Showcase: Bathrooms, Cold Read + Strange Girl
Edited by Amber Hall
Hello and welcome to my second showcase of the month. I’m a London-based writer, and have been working with the fabulous folks at Pen to Print for the past few months. You can connect with me on Instagram: @amber.marie.123 and Twitter: @amber_marie_123.
Last week, I touched on the physical in relation to our theme ‘Worlds Apart.’ I chose pieces that focused on the unspoken connections we have with each other, and with nature. This week, I thought I’d focus on interiority: on the space between our inner and outer worlds.
‘Worlds Apart’ could refer to a disconnection between the physical and the psychological, or between our perception of the world around us and the perceptions of others. Our uniqueness is beautiful, but can also leave us feeling isolated or misunderstood in some situations or at certain points in our lives.
Claire Buss explores interiority and the significance of our domestic spaces in this prose piece; part of a series (the remaining pieces will be published here weekly). I loved the dissonance between the mundanity of the subject and the neurosis of the narrator; it gives the piece an unsettling undercurrent and subverts the reader’s expectation. I don’t think I’ll ever look at my bathroom in the same way again!
By day, the bathroom is an ordinary place. If you’re super lucky, you have a separate toilet. Otherwise, you’re staring at the bathtub while you pee and wondering how you missed that tideline when you cleaned it last. By day the bathroom looks cheerful, sparkly even. A place where you might think, yes, I will have a bath.
But baths are not taken in the middle of the daytime when the sun is shining and the room is safe. Baths are taken in the evening. When the night sky is dark and all you have is that single bulb keeping the nightmares away. The hot water runs and a bubble bath seems like the obvious choice, but then you can’t see under the foam. Anything could be lurking in that water. A vicious clawed hand just waiting to disembowel you when you sit down.
Or perhaps black alien slime will slither out of the plug hole and enter your ear hole as you lay down in the bath, thinking you are there to relax when really a non-Terran life form is deciding how quickly to eat your brain.
And what if you make your bath too hot and you’re lying there sophomoric in the heat, relaxing until you melt into the tub? Your eyelids growing heavy as sleep takes you, that vixen. Letting you sink deeper and deeper into unconsciousness, the hot water lapping at your mouth, covering your lips, entering your nostrils until you snort into wakefulness. Or not.
It’s not just having the bath that could kill you. Trying to step out of the blasted giant sink safely is an art form in itself. I tell you, taking a shower is a much more sensible idea. It’s definitely only the second most dangerous thing to do in the bathroom.
(c) Claire Buss, 2019
Priyanka Nawathe writes about a fractured relationship, capturing the bewildering truth that sometimes two people, once so close, can lose their connection and become relative strangers. But it also presents memory as a panacea for such traumas; a way to process loss.
It was a cold day in her office as she sat at the table pressing her temples. She remembered the conversation in a loop. You have changed, Penny. You were warm and sweet.
He’d stared at her like a stranger. The old Penny was gone. What was left was a cold shell. She’d stood there watching him walk away. It wasn’t the first time, but it would be the last. She’d changed.
Exhaling a deep sigh, she pushed back her chair and picked a book she’d marked for such days. She’d written it on the days such memories came flooding back to her. She read the times they’d said goodbye. She read the times she’d accepted the frigidity. She’d made excuses. thinking her warmth would be enough. But the cold air around him had pierced her heart several times until it stayed there, reminding her of the pain.
(c) Priyanka Nawathe, 2022
This is a piece I wrote about an early feeling of disconnect. It’s the first memory I have where my perception of something was clearly different to someone else’s. I used to feel shame around my differences, until I realised that we all have them. We’re all strange, unique and messy; the sum of our experiences and our talents. Our individual perspectives should be nurtured and celebrated, whatever our circumstances.
One of the earliest memories I have also happens to be one of the most defining experiences of my life. I’d just started primary school, which means I would have been four years old.
It was the first term. I know this to be true, because we were asked to draw ourselves in our winter coats. We’d then take these self portraits, our teacher explained, and mark them with finger-painted ‘snow’ – amorphous blobs of white acrylic sullying our previous work.
I wore a navy blue coat, with bold pink, purple and green plaid all over it. Calf-length and heavily padded, it was the only thing that kept the biting northern chill at bay as my mum walked me to school each morning. I was captivated by how visible my breath was at that time of the year; I remember thinking how warm I must have been inside, shrouded in my coat, for my breath to linger in the air that way. It reminded me of my dad smoking; his mouth pucked to make rings that would float above his head like strange little halos, or rise up in wisps like cirrus clouds.
I only vaguely remember the school. In the end, I would attend for less than a year before we packed up and moved counties, which is a lot like moving countries when you live in a small, rural community. If you leave, you are left out there, beyond the dry stone walling and the herds of livestock.
I remember how big the classroom felt. The school building must have been Victorian, because the ceiling seemed to tower above me. My home – a humble two-bed terrace in the neighbouring village – was den-like in comparison, but felt much safer than the classroom. With its vast ceiling and too-polished floorboards, the classroom had a hardened edge; it truly was a place designed for chastising unruly children.
I am, and always have been, a stickler for detail. My writing takes me forever, because I spend so long thinking about where to insert semicolons, or end paragraphs and sentences. And, when asked to recreate myself in Crayola, I did so in earnest. In fact, I took it very seriously, carefully drawing the colourful plaid of my coat until it actually resembled the real thing. That’s what had been asked of me, after all. In truth, I spent bloody ages on it, but I enjoyed the process. I loved being creative and I especially loved to draw.
But, of course, the other kids were already adding their snowy dollops while I was still finishing off my coat, and my teacher grew concerned with my stubbornness; with my ardent belief in the thing I was making. She invited my mum in to talk about it. I suppose my teacher couldn’t understand why I didn’t just do away with the plaid halfway down the bodice, so that I could catch up with my peers and get it done with. But I only remember being confused by her apparent concern. I remember being spoken about as though I were not in the room; as though the coat had latched itself onto my brain, so that I was incapable of hearing or seeing anything else.
It was the first time I was made to feel different. I’ve quite often felt on the periphery of things. I grew up in a place where my tastes were rarely, if ever, reflected back at me; where my familial situation was deemed unusual (single mother, convict father). But I often trace this sense of ‘otherness’ back to that Victorian classroom, to the bewildered look on my teacher’s face.
Today, I celebrate strangeness, in myself and the people around me. My eye for detail helps me to write. My staunchness – and occasional stubborness – means I get things done, eventually. Even if I do spend hours thinking about those dastardly semicolons!
(c) Amber Hall, 2022
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