Allen walks into the studio apartment as the young realtor with the soft face waits by the door with his hands in his pockets.
The apartment resembles an art gallery. Allens footsteps echo throughout the room with the help of the high ceiling and three distant white plaster walls. At the east end, high and long tinted windows line a cozy grey brick wall, flooding the room in natural light. His eyes begin to travel toward the kitchenette at the far end of the room, but stop midway.
A porcelain bathtub rests in the middle of the apartment. Chipped gold paint lines its rim and gives the appearance of an ecstatic smile. It looks thrilled to see Allen and eager to teeter across the hardwood floor with its silver clawed feet.
Allen notes a long wooden board draped in tablecloth lying beside the tub.
Mustve used it for a dinner table, Allen says, reaching the large porcelain bowl. The bathtub is larger than normal and can easily accommodate his taller frame.
He hears the realtors clean footsteps pound the wooden floor. He turns his head as the wheezing realtor suffocates beside him in a strangling tie and heavy suit coat. The realtor wipes a thin layer of sweat from his neck and Allen knows the guys forgotten about the bathtub entirely.
Oh, thats right, the realtor says as if remembering an answer from a student lecture. The thing was in use a few years ago but the new public bathrooms changed all that.
Allen suspects its the kids first day.
But wed recommend taking it out and using the space for something more useful.
Allen looks at the tub and imagines a neglected dog giving him large puppy eyes.
Id probably hold off on that, Allen says.
Suit yourself, the realtor says. But how does the rest of the space look?
Allen reviews the room again and likes the simplicity of the entire space. There are no hallways to travel, no stairs to climb, and only one door to open. It would be a welcome change of pace from the complication of the last few months. Relationships were never his thing.
If its possible, Id like to move in tomorrow, he says.
We c-c-can set that up, the realtor says with wide eyes. He fumbles with the pen in his pocket and hands it to Allen. Ill n-n-need you to sign and date at the b-b-bottom of these papers, he says and snaps open a folder containing three legal documents. Allen takes the documents. J-j-just sign on my back, the realtor says and offers Allen a pen with unsteady hands.
Calm down, big guy, Allen says and signs the documents on the realtors back. Here you go, Allen says and hands him the papers.
The realtor takes a few steady breaths, and begins an obviously rehearsed line.
Allen, as part of the team at Dreams Realty, Im thrilled weve found the apartment youve been looking for, he says. Allen shakes the realtors sweating hands and grimaces as the kid tightens his practiced grip.
Thanks for helping me find a place, Allen says, wincing in pain. He hopes the realtor will let up, but the kid keeps his grip.
I think its time we leave so you can start packing, the realtor says as he lets go of Allens hand.
Allen exhales in relief and follows the realtor to the door. Before he leaves he takes one more look at the bathtub. It hasnt actually moved since he entered, but Allen feels the knowledge of his return puts it at ease. He smiles, waves goodbye, and shuts the door.
Allen cuts the turkey sandwich in two and puts it on a ceramic plate. He picks up half of the sandwich with his slim dark brown fingers and takes a bite out of his post- work dinner. Bits of whole grain bread, lettuce, tomato, and turkey turn to mush with his naturally sweet saliva. He looks up as Scott speaks up.
So whats up with the bathtub? Scott says from the orange futon facing the bathtub. Allen watches as Scott loosens the tie around his white button up and props his shoeless feet on the table in front of him. A bag of pretzels sits in his lap and he shovels a handful of the treats into his mouth like a pig at a trough. Allen thinks it wouldnt hurt for Scott to loose a few pounds in his developing gut and shave his weekly stubble.
It was here before the new public bathrooms were put in, Allen says. He takes another bite out of his sandwich and walks over to a clothing shelf at the west end of the room. He undoes his white button-up and tie and slips on a cotton light blue t-shirt.
Then why keep it? Scott says. Its not doing you any good.
Allen watches as Scott inhales several more pretzels and washes them down with a glass of Coke. Allen imagines the tub taking offence to Scotts question. It fumes back and forth; ready to charge him like a Spanish bull.
Aesthetics I guess, Allen says and takes another bite out of his sandwich. I mean nobody else has anything like this.
Its hard to imagine why that is, Scott says and chuckles. Allen concentrates on Scotts pale pudgy face as it jiggles up and down.
Allen remembers how they used to go for runs through Yungmann Park and work out on the outdoor exercise equipment by the picnic benches. Now he worries the new desk job will rob him of his health like it has Scotts.
Scotts next comment surprises him.
I mean whatre business guests going to think when they come in here?
Allen shoots Scott a puzzled look and this keeps Scotts mouth shut.
What do I care what people think? Allen asks. Its my apartment. I can do whatever I want with it. He watches as Scott sets down the bag of pretzels and checks his watch.
I got to get going. Forget I said anything about the tub.
Allen mentally blames the tub for his own hostility.
Listen, Im sorry for coming at you. Just relax and Ill grab some beers from the fridge.
Cant, dinner with Maggie at seven.
Allen notices the sun is beginning to set through the windows to start a seasonally cool June night.
Down for drinks afterwards? Allen says.
Were probably going to hit the hay afterwards, Scott says. Maybe some sex if were both up for it, he says.
Man, I dont understand why youd want a relationship, especially being married. Id rather just bring a girl home for the night.
You know Allen, sometimes I wish I was still in your situation, Scott says with a grin. But when I see Maggie walk in the door every night it puts me in the best mood imaginable, regardless of how shit my day was.
Allen remembers that feeling. It would burrow itself inside of him when Shelia would come over for dinner or hed take her out on the town. It was nice sharing that security and warmth with another person. That was until he found a used condom in her toilet that was not his.
Just make sure you watch out, Allen says. That feeling you get when she walks in the door can always disappear.
Maybe you should try getting back in the loop again, Scott says and stands up.
Ill think about it.
Yeah right, the girls you bring home are way too good to pass up.
You know its true Allen. Ill see you bright and early on Monday.
Yep, see you at work, Allen says as he watches Scott walk out and shut the door.
What am I going to do with you? Allen asks the tub from across the room. He grabs his turkey sandwich and finishes it while pacing around the tub.
I guess I could use you as a dinner table again.
The tub begins to shiver.
Or I could call a plumber to remove you. That would open up space for some more furniture.
The tub violently shakes like a frightened child.
I was just kidding, but youre really not doing me any good just lying in the middle of everything.
He cant believe hes having this one-sided discussion with the bathtub. Its not even something reasonable to talk to like a pet dog. He stops pacing, crosses his arms, and stares at the tub like hes searching for something of significance.
Nothing but a normal bathtub remains after several minutes of intense inspection.
So then why are you in the middle of the apartment? He runs his fingers along the cool rim of the tub and imagines it shudder, like hes dangling some crack in front of a drug addict. Allen feels the bathtub wants to more than just fingers.
I dont think Ive taken a bath since I was eight, Allen says. I upgraded to a shower after that. Allen smiles but the bathtub keeps a straight face. Oh come on, I was just making a joke.
Allen wonders what Scott would think if he caught him thinking out loud to a bathtub like someone would his dog. And not only that, but imagined the inanimate object moved and made distinguished facial expressions only reserved for humans.
Hed probably throw me into a psych ward or something, Allen says. But at least sex hasnt boiled down to whether or not Im up for it.
He sees the tub give a smirk, trying to hold back its laughter.
Yeah, yeah, we both know what I meant by up for it.
Allen checks his watch and it reads half past five. His brown eyes travel to the high window where the yellows and oranges of dusk encroach on the blue summer sky. Its the right time to try the bath and wash up for a night out.
He turns the metal knob on the side of the tub. The hot water doesnt sputter like expected but runs like a rivers stream. He adjusts the water to a reasonable temperature and goes over to his bed to undress. When he stands up naked in the middle of his apartment, the chill of the air conditioner radiates into his skin. He shivers and gapes down at the remainder of his active dark brown body. It unsettles him to think that five years from now it is destined to transform into a pudgy mess by age thirty-five, only to be fought off by excessive exercise, fad diets, and more pills than an AIDS patient pops to stay alive.
Allens ears perk up at the sound of the water stopping, as if someone else shut it off. He thinks it must have an automatic shut off to conserve water. He walks over to the bathtub and finds it full only after two minutes.
I mightve taken more baths if you guys filled up faster like this, Allen says as he dips a foot inside the tub.
He feels something resembling hot air against his foot but no water resistance. His foot strikes the porcelain almost instantly, as if the tub was empty.
What the hell?
He lowers his foot in slower and sees the water rippling from the impact. Seeing no reason to be scared, he settles the rest of his body into the tub. He feels suspended in a literal heat wave as the water floats over and around his body.
After a few moments, his eyelids become heavy. Consciousness seeps out of his mind and mixes with the water like glinting gasoline running down a storm drain. Within seconds, his consciousness begins to dial down like a dimmer switch.
Then a brilliant white light approaches like an oncoming train, until it sears in his minds eye.
His head slides beneath the waters surface.
You going to fall asleep on me silly?
Allen slowly opens his eyes as he feels the wood of the bar table against his head. He sees a petite girl staring at him. Her blonde hair spreads out on the bar table as she rests her head on it. She has a closed smile from one high cheekbone to the next.
Finally, youre awake, she says. Now I can call a cab.
Allen tilts his head up to the bar with its grand selection of drinks on the back wall. House music belts behind Allen with its flow of synthesizers and thumping bass. He crooks his neck and finds people dancing on a flashing neon dance floor, while others sit around neon-lit tables. The scene overwhelms his senses and he looks to the girl sitting next to him.
Yes, for two please, the girl says into her phone. He watches her hang up and she turns her attention back to him. Itll be here soon, she says and checks her cell phone.
Where are we going? Allen asks, forcing the words out of his throat.
We said your place a few minutes ago, unless thats changed?
He gapes his mouth open, trying to remember their conversation from a few minutes ago. After a few moments, Allen still cant remember the conversation but he knows its not due to the alcohol. He does not even remember drinking before waking up.
No, the plans havent changed.
Good, she says and Allen watches as her dark blue eyes electrify in the neon tints of the bar.
Her excitement reveals her youth and Allen can only guess she is at least ten years his junior. He knows the morning will end on a good note, only to be suffocated by a sea of text messages. Still, he follows through with their evening plans. After all, he wants gratification over Scotts marriage, no matter how pitiful.
Its here, the girl says after receiving a text message. She stumbles getting up and giggles as she catches her balance on the bar table. Hurry up, she says.
Allen watches as she staggers toward the door in a multi-colored tube dress.
The tabs eighty four even, a voice says. Allen spins around and sees the ox-like bartender motioning with his hand. Allen reaches into his pocket and produces two dollars.
The bartender laughs like a royal king being asked a favor from a meager peasant. Several customers sneer at Allens stupidity.
Funny joke, the bartender says. But you cant even buy a shot for two bucks.
Allens mind is still fuzzy and he takes another second to think. In the meantime, the bartenders arms are crossed and Allen feels the bartender is ready to snap his face into the table.
Then, something clicks.
Oh, right, Allen says and removes a debit card from his wallet. He waits as the bartender takes the card gently between his thumb and forefinger and swipes it in the register.
Im glad we could figure this out, he says with an I would have messed you up kind of smile.
Allen takes his card back and shoots off his chair. The entire room turns to a blur when he leaves the safe stillness of the barstool. Neon greens and purples smudge into the darkness and warp the entire bar into a dizzying light show. He takes one deep breath to control his senses and then walks out the front door.
Hes outside less than a second before a small hand pulls him into a waiting taxi.
What took you so long? the girl from before asks as Allen feels himself get pulled toward her. The taxi is dark and he can barely make out her face.
The taxi speeds down the city street flowing with flashing bar signs, drunken partygoers, and towering high-rise apartments.
Being drunk makes me move slower, he says, lying to her.
Along with the rest of the night, she says and she begins rubbing his thigh. Allen is pushed into a corner of the backseat as she forces herself on top of him. Her breathing sounds like an athlete warming up for a big event. Allen feels the rubbing edge closer to the center of his manhood. He looks to the cab driver but sees the cabbie is focused on the road. Allens heart thumps in his chest and he leans up to her. When he kisses her neck, he notices something has changed.
Her straight blonde hair from before has changed to long black curls. He refrains from saying anything as his breaths undulate between both of their cannibal lips. The taxi stops at a red light and Allen uses this time to glance out the open window.
Pedestrians are frozen mid-stride and in the middle of conversation. Cars move nowhere while their drivers remain still like rigid corpses. The bustling city noise of people shouting and bellowing car engines, hangs above the streets as if pre-recorded on an endless track.
Im right here, the girl says. Allen feels hands on his jaw line as its tugged from the city streets to her stabbing blue eyes. He feels her press deeper into his chest as if shes attempting to pass through him. Her body dominates his senses and he feels suffocated like the realtor in the noosed necktie and exhausting coat.
The minutes seem to multiply by factors of ten and Allen is soaked in sweat by the time the cab arrives at his apartment building. After paying the driver, he stumbles out of the cab as the girl clutches his arm. He reaches into his pocket and takes out his keycard.
The keycard slides through its slot and Allen holds the door open for the girl.
You should change out of those clothes when we get up, she says as Allen peers down at the girl who is now blonde. He takes a step back in surprise. Im not that scary, she says with a smile that produces dimples below her high cheekbones. She walks into the lobby and Allen takes her to the elevator.
As the elevator ascends the floors, the playful girl that stands beside him seems like a completely different person from the forceful and seductive one in the cab. He wonders if his mind is playing tricks on him again like the bathtub.
His eyes widen and his head begins to pound harder. He realizes the bathtub has not even crossed his mind since hed gone out.
When he opens his room door the first thing that catches his eye is an absent space where the bathtub used to be.
Is somebody in here? Allen says, suspecting a burglar. His voice echoes throughout the apartment. He waits for a response as blood feeds to his heart and adrenaline winds up his spine.
Something the matter? the girl asks.
Allen continues to stare at the spot without a word.
Theres supposed to be a bathtub right there.
Whatre you talking about? Im right here.
Allen turns his head. The girl stands by his bed with her clothes bunched at her feet. Her body is shapely with a deep porcelain luster to it.
He swallows and blinks hard. What did you say?
I said Im right here, she says and takes a step toward him.
He takes a step back.
I couldnt let you get rid of me after Ive lived here for so long, she says. After all, weve already spent a lot of time together. Flirting, and laughing, and sleeping with each other. All of the things Scott wishes Maggie still did.
How do you---
Know about Scott?
Allen watches her close the gap between them. Come on, Allen, you introduced us.
Her body is now directly in front of his. You even said you wanted to keep me. That was so sweet of you Allen.
He jerks his head back as she drapes her arms around his neck.
What is it you want?
Isnt it obvious?
He feels weighed down and unable to move as she slowly pulls him forward. He braces his hands against her to push away but they are sucked into her chest. He tries to tug them back but his arms pull in faster like hes being swallowed by quicksand.
Let go of me, you fucking bitch, he says as she sucks him in past his elbows. I will, as soon as I have the rest of you inside me, she says. After all, isnt that what you want, to be inside of me?
The question catches Allen off-guard and his body goes numb, halting his fight.
Im right arent I?
Allen remembers Shelia, her high-pitched laugh, the way it looked like she glided as she walked and every contour of her smooth back. He then remembers the condom floating in the toilet, going about its business as if the owner didnt give a damn about any of those things Allen held so dear about Shelia. The condom was there to ruin his life and vanquish his trust for any intimate relationship.
You are right, Allen says.
Now lets make this easy, she says with a smile.
You are right, Allen says as his eyes shimmer with tears ready to run down his face. He throws his head back and drives it into her forehead. Instead of impacting her skull, his forehead begins to sink into hers.
Thats not going to work, she says with a laugh.
As his head enters her body, the only thing he can see is a brilliant white light increase in intensity like an oncoming train. Within seconds, the light blinks out of existence as a thundering crack echoes from empty space.
Where are you, Allen? he hears after a loud thud reaches his ears.
He carefully opens his eyes to the blinding white sheen of porcelain. The tub is empty, and his body is dry.
The thought of the naked girl advancing across the room paralyzes him. His eyes widen with fear and he wants to scream. Her image becomes too much to handle and he begins to shiver.
An uneasy sweat develops across his forehead.
He curls into a fetal position as tremors travel through his body. Before he realizes it, he is violently vibrating like a fly after its been smacked with a newspaper.
He hears footsteps approach the tub and soon feels a presence above his head.
Allen, a voice says from above. He looks up and sees Scott gaping down with a face that hasnt been shaved for a few days. Allen cant guess why Scott has broken into his apartment. He thought Scott had left a few hours ago. He thinks Scott mightve left something.
Christ! Scott says and Allen watches him whip out a cell-phone. He looks on as Scott talks on the phone and continues to keep an eye on him.
I have a man here that needs urgent medical care.
The address is 851 Paxton St.
Allen watches as Scott continues to stare at him.
What the hell happened to you, Allen?
Allen tries to talk, to explain everything, but nothing comes out.
You can tell me when we get you out of here.
Allen keeps shivering and peers down at the rest of his sweating body. Its a pale brown color with a tint of yellow. He feels sick and wants to throw up but realizes there is nothing in his stomach to expel. He looks up at Scotts anguished face for several minutes until he hears more footsteps enter the apartment.
Two paramedics invade his sight while they examine his body with flashlights and several other unrecognizable instruments. Then, the paramedics wrap a blanket around his body and he smiles at its warm embrace. He feels weightless as they lift him out of the tub and fasten him onto a stretcher. As the paramedics prepare him, Scott stands at his side. Allen gazes up at his vast ceiling that produces so many excellent echoes.
He has a better vein in his right arm, hook it up there, he hears a paramedic say. He hears a bag unzip and then feels a sharp pain in his right arm. That should last him for the ride over, he hears the other paramedic say.
Allen sees the ceiling rush backwards like a treadmill and he realizes they are carrying him out of the apartment.
Wait, he says with a parched voice. The paramedics continue to carry him back towards the door.
Hold on, guys, Scott says.
Allen feels the paramedics abrupt stop.
We have to get him out now, one of the paramedics says.
Just hold on, Scott says. What is it, Allen?
The bathtub, Allen says.
What about it?
It tried to eat me.
You just passed out, Allen. Youll be better in a few days. Scott smiles in a patronizing kind of way as the paramedics start to carry him out again.
You dont understand Scott, that things alive,
Allen, just calm down, Scott says and grins with the mania of the Cheshire Cat.
Whatre you doing, Scott?
Guys, get him out of here. These boys will take you where you cant hurt yourself anymore Allen.
He feels the stretcher slightly rise and he peers down at his busted door. He looks back up and sees Scott grin his pearly white teeth.
Where are they taking me, Scott?
Control yourself, a paramedic says and presses his hands against Allens neck.
Allens vision begins to fade and the last thing he sees is Scotts arm draped over a porcelain-skinned figure.