When my wife comes home from work, it's like sitting out on the back porch, anticipating a comet
. She gets in about an hour after I do, dropping her things in a trail to the bathroom door. We are still living in the small, bachelor sized apartment
, so every room is visible from every other room if the doors are open. Our bedroom is my office is her kitchen is the bathroom which, unusual for bachelor apartments, has only a tub instead of a shower combo
We have rules while we are short on space; we do not speak right away when we're both home, and I try best to not move from whatever spot I've found myself when she gets home, usually right from her office. She writes insurance estimates for cars. I write. And so, we may be living in this tiny box for a little while longer. Rules help. If I am at the computer typing, I stay there until she is settled, until she feels human again.
At her office, she's more outside than inside, going over vehicles for damage under the watchful eyes of their owners. Taking pictures, kneeling, peering, and running her hands over dust and grime. At the door, she pries off her running shoes by pressing one shoe against the heel of the other and tugging. She goes through more shoes that way, yet she can never bring herself to throw the old pair away. So they become her painting shoes, back yard barbecue shoes, rainy day shoes.
The bathroom is right across from where my desk is in the room, its interior painted one of those unsightly greens that must have been on sale when the landlord was inspired to spruce up this place. The light above the medicine cabinet shoots a beam against the far wall, making it look, minus the white sliver of bathtub, like a shard of a sandblasted Heinekin bottle.
There are extension cords snaking around my feet, connecting box fan to box fan, our taped up photos flap like they do in a detective movie. She doesn't normally even look at me, but she surely knows I am watching her. She takes off her uniform slacks and polo shirt with no established grace, nor does she fluff her brown hair out of its ponytail so that I can see it fall in strands around her freckled shoulders. The water pounds down and gurgles while she rummages through her gym bag for shampoo and conditioner, setting them down on the floor by the toilet. Her farmer's tan lines on her upper arms and strong calves are parts of her I am not able to see most of the time, in the dark, in silence, in our sleepy nights together. So I watch, leaning back in my chair, still tapping on the keyboard so as not to interrupt the steady hum of white noise that comes from this corner, the wall unit, the drone of the fan on the floor. The faucet faces the open door so she faces the wall; between the tub and the wall there is an extra medicine cabinet I have yet to put up for her; for a woman so beautifully plain who seldom ever wears much makeup, she has a lot of tubes and bottles.
In the small section of mirror on the front of that medicine cabinet peeks up over the lip of the tub, so that even though I can't see its reflection from here, she can see her neck and shoulders, her chin. She's always sitting in the tub while its still filling up, her long legs akimbo over the edge of the tub, absentmindedly lifting the blinds with her toes. It is now that I become aware how small that room is, but it never swallows her. Instead, she spreads out like a fern, unfolding the tail of a mermaid, all arms and legs.
Dust runs over her knees and elbows in light gray veins as she shifts around, reaching over for her shampoo. It smells like guava or papaya or some other sweet, orange and tropical fruit she has probably never eaten. I look back to the screen and when I return, her hands are sleepily shaping her hair into sudsy horns, into corkscrews and rabbit ears, until she disappears under the lip and comes up shiny and slick. When I am able to look back again, she has already wrapped a purple towel around her shoulders and stepped wet prints on the carpet leading to the bed, an island between us, where she stretches out in front of a box fan I propped for her to blow across our sheets.
Even in this humid summer swelter, she likes her baths hot. It is now safe to approach her, safe for me to lay alongside of her as her hair dampens a pillow and the ghosts of steam are gobbled up by the fan. She smells like a hammock in Jamaica, like a hundred frozen papaya drinks, air-dried cotton.
Our ceiling is low and there are no windows in this apartment that are not filled with fans or shelves, so the light slowly fading outside has become insignificant. For an hour, maybe we nap there, and behind my eyes I am seeing the milky tail of my first comet, all over again.
You are only in the tub for the first song
You are out before it finishes
You come out all golden
Even though you are all brunette
All those flaws you frown at
I can't even see
I see simply you
And somehow it's just what I hoped
You would be