The young husband stirs in bed. Consciousness reclaims him, turgidly: firsthis skin feels the smooth sheets, the weight of the cover; his limbs retract into the warm pockets around him. His arm brushes across his wife's skin and he becomes aware of her sleeping body. The memory of her words leaps into his mind: "We have to talk about it!” she’d said. “We can't go on like this!"
Protectively, he freezes. Finally he becomes aware of the strains on his own body, one knee held out at an angle, his tender erection compelled, he realizes, not by lust, but by his bladder.
If he moves and doesn’t disturb the bed, he can stand without stirring up the endless and sour arguments dormant at his side. He shifts his weight to the outer side of the bed and sits up slowly, sliding the covers off his naked torso. His skin tightens and adjusts to the cold air. He leans forward in a slow falling motion so that the mattress is relieved imperceptibly of his weight.
Finally he stands straight, not daring to check behind him. He shuffles along in the dark, feeling for obstacles and keeping his bare soles close to the warmth of the wood floor.
When he reaches the ceramic tile in the bathroom, he gropes above the sink for the light switch, averting his eyes. He misses, fumbles around the wall, looks up, finds the cord and pulls. The sudden antiseptic glare stabs his open pupils. The shock of cold white tile in his eyes and on his bare feet have reduced his erection to a manageable angle. He relieves himself in a warm stream. His bladder, his sphincters relax, his eyes unfocus. Unbidden the objects in the bathroom invade his vision one by one. The porcelain tank in front of him is covered by something like a small shag rug: pale, fuzzy green worms emerging from an elasticized cloth. He does not recognize the three, no four, objects sitting lightly on top of the cover. Stiff cardboard, plastic, paper and melting soap. Senseless raw materials assembled in front of him to make up what his mind struggles to give names to: eyebrow liner, Kleenex box with a paper tongue poking out, soap dish with a bar of soap stuck to it.
He tries to remember why these things are here. The cogs of industry and commerce have somehow meshed to bring them to him for his rituals of cleansing and purgation, to this dazzling white room where his flesh fights against the daily processes of digestion, dirt and decay. And yet the Objects swim in front of him, alien, repellent yet passive and exhausted by their own discrete existences.
He flushes the toilet and lowers the seat. "We have to talk!" she had said. He looks around the bathroom seeking some reason, some connection. More objects coagulate out of the cold heavy air: glass jars of oily cream, brown bottles of dry vitamins, a used razor blade, rumpled towels. Details congeal onto surfaces: short soapy hairs on the blade of the razor, a thin ring of grime around the bathtub, mildew discoloring the gray grout between the wall tiles.
Automatically he heads towards the door and stops at the sink. He is trapped by the mirror. Beyond the rust that blooms underneath the silvered surface, everything in the world becomes pointlessly doubled. He looks at his face, past his shadowed chin, his nose, his large pores, into two wary uneven eyes. A reptilian intelligence stares nakedly back at him and he knows that he is alone and that there is no one in the world he trusts.
Originally published in Issue 8, 2006