The Curious Commitment

Ken Poyner

I heard the water running as I first stepped in.† I sat down my backpack, letting it slide into its usual place in the spotted green chair just inside the door, and twisted my body fully around to push the door closed, set the thumb lock, and draw the chain.† I could see through the evaporating crack nothing behind me in the hall, nothing on the floor outside the door, no obvious pathways to the unordinary.†† The backpack settling into the chair slipped to the seat cushionís edge and nearly fell. I should have long ago given up my pretensions and bought a briefcase, but with the backpack I get the practical means to carry all of my papers and my lunch, yet can look still like a hopeful student.† I once was a student, and I lived out of my backpack.† Today, no one would know I was making a good living:† that I have means, and a professional roundness.

I have lived alone for three years.† It is a decent apartment.† Not too large, not too small.† Not too cluttered, not too free of clutter.† The walls not needing paint, but not looking just painted.† Bric-a-brac not seeming staged, but looking to be perhaps the idle yet collectable flotsam of a life still in the making.†From the pattern of notes, I could tell the water running was obviously in the shower: the shower set anachronistically in a free-standing tub, with feet, and a shower curtain that runs all the way around the tub on a suspended frame.† It was one of the draws of the apartment.† Most of these apartments have been upgraded with more modern features, but there was room in this one to leave the overwrought bathtub and accommodate it with unique features and conveniences: so this apartmentís bathroom looks like no other apartmentís bathroom in this wickedly modernized building.† The sink has its own pedestal and the toilet cowers in an abbreviated corner.† There are toiletry shelves and a clothes hamper and a small closet for linen and supplies, and the smell of tile secure in its history.

All of this I knew from memory, as I was suspended still standing by the door, listening.

With the unevenness of the water, not only was the shower running, but someone, or something, sounded to be actively using that shower.† There were catches in the water, and releases where it hit the base of the tub undeterred.† It had been years since I had listened closely to the symphony of someone taking a shower.† When showering oneís self, the sound is different.† Contained.† When you take your own shower, there is a purpose to everything and every sound has its cause and you pay it no attention.† But listen to someone else take a shower, and the noises are explosions of unexpected contentions, sudden reversals and heartening advances, mis-directions and discoveries.†† Nothing like rain, but more like surgery.

I checked the furniture to make sure it was mine.† I remembered the number on the door, and it was mine.† I knew the key worked and the latch, which had been set on my arrival, with that key had opened.† I could see into the kitchen and the twisted refrigerator had my reminders pasted on it.† I was in the right place: the person, or thing, in the shower was not.

Slowly I began to edge down the hall.† I did not want to startle anyone, least of all myself.† The unknown showering entity could be one of the maintenance men.† It could be a neighbor, somehow let in mistakenly.† It could be a waiting axe murderer, come in through one of the two windows leased with the apartment.† I did not want to bring the situation to a terrifyingly early, or unmanageable, conclusion.† I figured anything resembling haste would not be an advantage.

I slipped off my shoes and placed them on the couch.† I would be quieter in socks alone.† I steadied myself against the wall, fingertips only, my hands bent into spiders of light pressure.† Apprehension curled my nails and curiosity fogged my glasses.† I would not say I was afraid; more closely, I was stalking this uncharted enigma.† Someone or something unknown was in my apartment:† and it was taking a shower.

One foot after another, my head held slightly forward, it seemed a textbook eternity passed as I was slithering down the hall.† Stepping bare inches at first, and then simply sliding my feet, I was a contortion:†† stiff and unyielding, yet almost proudly mechanical in my march to the noise.† I had never seen my apartment walls in such detail, and I marveled at the surprisingly varied textures I had thought nothing of just the morning before.† Here a bubble, here a picture from a family reunion four years ago, here a waxed painting from a downtown art show purchased during the hottest early spring I could remember.

I came eventually to the door frame: painted wood with a series of bevels, rolling fields of woodwork mired in three inches of common ostentation.† The door to the bathroom itself hung open.† Steam had not yet collected sufficiently in the room to come billowing out into the hallway.† Perhaps the water was not hot enough.† I placed one hand on the ledge and edged my head slightly forward into the open wonder-fall and into a line of sight with the shower.

The shower curtain was translucent, though not transparent; and its translucence had begun to wear.† But had the occupant of my tub been a bear or a bison, I could have seen it for the color and shape in an instant.† As it was, I could see a human body, one that rippled in the folds of the curtain, distorting itself with ordinary motion. The light from high on the wall over the vanity played with it in small degrees, but was diffuse enough to defeat shadows.†† As the body moved I could tell through bite sized portions that it was small, female, perhaps of age in the twenties or maybe thirties or possibly forty.† A little longer in observation I could tell she had dark hair, and had wetted it and it hung down her back past the clavicle, even while still free to slide around her back and play games with the muscles diving unconcerned into her waist line.

I did not recognize her.† She was not one of the neighbors that I knew, though I did not know all of my neighbors.† As she dipped and faced the shower than faced away, ever more features became available and the picture I was building of her grew more accurate each sweetening second.† I was becoming confident of all the people she could not be.† At what is preciously now some elastic point, I was almost certain I had never seen her, that I had no substantive connection to her; and that her presence in my shower was some cosmic calamity that had nothing whatsoever to do with me, other than location and time and perhaps curious opportunity. She rubbed the top of her left shoulder with her right hand and then pulled at her neck.† Her hair billowed, but lay flat against the rough side of her hand, streaming water down her back and in a river bed pattern onto the top of her leg before losing the arc and falling free.

I could not know why the sound of someone else taking a shower is so distinct, is so different from oneís own utilitarian sound.† I think it is like rain on the remains of a distant camp fire where unhappy men have gathered to rid their lands of monsters.†† I do not pretend to know the source of the fascination, or the depth of the organics that create the difference.† It was my water, my tub, and I did not recognize its voice, nor the weathered music it was happily making.

I do not know why.

The physics of water in a controlled stream surrendered unbound to gravity is the same for each of us, even if we perceive it differently.† It is all the same.† What I might believe in it is a private matter.† But its singularity unites us.† It is owned by all of us in common.

I had to come to the conclusion.† The only conclusion that could come of this serendipitously strange commonplace. I began ever so cautiously to unbutton my pleasantly secure shirt.† Here, in my breached home, still I could use the slither of a shower. † †

Ken Poyner's collections of short fiction, Constant Animals and Avenging Cartography, as well as his latest collections of †speculative poetry, Victims of a Failed Civics and The Book of Robot, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press,, Amazon, virtually all on-line retailers.† He serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wifeís power lifting affairs, where she continues to set world raw powerlifting records.† His poetry lately has been sunning in Analog, Asimovís, Poet Lore; and his fiction has yowled in Spank the Carp, Red Truck, Cafť Irreal.†

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