If the bathtub was full I knew my mother would try to drown me. My dad never filled the tub all the way – he worried about the water spilling over. He hated having to clean under the claw foot tub that my mother insisted on having. He was a practical man right up until his brains were spilling all over the floor and I was avoiding him, avoiding his blood, avoiding the stains he would cause.
But this is about the tub.
If the tub was full that meant my mother wanted to try again. She wanted to ‘see what would happen’. I used to stare at it, too scared to move, and wait for her to return.
“You’ll need to relax, disgusting waste. I’m not ruining my clothes trying to hold you down. Take deep breaths when I put you under and it’ll go faster.” Her voice was at both times beautiful and absolute horror. Whimsical but deep – it ran thick with malice that was sugared and covered with lilts and song-like inserts. Alicia Free was as close to a diva as any non-famous person would ever get. Even in adulthood, surrounded by love and honesty, I sometimes craved her presence. I would give nearly anything to see her sway into a room again, wine glass tilted toward her mouth, somehow smiling brightly and searing everything at the same time.
She made sure I wouldn’t see her again, no matter where she went. She made sure I couldn’t catch up to her.
She would hurry into the bathroom, long legs going on for decades and eons, hands filled with ‘tools’, designer bra and panties impeccable. When she wasn’t trying to kill me or remind me of my annoyance we talked about fabrics a lot. She loved extravagant and expensive things. She filled me with an appreciation for cleanliness and crisp fashion that I would pass on to my children years later.
“What are you doing? Get in.” Annoyed. Alicia, my mother, she always looked rushed. She always acted like I was taking up too much of her time by not wanting to be drowned. To be cut.
“Don’t…ugh. You know I hate that word, you waste. Get in the water. If I have to curse at you I’ll go ahead and give decapitation a try. You want that, disgusting black thing?” She would yank my shirt over my head, drop her machete, her screwdriver, her hammer. She’d grab the sides of my face, soft fabric of her bra rubbing the top of my head, and sigh. “You can’t be scared. Think of this as a trial. If you’re not actually a vapid waste you’ll live again, right? The others died so quickly, ugh, they were useless! You’ve made it this far, little beast. And if you are as much of a waste as I think you are, I’ll be rid of you. It’s a win/win you irritating excuse for a living being. GET in the WATER.”
And I got in the water every time. Something about her was so convincing. Sometimes I joined in her hope that I’d just die, that it’d just end. It felt wrong to keep someone like her waiting. I got in and stayed in even when my chest felt like it was filling with rocks, when the rocks turned to boulders, when the expensive lights hanging from the ceiling warped into nothing but varying shades of gray. I tried my best not to panic and struggle when the blurring started. When the pressure of the water seemed to sit in my ears and my head and my bones.
Because getting up meant we moved on to the next thing. Not dying in that tub meant we moved on to the hammer. Not dying by the hammer meant we moved on to the screwdriver. Failing the screwdriver meant we moved on to the machete.
That old pain.
My mother filled the tub almost every other day at one point, and then one day, admiring the look of my flesh peeling under her machete, admiring my ability to stay still and not scream, she stopped.
“You know, Astor. You’re not so bad to keep. The others? Oh, they cried, Astor. They ruined my clothes trying to stay alive as if this curse of a world is something to cry over. You don’t. You’re…not so bad. The thought of you being the eternal one isn’t…it’s not so bad.”
She let me up. We watched my blood harden like it always did. Never liquid. Never spilling. It even dried in the water. She watched my veins harden, like always, and waited to see if I’d whimper. My blood dried up through my neck, veins bulging, but I was still. The pain yanked me but I sat still. I watched her. There was a respect in her eyes. A slight admiration.
“What a tragedy, Astor. It looks like you’re the one. It looks like you’re stuck here with me.” She took such a deep breath that I, sitting and watching my veins turn black, worried that she might pop her lungs.
“It looks like I’ll need to protect you after all.”