One morning,after ten days of rain, an azure bar appeared on the horizon. Will Gray noticed the change through a square bathroom window, two floors up in the West End, before joining Tim in a clawfoot tub of bubbles.
“I feel princely,” said Will, and he sculpted a mock white beard around his jaw. “Do I look the part?”
Tim crinkled a smile and soaped his armpits with Dove. It had been a month since their first meeting and Will wanted to fart in the tub, but he willed himself to abstain for another week or two. This was special.
Special? Alarmed at his own precautions, Will began to study Tim more closely.
The man in question washed every part of his body with the same bar of soap, including his hair and face, which struck Will as an act of incredible masculinity.
Lying back among the suds, he pulled one of Tim’s feet onto his chest and began to inspect its minutiae. He had already rubbed at any toe jam between four toes before he suddenly halted, the revived victim of some hypnotist, blinking. When the offending foot had been dropped back in the water, he said, “We’re getting sort of close, aren’t we?”
“I guess,” replied Tim, turning Will to loofa his back.
But Will had no wish to give in yet. (Give in? Was that what it was?)
Whatever the approaching spell, it was temporarily staved off when, in the hallway, Jacob the Labrador launched himself across the wooden floor, skidded, collided with the bathroom door and let loose a volley of annoyed barks.
“He needs to pee,” said Will, whose own bladder threatened capitulation under the pressures of hot water. Mustn’t fart; mustn’t pee.
“I mean, what are your feelings about us?” Tim asked.
“Oh, feelings-” He searched the air for something flippant to say but found nothing on hand.
Looking up to where the window had fogged over with heat, Will became acutely aware of the oppressive damp in the air. The cramped bathroom, its tiny octagonal tiles, its Chelsea light sconce (proud and chrome), all collapsed together into a world unassailable by any measure of wit.
He felt colder and sank lower into the bath’s embrace, melting until he became nothing more than a head, floating atop a cloud of rapidly vanishing bubbles. “I don’t know what I feel,” the disembodied head admitted.
“Well.” Tim nudged with a well-placed toe, pushing up Will’s body from below. A neck, a chest, a pair of freckled shoulders emerged from the shallows. “Maybe it’s something to think about.”
“Maybe.” Could one smile one’s way out of this? There were tricks of twinky foolishness that once served him well, but lately they seemed foreign, useless and stupid.
That devastating morning he felt as though the music were shut off and a breaker-full of lights had thrown scrutiny over his body-which, now revealed, was pale, unkempt, lesser than anyone (including himself) had supposed.
How unfair! More than that, it was unjust. For hadn’t he been promised by all those eyes on the dance floor…something? Hadn’t he been granted skills larger than these? The skill to meet a man in the eye and talk frankly?
In the bathtub, faced with simple, sentimental questions, Will was lost as though the water between Tim and himself were ocean-wide. The urge to piss had mounted to leg-crossing levels, but still, he didn’t want to lose this seemingly monumental moment.
Jacob, barking incessantly now, demanded assistance. Finally, Will stuttered out an embarrassing question of his own: “Do you think people can fall in love this fast?”
“No. Do you?”
“I guess not.”
“Listen, I’ll just take him out for a minute.”
Men who climb out of bathtubs pour like fountains, as though the water were coming from inside them, out their elbows, their fingertips, their cocks. And Tim looked magical, thought Will, when he stood and the weight of everything fell off his body, leaving it varnished and flushed.
“I just-” started Will. But, again, nothing came.
“A minute,” repeated Tim. But as he retreated with the dog, something was irretrievably lobbed into the back forty of their relationship. Will stood himself, and pulled out the plug with his toes.
As the water drained, it sucked in its tow a line of white scum.
“Right.” He looked at his red, withered hands. The skin had pickled, bending the palms into grave, exaggerated wrinkles. His hands looked like they had character, and Will pouted.
He released his bladder at last, and looked out the square window. The sky, in sympathy, had gone all blue. Blue, open and vulnerable as a great unblinking eye. Below, Tim was shouting “good boy,” at Jacob, who barked back in ecstasy.