some sort of date extract, but what she notices first is a gentle citrus odor. As if she were about to set herself afloat in a tub full of orange juice. She imagines herself swaying back and forth in waves of the juice, being cleansed by the juice—the acid would strip her of sweat, of dirt—then rising once again from the tub, headache gone, or at least lessened to a dull ache instead of this constant straining. Now she holds the bottle of bath milk upside down in the stream of water flowing from the tap. When she exerts gentle pressure, a white snake of cream spurts out. In a few moments, she will strip herself of clothing and lower herself into the foamy water.
You don’t. Belong to yourself, that is. Not fully. There’s the headache for one, digging into your...