By Steve Finbow
Honey, I’ve dropped my book in the bath again, I shout. Jesus, I hear her say above her breath. She stomps into the kitchen and from the other side of the bathroom door, says, Which book is it? The Unconsoled, I say, staring down at the inflatable soap boat. Oh, not the fucking Ishiguro again? She says. Sorry, I say in my five-year-old first-day-at-school baby-boy voice. Didn’t mean to. You know what this means, don’t you? And it’s fucking snowing out. Sorry, I say again and reach for the anti-dandruff shampoo. I can hear her mutter and curse and struggle with the ladder because it’s snagging on the vacuum cleaner in the hall cupboard. Shit! Fucking thing! She says. Where’s my fucking swimming costume? Er, the blue one or the polka-dot one? I say. Which one do you fucking think? She says. Well, I don’t think it’s in there, I say. Silence. Then I hear a kick against the bathroom door and the frosted plastic shakes and rattles. You think? She shouts. Have you tried the chest of drawers? I say, helpfully, hopefully. Top drawer, maybe? Course I fucking have, you retard. They’re not in there. I looked. What about the washing bag? I say. Remember last week, I dropped Translated Accounts and the week before that, er, what was it? Er, oh, yeah, The Sot-Weed Factor. I bite my top lip. Splash the water a bit so I don’t have to listen to what I think is coming. I don’t know why you have to read in the fucking bath. I don’t. Why can’t you read on the sofa, or in bed, or go out somewhere like normal people? Are they there? I say. Yes, they’re fucking here, dickwipe. And they stink of your smelly socks. The Unconsoled looks like a puffer fish in fright mode, battling with the sponge for absorption supremacy. With my teeth, I try to manoeuver the metal frame of the reader but I can’t budge it. I catch my tongue in one of the hinges. Trying to extricate it, I tear off a tiny piece and it starts to bleed. The bath water looks like gin after you pour angostura bitters into it – oh, and the sponge and the Ishiguro look like lemons. I start to smile to myself when I hear, Oi, are you staying in or getting out? I’ve only just started, I say. I haven’t washed or anything. I was enjoying reading and then the book just fell. Fell, she says, fell? Fuck off. Your big fucking hooter knocked it into the bath. I’ve told you before – use something else to turn the fucking pages. I… Shut it, while I get this ladder out. My bottom is getting numb and I try to adjust my position but slip and go under. The water shoots up my nose. I come to the surface coughing soapy spumes. What the fuck are you doing in there? She says. Nothing, I splutter. Will you be all right in the snow, honey? I ask. I’ll have to fucking be, won’t I? Now, where are my goggles? On the goggle rack, I say. Right. Now, keep back, she says, You know what happened last time and I’m not explaining facial flipper burn to the doctors and nurses in A&E again. I lean back and move my weight onto my left buttock. The front door closes. I can hear the ladder creaking greasily into the cold air. I look up and see it rise above me – 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet – the carnies anchoring it with plastic ties, sandbags, and cables. And there, the diving board quivering at the top. I hear the ho-ho-ho-it’s-off-to-work-we-go as the ladder extends. The carnies’ oily odours overpowering the satsuma oil in my bath water. Already, the diving board has an inch of snow covering it and a seagull lands and pecks at it and then is gone. What does it think it fucking is? I hear her shout, Desiccated fucking coconut? She elbows one of the carnies out of her way. The ladder is equipped with resting platforms every 10 feet. She stops at the first to adjust her goggles. From here, I can see her arse protruding from her blue and white polka-dot one-piece bathing costume. I snorkel for a while but lose it when her best friend from school appears with choc-chip cookies. They sit gabbing, looking down, pointing at me, and laughing. Her best friend – Chloe – pulls a megaphone from her purse and shouts down, Loser! I give her the stump but slip and flounder again, taking the rubber duck with me. I surface, eyes stinging and mouth tasting of strawberries and cream – birthday soap. She slips two cookies into the top of her swimsuit and climbs to the next platform, leaving Chloe to serenade the gulls with her banjo. The carnies have eviscerated the caretaker – again – that’s going to up the service charge – and are using his tibias and intestines to crochet – what looks from here to be – and I do really have to crane my neck to see it – a camouflage covering for the King of the Gypsy’s Bubble car. On the second platform – the book’s going to be a bit more than moist if she keeps this speed up – she stops to rub animal fat over her body. The snow is coming down heavily. Then she pushes for the top – three quarters of the way there and oh, shit…. Not again. Unreal. I hear her shriek with excitement. She shouts down to me, Oi, Gregory Torso! Guess who I’ve bumped into. It’s only fucking Murakami Haruki, innit? I look up, then look to the carnies and shout, Oh, my god, please, someone, do something, please stop her, stop her. One of the carnies throws a rather overripe papaya at me. It explodes against the tiles and showers me with pith and pulp. I lick it off my face with my tortured tongue just in time to see Murakami do a reverse dive pike straight on to the street. Boom! I hear her shout. I feel vomit rise in my throat. She’s now at the top of the ladder, sitting at the tip of the diving board, dandling her legs over the side, crows fighting for the glittery flakes of nail polish sprinkling from her toes. Oi, shit for brains, she shouts, I think I’ll stay up here. I can see Hoboken, Hounslow, and the Mountains of fucking Mourne. It’s turned very cold and rime forms on the water despite my thrashing. She unsnaps then snaps the goggles onto her eyes, stands, raises her arms in the air – she looks like a church steeple – her toes gripping the edge and then she’s off and in the air, graceful as a swan. On the way down, she screams, You fucking wanker! And she’s in and I’m up and out through the immutable laws of physics, writhing around uncontrollably on the shower-room floor. She comes up out of the water, The Unconsoled between her teeth. I can’t see her eyes behind the amber plastics of the goggles, her nose streaming with mucus and soap. She worries the book like a poodle with a stuffed toy giraffe, and grins. I cower in the corner and look at her face propped on the rim of the bath. I swallow and say, I’m sorry, honey, it won’t happen again. Promise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Finbow‘s work has been published in many forms and in many places. He once worked for Allen Ginsberg and now lives in London. He hopes to move back to Japan in 2009.