A LONELY BATH by T. L. Sherwood
TW: Suicide and Depression
Mary waits until the bubbles snap and the Epsom salts have had their way with her toxins, then she turns over and plunges her face into the lukewarm bath. She holds her breath underwater. Her nose and ears fill with liquid, her curls swirl like Medusa’s, and she forgets to count. She remains submerged until she nearly passes out, pushes herself up, and gulps the fusty air. It’s the only relief she’s ever found.
Having been born a unicorn, Mary had to stay close to her mother while she was young. She had trouble learning how to do normal stuff like playing duck, duck, goose, going to school and studying. Mary was good at math and watched a lot of television. She had crushes on Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Green Jeans, but she feared Mr. Snuffleupagus when he first started lurking around the back alleys of Sesame Street. As a teenager, she figured out she wasn’t really a unicorn.
College would have been a bonus, but she fit into the cracks of conversely making too much money and not enough – the first of many times this oddity would occur. Hot enough to get laid, too self-conscious to take off her clothes. A good pizza maker, but a lousy manager at Papa John’s. If her mother was still alive, maybe she would have placated her with a lie about how things would all work out.
She made peace with the idea of never having a baby, then Mary wound up pregnant at 33. She’d let her regional supervisor wiggle his way into making her a single mother before he transferred to Omaha and disappeared. When coworkers at the pizzeria touched her doughy belly, Mary would laugh and say, “I feel like I’m carrying a regular horse.” No one got her joke and she was hurt they didn’t ask for her to explain it. During labor, she snorted and whuffed like she was supposed to, occasionally crying and telling the nurse, “It’s not the pain I mind, it’s the horn I’ve lost.” They must have thought her delirious. It was determined she wasn’t progressing quick enough and a caesarean was performed. Mary found the operation not only a cruel joke, but a painful one, too.
The boy she had was resentful for all she gave him, didn’t understand why he couldn’t own all the diecast cars, signed jerseys, and videogames he wanted. At five, he decided he hated pizza, and by six, the smell of it, too. The day after his seventh birthday, he ran away from Mary’s hug when she came home from work, not wanting the molecules of sweat and marinara sauce anywhere near him. Mary took the rebuke in stride, pranced to the bathroom and drew herself another bath.
Among other places, T. L. Sherwood’s work has appeared in New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, Elm Leaves Journal, Page & Spine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her work was recently nominated by Milk Candy Review for Best Microfictions. She lives in western New York, blogs here: https://tlsherwood.com/ and tweets there: @ TLSherwoodTheW1