Tuesday, 29 April 2008

SHOWER CURTAIN

By Sam

Beyond the image of his face, hanging pale and half-shaven in the mirror on his mother’s bathroom windowsill, a black square of window. Beyond the window: December at eight o’ clock on a Tuesday morning, cold and forbidding and black as fresh tarmac. Beyond that, nine hours of pushing shopping trolleys around a Tesco car park for £5.60 an hour in a shitty cheap blue fleece in the freezing shitty cold.

Jason clacked the head of the blue plastic razor against the pink porcelain of the sink, the razor coughing out black flecks of hair that looked like the severed legs of house spiders. Mum had had the bathroom re-done about six months after Dad moved out. Two guys in heavy boots had ripped out the old fittings, treading flakes of plaster into the kitchen on their way to make mugs of tea, while Mum pointedly swept the torn lino as the kettle boiled, muttering to herself. In place of the old fittings, the pink sink, with gold-effect trimmings and a recess for bars of soap, moulded into the imprint of a seashell. A new bath and shower combo, in the same style as the sink. Cream carpet and pink paint on the walls. Yellow and pink tiles above the sink and the bath. Mum put it all on credit cards.

They had stood in the bathroom while Mum admired the effect.

Much nicer. Out with the old, Mum had said.

Mum, it’s like being inside a fucking Battenburg Cake.

Language, Jason. I think it’s nice.

Jason had surveyed the shower curtain that had come with the package – Country Dolls’ House, or some such shit. It was covered in geometric scrawls and blobs of pink and yellow, at once chaotic and regimented, an object of profound and nauseating ugliness. The rest was just about bearable, but that shower curtain was a fucking nightmare, a fever-dream puked across a sheet of machine-washable polyester.

Well I guess Dad definitely won’t be moving back in now.

Jason. Mum had bitten her thumb and turned away. Jason had laid an awkward, lanky arm across his mother’s shoulders.

It’s lovely mum. It’s what you wanted.

Jason had gone to the Chinese down the road for fish and chips, smoking a B&H on the way down and sucking a breath mint on the way back up. They ate the fish and chips on their laps straight from the paper while they watched Strictly Come Dancing, eating with their hands and wiping the grease off on the sheaves of white paper.

Fish and chip shops stopped wrapping fish and chips in newsprint because it gave you cancer or some shit.

***

Jason shied away from the showerhead as the water ran cold, then hot, filling the shower with steam and leaving a pink mark across his shoulder. The water settled on a bearable temperature and Jason pulled the shower curtain across – his shower curtain. He reached among the regiment of little feminine phials and bottles that lined the edges of the bath and took a plastic bottle of shower gel, lathered his armpits and chest and crotch and up behind his ears, then rolled his head under the shower head as the lather dispersed and descended his body.

He had bought the new shower curtain as a birthday present for Mum, mainly as a way of removing the pink and yellow travesty from his morning routine. It was a montage of painted maritime scenes: isolated beaches, fishing boats, Cape Cod lighthouses and a sailing boat riding the crest of a wave, the foresail billowing out, its crew tanned and languid on the deck. Warm, cobalt blue skies containing clouds like chunks of vanilla ice cream. It didn’t really go with the bathroom, but his mother had been graceful about the shower curtain.

Thank you Jason, it’s lovely.

Jason examined the shower curtain intently, picking out the faded numbers painted onto the side of a small fishing boat pulled up among a pile of low, gentle boulders, the fresh white painted ironwork around the bell of the lighthouse, the elegant curve of the sailing boat’s foresail. He did this every morning. Jason’s shower curtain was a thing of mesmerising beauty.

He ran the palm of his hand over the waxed surface of the curtain, over the cool blues of the sea and the hot blues of the sky.

***

Jason walked the stretch of the beach approaching the lighthouse, the heat of the sun warm across his pale, narrow shoulders, the sand giving softly around the soles of his feet. He approached the fishing boat and ran a hand across its sun-bleached wood. The wood was smooth and a deep warmth came from the fine fissures that followed the grain. The name “Maggie” had been carefully painted by hand on the stern of the boat. In the middle distance the little white sailing boat fought the tide, the delighted cries of its crew reaching the shore as soft murmurs. Jason waved to them and a lithe, brown arm, rendered tiny by distance, waved in response. The tower of the lighthouse gleamed crisply in the bright, golden haze of a Cape Cod afternoon.

***

Mum gave three hard, jolting knocks on the door.

Jason? Jason, I need to shave my legs.

Jason dried his body and then his hair, gathering the towel around it and rubbing it hard. He pulled on his uniform, the blue polyester trousers abrasive and itchy against skin still pink and tender from the heat of the shower. The shitty, cheap blue fleece snapping with static as he pulled it over his head. He checked his reflection in the mirror, the narrow face above the fleece. He smoothed down his hair, stiff and gritted with salt crystals. He put his hands to his face and inhaled a breath of dried seaweed, sun-baked wood and sea salt.

Outside the bathroom, Jason’s mother waited in her pink and yellow dressing gown, one arm clutched around her middle as the smoke from her cigarette worked its way into the ceiling plaster of the low hallway.

1 comment:

isabelle said...

I really liked this story, especially the shower curtain bit. I don't know why, but it reminded me of the Mr Ben stories , with Jason sort of stepping into another world, into the shower curtain rather than into the fancy dress shop. If you know what I mean.