Taking Baths Now – A COVID-19 Story
“I guess there could be worse places to be locked in - the crapper is one of my favourite chill spots,” said Bill.
His wife, Louise, smacked her forehead with her palm, and said, “That’s great, Bill. Now look, I'm not going to actually lock you in, ok? This is about developing trust. I know how devastated you are about Dan dying but we're in a situation where this virus could kill us too, so you have to promise me you'll stay put for as long as I ask you to.”
“But you know what,” said Bill, through his medical mask that smelled like new car mixed with dead cat. “Why is it me that has to be stuck in the toilet?”
“Well, you're the one who was careless enough to expose yourself, I'm not the one who's ill, ok? But don't worry I'll look after you, I'll treat you like a king. Just try and fight your baser instincts during these challenging times.”
“Don't therapise me, Louise. You always do that.”
“I'm a therapist, Bill, it’s my job. Now, this is it, let's get going.”
Louise closed the door on her husband and she rested her back against it, giving an audible sigh.
“What can I get you?” she said, as Bill got straight down to business and relieved himself, accidently peeing on the rug as usual. He called out, “I want four tins of Stella and a yo-yo.”
“Where the hell am I going to find a yo-yo?” Louise said.
Bill said, “There are three of them in my side drawer. Get me the one with the LED lights that sparkle when it sleeps.”
Half an hour later Louise knocked on the door and then retreated to a safe distance. Bill opened the door and dragged in his beer, the yo-yo, a microwave meal, leaving untouched the book Louise had left, called ‘The Interpretation of Dreams', by Freud.
“Don't try and change me,” he yelled, “I am who I am.”
Bill tucked into his food, gagging as he tasted the antibiotics in the processed chicken and the MSG in the lumpy mash potatoes. He kicked the plate aside and started drinking.
He had three friends called Dave. They couldn't agree on nicknames so they always struggled to identify each other - often talking for twenty minutes on the phone before realising it was the wrong Dave. That evening Bill sent a round robin text to all the Daves just checking how they were coping. Only one Dave replied and all he said was, “Fine.” And that was it. It suddenly dawned on Bill he would be stuck in a toilet for god knows how long, all alone, with death lurking around the corner. For some reason this revelation hit him like never before.
The next time Louise left another pile of mush on a plate - brown chunks with jelly, smelling and looking a lot like dog food, Bill said, “Don't go, let's talk.”
Louise sat cross-legged by the toilet door and started to unravel some string from her blouse, wrapping it around her finger until it turned blue.
“Shoot,” she said.
“It's been a while since I've been out. My only view is a small patch of grass from the window here, internet is constantly down, the Daves are no fun at all. Things can't go on like this much longer. Tell me what's it like out there?”
“Chaos,” said Louise, “peaceful chaos.”
“Listen Bill, if you want to make some changes, I have tons of academic papers. It's saved my life. Let's be honest, you've been in the mire for years. But I really think there's an opportunity here.”
There was no reply.
Then a soaring belch sounded out from inside the toilet, nearly shaking the foundations of the building. Bill fell into a fit of laughter.
“You shit,” said Louise, “you're going to have to find yourself somehow. Maybe an embargo on beer would force your hand.”
“What?” Bill said, panic shooting through him.
“Let's proceed this way - every book you read you get some drink.”
“Why is it so hard for you to do something positive?”
“It's- I dunno, urban malaise?”
“Well, that might be so but from now on that toilet will be your temple.”
Bill protested for a couple of days, refusing his rations, ignoring the books piling up outside the door. But then it just got too much for him - his yo-yo experiment had hit a brick wall; he was sick of Candy Crush and he just wanted to get smashed on booze again. So, he did something that seemed unthinkable only weeks before, he reached out for a book.
The book was big and well thumbed, with lots of pink and yellow sticky post-it marking the pages. The title was 'Freudian Analysis'. Bill took in a large breath and started from the beginning.
The next morning Bill woke up in the bathtub screaming and desperately patting around his crotch area. “Where's it gone!? Where's it gone!?”
Eventually there was a knock at the door and Louise said, “What's going on in there?”
Finally, feeling a bulge in his underpants, Bill relaxed, took a seat on the loo and explained himself.
“I had a bad dream. I was walking through empty streets in the dark. Then lights flickered on in front of me. I realised there was something big coming out of my body. There was a skyscraper where my dick should've been. But as quickly as the lights appeared, they shut down again and I couldn't see any more. I felt for the skyscraper but it was gone and in fact everything down there was gone. I panicked and next thing I knew I was tossing and turning in that bloody bath. You gotta let me out of here Louise, I'm losing it.”
“You know I can't do that. What you have experienced is the classic castration complex. This is a moment for celebration. Bill, you've entered the realm of the Unconscious.”
“I need some pizza and a beer,” Bill moaned.
“You're beyond that now, don't you think? Focus on your journey, explore your soul. That is what will nourish you.”
Bill buried his head in his hands and screamed - noise echoing off the mouldy tiles as the unpredictable light above flickered a couple of times.
One month later Bill woke up, stomach growling, his neck aching as his six-foot frame could barely squeeze into the bath that served as his bed. Trying to put his aches, pains and hunger to one side, he began the revolutionary regime he'd developed over the last few weeks. First, were fifty press ups on his knuckles - making sure not to knock his head on the loo brush with each dip - then one hundred stomach crunches. Next he performed yoga on the shower mat for an hour and having worked up quite a sweat by midday he took a long soak in the tub, wearing his shower cap, whiling away the hours until evening - jotting notes in his dream journal, and satisfying his now voracious appetite for the written word. The quote for day went as such, 'I grew up in an ugly city that taught me how to look between dust and rubbish and potholes to find a splinter of glass that looked like unmelting ice, beautiful in its defiance of the sun.'
It was dinner time and his new routine had been interrupted because Louise hadn't fed him for a day and a half and although he had adapted to an ascetic lifestyle he still needed to eat - even if the food was repugnant. Standing up close to the toilet door, he called out to her several times but without response. He kept calling until his voice went hoarse. Finally, he felt he had no alternative but to open the bathroom door and step out into the hall and into the main body of the flat - something he hadn't even contemplated doing in months. But he believed he was healthy and he'd quarantined himself for more than enough time to be safe.
As he swung the door open, he could hear the TV in the living room mumbling softly and he was able to determine that it was the news playing.
“Louise?” Bill called out again. No reply.
He continued down the hall and walked into the kitchen. Several tubs of salted caramel Häagen-Dazs ice-cream were on the counter top melting and dripping onto the linoleum floor. Next to them were empty tins of dog food. They had no dog. He opened the fridge and what he saw astonished him. A panoply of luxury foods lined every shelf and compartment. There was Cornish full fat milk in the door frame, along with Prosecco, several uncorked bottles of white wine and cranberry juice. On the top shelf were duck breasts, smoked salmon, and a sage and onion stuffed pork joint with leftover goose fat potatoes, nestling in a thick gravy. Below were ripe strawberries, grapes glistening in the fridge light, artichokes and asparagus wrapped in bacon and finally taking up much of the bottom shelf was a Black Forest gateau. Bill closed the door before his knees buckled from ravenous hunger. Instead of stuffing his face he went to confront his wife - confused and full of rage.
He padded through the living room, the news playing relentlessly in the background. He heard a reporter say, “The government urges people not to panic buy, there is enough to go around for everyone. If you do hoard, others perhaps more needy than yourselves, may go unfairly without.”Then as he neared the bedroom, he heard a repetitive dry cough. Inside Louise was wrapped up in a sheet, her face sweaty, burning up from a temperature. In one hand she clutched a large container of Nutella, chocolate smeared across her mouth like brown lipstick.
She continued coughing and Bill passed her a glass of water from the night stand.
“What's going on Louise? The fridge is... full.”
“I stocked up,” she said.
“I see that, but why didn't you give any to me?”
“You look buff.”
“Louise, have you been feeding me dog food?”
“Um. Yes, yes, I have.”
“But why? Why the hell would you do that?”
“I don't love you anymore,” she wheezed, sounding like a gerbil rustling around in wood shavings.
“You don't know the real me. I'm a different man since you've been treating me like a pet, locked up in that prison that masquerades as a toilet. How can you live with yourself?”
“I’m sorry. I guess the power got to my head,” she bent over, coughing from her diaphragm.
Bill shielded his mouth and nose with his hand and said, “You've got the virus. Serves you right. See ya.”
“Wait,” she said, “help me. Please.”
Bill turned his back on her, returned to the kitchen and took a bucket from under the sink. He filled it with all the food he desired from the fridge, food beyond his wildest dreams. He grabbed armfuls of sustainable rations too and carried it all back to the bathroom as the news chattered on, “And as we see the city is deserted, skyscrapers empty and the government continues to insist lockdown is the only way to conquer this pandemic. Please, everyone, stay at home.”
Bill seated himself by the radiator, feeling the heat begin to ripple through his body. He picked up a book and a marker pen. He took a deep breath, kicked the door closed with his foot, and shoved a giant hunk of salami in his mouth - chasing it with a nicely chilled Chardonnay. He shut out his wife, shut out the world. He was in for the long haul.