I hate it when she does this.
Brianna lies in the bathtub on her back, one knee bent and leaning in, making the lines of her hips twist and beckon. She lies in deep water, her eyes in calculating slits, the exhalations from her nose rippling a tiny current atop the surface.
I refuse to acknowledge this. I flip up the toilet seat and take myself out like nothing’s wrong.
Brianna’s mouth rises above the waterline. “What are you doing?”
“This is the bathroom. I’m going to it.”
“This is the bathroom, and I’m taking a bath. Can’t you use the other one?”
“What, like you’ve never seen me — ”
“It’s disgusting, Jess.” She gets onto her elbows and the water laps against the sides of her breasts. “And I’m trying to relax.”
“Well, I’m almost done anyway. Problem solved.”
She hisses and sinks back down, air bubbling up from between her teeth. I realize that I’m staring at her. But she counts on this. Her submerged body makes me feel both tempted and helpless, because to me, she may as well be Snow White entombed in glass.
I flush the toilet and go to her, stepping over the rim of the bathtub. But when I step down I don’t hit skin. Instead, I stand upon the water’s surface.
I move my other foot inside. I’m towering over her now, as if the threat of my body weight were real. My nearness should make her uncomfortable. Maybe it does — Brianna gives me a forced smile, and I feel guilty and sick.
Her mouth emerges again. “I found one of your empty cans on the shoreline.”
“Could be anybody’s can.”
“I found the receipt on the nightstand. If you’re going to lie to me, Jess, you’ve got to try harder.”
“Since when does having a beer out on the lake make up a lie?”
“Having a beer? The receipt was for a six pack.”
“Fine, I go out on the lake and have six beers. How’s that any different from what you and Claire do on Fridays?”
“That’s not the goddamn point.” Brianna moves as if to sit up, then remembers the shielding barrier and stays put. “The point is that I always tell you where I’m going. But you just disappear.”
Her eyes narrow even further, but not in anger. “Yeah. Okay. So what? Why should I care about what might be happening to you?”
“I’m just saying — ”
“Forget it. You don’t have to talk to me. Go take one of those walks you love so much.”
I leave the house and go down to the lake. When we first moved here, I’d stroll along the surface while Brianna swam by my feet. Sometimes she’d tell me about the lake bottom — the scummy weeds, the boulders 30 feet out, the wide-eyed fish that hid in the shadows of the rocks. The landscape sounded ugly but romantic, like urban ruins. “It’s not all that great,” she’d say, and I’d nod like I believed her.
Today the lake is a vast expanse of empty sheet metal. I stride onto it and out. A half mile from shore, I sit down and look out to the horizon. Brianna tells me that when other people look over a vast body of water, they feel its mystery and power. I only feel alone, unable to sink down into that powerful embrace that everyone else gets to feel.
I rub a finger along the water. It feels like stone to me. It will only become liquid if I press my open mouth against it or if it falls on top of me, which is as miraculous as the rest of it, I guess, but I’ve long stopped wondering what it means. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
I sulk out there for a while. I probably ought to apologize. Again. But this won’t necessarily mean anything either. Our argument is deeper than me drinking alone on the lake, and whatever apology I come up with will have to be better than all the ones I’ve made before.
But maybe I don’t need to make a better apology.
Maybe I need to make a submarine.
I walk back to the house and get a bucket from the garage. I fill it with baseball-sized rocks from the beach, then lug the bucket into the kitchen, where I grab a 40-gallon trash bag. Then I go into the bathroom.
Brianna is still there, lurking beneath the refreshed bathwater like a wary crocodile. She eyes me as I approach. I unfold the trash bag and drop the closed end into the water by her feet. With almost-comical difficulty, I use one hand to hold the bag open while I step into it, while my other arm hugs the rock-laden bucket against my chest.
I look down. I can’t see anything past all that crinkly black. “Have I sunk in at all?”
“Jess… what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to sit in the bathtub with you.”
Brianna sits up, looking at me skeptically while water dribbles down her unprotected skin. I squat down in my garbage bag, then one at a time, remove the rocks from the bucket, dropping them into the plastic at my feet. Only when I’m not carrying them do the rocks have weight. The garbage bag begins to sink.
I finally run out of rocks. I sit on top of them, which is awfully uncomfortable. But the garbage bag now clings around me, because I have finally found a way to sink in to her, and I can feel the soft weight of all that powerful water molding itself around me.
The bag crinkles whenever I breathe.
Brianna stares at me. Her face pinches into a grin, and her shoulders twitch with suppressed laughter.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” I ask.
“Yes.” Her eyes shine like the surface I’ve broken through. “Yes, you’re certainly here.”
Well, it’s a start.
KJ Kabza’s short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online (here, here, and here), and others, and has been called “Delightful” (Locus Online) and “Very clever, indeed” (SFRevu). For updates on forthcoming releases and links to free fiction online, he invites you to follow him on Twitter @KJKabza and peruse kjkabza.com.
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