by Victoria Mason
Nervous sweat is already covering my head and palms. If the stench of an unfit man was added, I could confidently conclude I won’t be invited over again.
I’ve been dating Sarah for nearly six months. She’s perfect. Where I avoid conversation, she dives straight in, defiant of her blushing cheeks and slight stutter.
It’s hard not to beam when I imagine Sarah’s red hair falling over her ever so slightly chunky frame, her bright blue eyes looking towards me, and her skin always smelling of lemon.
On a few occasions, I’ve suggested we go to hers. I live in a shared house with two other men; she owns her own house and lives alone. Whenever she comes to mine, we hide in my small bedroom, like teenagers, avoiding the guys, only rushing out to make tea when we hear the telly get turned off.
“How about Friday night at yours with a film and a takeaway?”
“Hmm, I’m not really ready for you to come over to mine yet.”
“Oh, why’s that then?”
“I’m a bit embarrassed about my place.”
One tartan duvet and a faded blue sheet my mum gave me are all I own. When I know Sarah is coming over, I quickly wash them and hope the rubbish tumble dryer will dry them in time. It’s pretty stressful.
I check the door I’m facing and the message on my phone: The address is 127 Wellesley Road. See you tomorrow X. I breathe in deeply and sigh. She only left one kiss.
* * *
Walking through the hallway, nothing looks suspicious. No baby toys or secret boyfriends are lurking.
“Sorry, but were you having a bath?” I ask as she walks ahead in her dressing gown.
I’m not sorry; I hope she’s going to look back over her shoulder, smile seductively, and guide me to her bedroom. She turns with her back to a door and looks into my eyes.
“Everything okay?” I laugh.
She begins playing with the doorknob behind her back. “I’m still the same person,” she says, pushing the door open.
“What is this?”
She doesn’t answer straight away; instead, she allows my eyes to absorb the hundreds of tiles.
“This is my lounge.”
I look from the cute turtle slippers to her half-smile, then catch my reflection in one of the many mirrors. I have an impulsion to laugh hysterically, but I don’t. “This is a bloody big bathroom!”
“I know, but it’s also my lounge.”
I look from the telly, mounted above one of the four standalone bathtubs, to an ugly seventies-style salmon-pink vanity. “Why?”
She flicks a switch on the wall.
“What’s that?” but I know as a soft, whirring sound begins.
“The fan calms me.”
“Bloody hell,” I mutter.
“Mum told me I’ve always had a fascination with bathrooms. She said I’ve always wanted to visit public toilets just to have a browse. I guess my love has just evolved from there really.”
“How long did this all take?” I ask, twirling on the spot, seeing a beautiful stone shower running water, creating steam within the far corner of the room.
“I leave that on for ambience.”
“Seems like a bit of a waste.”
“People leave lamps on.”
I’m stumped. Mouth open, I continue to stare at the contents of the room. Chrome faucets sparkle in the fluorescent lighting. Rolls of toilet paper stand in arrangements, like sculptures. Hundreds of neatly folded towels sit proudly in large display-like cabinets. A supermarket’s worth of cleaning products is arranged on shelves, like porcelain animals at my mum’s house.
“This room is massive. You converted your lounge?”
“Yeah, it has taken four years to merge my existing bathroom into it.”
“Who did it?”
“Well, that has been tricky.”
“Your dad?” I interrupt.
Sarah’s dad is a plumber. He once came over to mine to look at the tumble dryer. He tapped me on the back and called me “a good lad.” I’m far from handsome and work for a company that sells energy drinks to kids. I’m not a good lad. This now makes sense.
“Yeah, but he’s not happy about it.”
“I can imagine.”
“I don’t know who you are anymore.”
Sarah reaches out her arm, and I catch a glimpse of the yellow rubber ducky tattoo on her wrist. Avoiding her embrace, I walk around in a circle, arms raised above my head “This is mental. You realise this, don’t you? How much did this all cost? Wait, I don’t want to know. No wonder you’re always skint and let me pay all the time.”
I’m surprised at myself; I’m being hurtful to the only person whose opinion matters. But now things have changed, I’m allowed to be mean to a nutter.
“I have never lied to you.”
I can see tears welling up in her eyes. There is way too much water going on in this room for that.
“I said dishonest. There’s a difference.”
I’m not entirely sure there is, but I’m so damn cross, I’m not thinking anymore.
I don’t speak to anyone like this, let alone Sarah. She looks at one of the six toilets, kicks off her slippers, and glides over to place one of the seats down. I scoff.
“I like feeling the cool tiles on my feet,” she informs me.
“And the seats down,” I tell the ceiling.
I kick a huge stack of bathroom catalogues and watch them slide out of their neat pile and across the shiny floor. An image of Sarah gliding her fingers over the bright-white ceramic tiles in Homebase, comes to me. I didn’t think anything of it, just thought she liked touching things. I quite like prodding tightly packaged meat in supermarkets, but I’m not going to surprise my girlfriend with my bedroom that looks like an abattoir.
When we’d spent ages talking to a shop assistant about new rimless-technology toilets, I just thought she needed a new bog. Once, I made a joke that Sarah should get a job at the Big Bathroom Shop because of the dozens of times we went in “for a browse.” I’m bloody stupid; just thought it was something women did.
Suddenly, I’m nauseous. The lemony smell that I used to find so sweet is now so bitter. It isn’t some girly perfume; it’s the smell of Flash Lemon, all-purpose cleaner.
Every time we’d go to the supermarket, she’d wiggle out of my hand and end up in the cleaning products aisle. For the first couple of times, I thought she was buying “lady things” so stayed way out the way, fast walking to look at the frozen pizzas. But after a while it was normal, I would join her and attempt to show her something I’d seen advertised on telly. My mum always compares prices, so I didn’t think anything of it when Sarah deliberated over which colour liquid rim cleaner to buy this week. “Oh, this one lasts for three-hundred flushes,” I would comment, thinking she would appreciate the observation.
“Please say something.”
She’s reflected at me from multiple angles within the various-shaped mirrors upon the walls. Her chest and face have become a bit red as they tend to when she gets emotional. She’s perfect. Behind her, upon a vanity, I see a small framed photograph of us together from when we took a long weekend away to Cornwall. She’d grabbed me and stole a selfie of us after a seagull had shot down, trying to take my ice cream. I’d screamed like a little girl. I’m wearing a Manchester City football shirt, my eyes are wide, and my mouth is open, but she is smiling the biggest smile. It’s a great photo.
“I feel confused,” I say, pulling down my trousers.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t feel comfortable,” I announce, enveloping my head in my jumper.
I stand in socks and boxers, uncertain whether to continue. I don’t want to scare her, this isn’t the movies, and I’m definitely not the star.
“Do you have a gown I could wear?”
* * *
I’m lying in the old-fashioned claw-foot tub; It’s her favourite, but she let me have it this time. She allowed me to wee in the vintage chain-flush toilet she won on eBay, but if I need to poo, I have to use another, which is fair enough. Sarah is in the kitsch clamshell-decorated bath that’s adjacent. Both our bodies are immersed, our heads bobbing on the surface laughing away at some rubbish on telly.
“Hello, handsome,” calls Sarah in a faux deep voice.
“You perfect creature,” I reply, in between a mouthful of chow mein, to her full beard of bubbles.
I’m an adult who has grown men, who run about in matching outfits chasing a ball, pinned to my walls. Sarah’s quirk, although odd, is just another obsession, and I can deal with that. I smile and breathe in deeply, inhaling the lemony scent.
Copyright © 2020 by Victoria Mason