A Bath

By on Dec 8, 2013 in Fiction

Bath and shower in a purple the shade of a bruise

That night, Sierra had told him she wanted nothing more than to take a bath. A nice hot one. So hot she’d have to stick her legs out and rest them on the side of the tub for relief. And bubbles. She had smiled. Thick and foamy, swirling soft under the tap and billowing in a pile she’d have to chop through with her body. She might have done a facial mask, might have conditioned her hair. Afterward, she might even have had the patience to wield the nail file.

Instead, Sierra stood in the shower and tried to smoke a cigarette. Her hands shook as she brought it to her mouth.

The pack lay dry on the bath mat, along with the red plastic lighter. Freshly opened, sans the one.

Sierra held the cigarette between her swollen lips and winced. One side of her face hurt more than the other, and she thought her front teeth might even be loose this time. She stood at the far end of the tub, away from the slowly warming spray, and sucked like death, the smoke burning down her throat and through her body. Then she noticed the razor sitting on the side of the tub, all innocent and metal.

She finished her smoke like a demon, pulling the harsh heat so fast it made her head float. Her eyes watered, and she blinked. Sierra flicked the butt into the sink.

She picked up the razor and backed into the spray. It stung in some place. She’d look in the mirror later. Or maybe not. 

Maybe she’d have her bath after all. A tub full of cherry bloom, raw wrists to match her face. She whimpered and held her palm over her mouth.

Sierra pushed the plug down, switched from spray to faucet, and sank into the shallow whorl. She thought about getting the bubble bath from the shelf but was suddenly too tired. She leaned back, waiting for the tub to fill. So she could be comfortable. Warm. So she could be quiet. She shivered, waiting, new parts aching and pulsing.

She held the razor gently, between her thumb and forefinger like one chopstick, like a lady’s fan, like a penny. She listened to the plashing water as it hit her ankles. Her feet had been spared, felt fine beneath the waterfall. 

The water on her feet was warm. Almost hot, but not quite.

She eyed the pristine pack – full, sans the one – and the red plastic lighter. 

And she tossed the razor, too, into the sink. It was a safety razor, after all.

She could walk to the bus stop. The bus comes every 12 minutes. She could summon the energy for that.

She washed herself quickly, turned off the faucet, toweled. She pulled her hair into a pony tail, dressed in old jeans, a tee shirt, and her warmest, bulkiest hoodie. She pulled a knit cap down to her eyebrows.

Sierra’s eyes stung, again, as she noticed the new placemats, pristine with their gold and blue swirls, lined up on the dining room table, as if ready for a romantic dinner, hushed conversations and smiles. 

She had an almost-full pack. She had some money. She bounced the single key in her cupped hand. Separated from the others, it was much lighter than she thought it’d be. She dropped the key on the kitchen counter, letting it land as it wanted.

She knew he had left before. She had heard the door slam, but, still, she hurried. Dried leaves crunched under her hiking boots. The night air bit her lungs. She cupped her battered hands over her mouth to warm them with her breath. Their shaking hurt her nose. 

As she took her seat, she felt eyes. On her face, her lip. 

She pulled the cap down a little lower and turned toward the window. Outside, the streetlights hazed yellow in the charcoal mist and a black cat darted under a porch. 

She raised her lips in a grimace, a half smile, and studied her blurry self in the window. The half-closed eye, the swollen nose. 

She burrowed her hands deep into the pockets of her hoodie and took a shaky breath. She’d have to see a dentist. There was one in every town.



Debra Brenegan has a Ph.D. in creative writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is an English Professor at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. For her fiction, she has received a Ragdale residency and was a recent finalist for the Snake Nation Press’s Serena McDonald Kennedy Award for a short-story collection, the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. Her work has been published in journals such as Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine, Phoebe, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, Knee-Jerk, Literary Orphans, Circa Review, and elsewhere. Her novel, Shame the Devil (SUNY Press), about nineteenth-century American journalist and novelist Fanny Fern, was named a finalist for Foreword Reviews 2011 Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction.