We Shared the Bath Water
At the time, I had no idea what it meant, or how important it was; but when Dad took his bath, Mom stayed to wash his back.
On Sunday nights we shared the bath water. My sister Becky, three years younger than me, and still a kid, was first; then me, then Mom, then Dad. When it was Dad’s turn, Mom would tell me to keep an eye on Becky and to behave. Mom would close the bathroom door and lock it.
We had a routine, Becky and me. I was allowed to make cups of tea as long as I was careful and didn’t use more than half a sugar. Becky’s job was to stack three chocolate digestives for each of us on the table. I made cups of tea with four sugars, and we dunked the biscuits. Becky licked the chocolate off the top of each one. She usually left one of them dunked in the tea for too long and ended up losing half. I think she did it on purpose; she liked to scoop out the mushed up biscuit left at the bottom of the cup.
One Sunday, as we dunked chocolate digestives, there was a knock at the front door. We never used the front door; everyone we knew used the back door. It was a girl I didn’t recognise. She was out of breath and wide-eyed.
‘Is Mr Barker home?’ she asked, looking past me, into the hall.
I felt Becky’s hand reach for mine; she tried to hold my hand sometimes — like when there was a stranger at the door. But her hand was gooey from the chocolate biscuits and I shook it away.
‘Mr Barker?’ the girl said again, standing on tip toe, looking over my head. ‘He here?’
‘He’s having his back washed,’ Becky said, peaking out from behind my legs.
‘Shush Becky,’ I said. Mom told us to never tell strangers where they were. ‘He’s unavailable at this time,’ I said to the girl.
She looked up at the sky, but with her eyes closed. What I thought was strange, was how even though she was upset, she had on bright red lipstick. She’d used shades of green around her eyes too, outlining them with black to make them look like a cat’s eyes. She was pretty. She was really pretty. But I could tell, when she’d dressed and put on makeup, she didn’t know she’d be getting upset. It made me sad to imagine her getting ready, excited about her choice of dress and makeup, and not knowing.
‘Can I see him?’ she asked. ‘Won’t take long. Really need to talk to him. It’s important.’
‘If you want to wait,’ I said, ‘I’m sure he won’t be much longer.’
‘Can’t,’ she said, running her hands through her hair, collecting it at the back of her head in a ponytail. ‘No time.’ She looked along the path to the gate and swore under her breath. Becky tried to hold my hand again. The girl at the door took an envelope from the small bag looped over her shoulder. ‘Could you give him this?’
I nodded, taking the envelope with Dad’s name written on it: William. I never thought of Dad as a William, or a Will.
The girl’s eyes were glassy, looking at me like she wanted to ask me something important. But instead of saying anything, she put her lips together and tried to smile. I could tell she really didn’t feel like smiling, but did anyway. Then she left.
Sometimes I think things might have been different if I’d not given Dad the letter. But things don’t work like that.
That night was the only time I ever heard Mom cry. Becky asked to sleep in my room.
Dad wasn’t allowed to teach for a while. I told Becky Mom and Dad would probably get a divorce, so she was prepared.
Eventually, they let Dad teach again, at a different school.
They never did get a divorce, and things went back to the way they were — pretty much. Except on Sundays, when it was Dad’s turn to take a bath; he no longer shared our bath water.
One day, Becky asked me if Mom would go back to washing Dad’s back so we could drink tea and eat chocolate digestives. I told her that wasn’t important. I didn’t tell her I was sure Mom would never wash Dad’s back ever again. And none of it mattered anyway when Mom had the shower fitted.
Adam Lock has been writing for three years, trying to explode the little happenings in life into moments that resonate with the reader. His stories have recently appeared in STORGY, Fictive Dream, Literally Stories and Flash Fiction Magazine. He spends much of his spare time writing in the Black Country, in the UK.