BY HENRY PAPER
Copyright is held by the author.
RISING FROM the depths, the great man wrestles with surface tension, opens his eyes — detaches himself from the pockets of warmth that have formed from a deep and already retreating dream. Landlocked on a barren island, his dreams finally unremembered, he sweeps the blanket aside and swings his feet to the floor.
He makes it to the bathroom — that first way station of relief, the first articulate sounds of his day: a tinkling stream in the bowl, flush of the toilet, sounds of the faucet, the cabinet opening and closing and, still somewhat semi-conscious, the brushing of his teeth: until his breath has become the very badge of civility. He remembers to cap the toothpaste (too sugary sweet) and very precisely place it back inside the mirrored cabinet: a nagging directive of his wife Glynda, who has eroded his noble resistance to such trivialities.
He languorously pulls his undershirt over his head, its sound like the brush of a kiss, and feels the coolness of central air against his flesh; he drops his shorts — whose decor of bananas, strawberries, and kiwi has long ceased to amuse him.
He is grateful, as every morning, for the soothing shag rug beneath his feet.
Like a cuckolded husband making a sudden discovery in a Renaissance play he sweeps aside the shower curtain; leans forward, twists the bathtub tap: the rushing torrent of bath water provides the day’s first true shot of adrenaline; a twist of the knob and the torrent turns to a shower. Closing and adjusting the curtain, he steps gingerly over the other end of the tub, involuntarily stiffening himself against a deadly slip on porcelain that would turn his day indeed into a tragedy and him into a household statistic.
He moves his body closer into the shower, flesh making a tentative adjustment to water temperature — moving by increments until he is at last under the full glorious all-encompassing downward rush of the water, his body relaxing, at last taking what seems his first full breath of the day.
He picks up the rounded lemon soap (a bright egg, like, he can imagine, the morning sun edging over the horizon), and gives his torso, then thighs, legs, and feet a few cursory sweeps, then, skating back over his crotch and torso moves to his face where he rubs diligently, luxuriantly, imagining yesterday’s skin cells dissolving, draining, as he puts a new face on the day.
With soap back in its cradle and spray on his face, he turns and reaches (careful not to slip) toward the glowing orange bottle of shampoo, a bubble on its own pedestal.
Squeezing just enough liquid into his palm, he savours the smell of peach, which he imagines will suffuse every encounter and moment of his day. He lathers and massages his scalp, his collar-length hair which, when dry and gleaming, will hold at bay the forces of disarray in his life.
Exposing every facet of his face and head to spray, he at last pushes in the knob (the spray turns back to torrent), and then off; pushes the curtain aside and steps over the barrier of porcelain back onto the shag rug.
He uplifts the large green towel from its rack on the door and, feeling his pores open to the steam, dries his hair first, as his father had taught him when he was a little boy, always at this moment thinking of his father, he then rubs his body down, following the same movement and sequence as his wash, until he at last emerges bright and gleaming like a pasha from his bath.
He hangs the towel back on its rack (folded carefully, according to Glynda’s precise instructions, and straightens for a final inspection before the cabinet mirror. He plucks the plastic razor from the cabinet, swipes with his hand the clouded surface of the mirror as prelude to his practiced swipes on cheeks and chin.
Following 20 or so strokes, he rinses the razor, replaces it within the crowded cabinet, and steps out into the hall with its cold drafts of the empty house. The dog lies before him asleep at the head of the stairs. Glynda has long ago left for work: she is the eager beaver, though, as he often reminds her, he brings in more money than she. He moves stealthily to the bedroom where he turns on the TV, opens the highboy to don fresh underwear (no fruit this time), white shirt, grey slacks, and bright paisley tie — all the while watching the world go under between commercials for fake eggs and automobile insurance.
Turning his attention to the full-length mirror, he straightens his tie, uses his favourite club brush to slick back his gleaming yet slightly tumbled hair, puts on a bright white linen sport jacket (to match the day), offs the TV, grabs his briefcase from the day chair, and in forty-five seconds, a mug with Glynda’s freshly-brewed coffee in hand, he’s out the door and walking the tree-lined blocks to the train station and the 8:10 to Manhattan.
Still, as he walks, he, in a sense, hasn’t left the house. The water still thrums against the side of the tub, its spray surrounds the glistening chrome faucets and pearly porcelain, cascades down his face, neck, and torso, seems to say his name: Charley, Charley, Charley — always “Charley dry your hair first,” his father says with warmth and authority, the only bit of advice Charley has ever accepted from him and, in fact, his father has ever offered, and that to this day Charley thinks about whenever he takes a shower.
“Charley!” Someone kicks him hard and he comes awake. “You know you can’t sleep here Charley. We’ve told you before. Move on, now, to the shelter tonight. I’ll be checking on you — maybe get yourself some food and a shower. It’s your last warning, Charley. We can’t have you blocking the platform.”
It’s another spring day, and he has at last awakened.