Ghost in the Bathtub
April 30, 2010
posted by caroline picard
what follows is an excerpt from WOOF.,
“Want to go to the dead prostitute’s house?” Fletcher asks, pointing to an abandoned mansion on the corner.
“Sure,” said Anna.
“That one that’s boarded up?” asks the Plunk.
“Yeah. It’s boarded up because the prostitute died in the bathtub.”
“Is that true?” Tobias sounds doubtful.
“Of course it is,” Fletcher snaps. “I’ve lived here long enough to know. I’ve got a friend in the police force.”
“Oh yea?” Noi sneers, “Who’s that? Fucking sickko.”
“Quit hating all over the place,” Fletcher replied.
“Don’t be a hater,” Anna says. “Hater.”
A four-story house, teetering on the edge of the historical district. It has three entrances, each boarded by plywood, obscuring the Victorian trim.
“I know how to get in,” says Fletcher. “It’s easy.” He leads them to the front door but stops short. He leans against the house, bites his cheek and touches the plywood where a doorknob should have been.
Dave kicks the plywood in where the door was. “Oh,” he says. The board falls down with a full stop.
“There we are,” says Fletcher, entering first and disappearing into the dark.
“Let’s go,” says Noi. “Come on. We’re leaving.”
They leave, Coat, Dave, Plunk—Plunk lumbers and stumbles down the street.
“Leave your bags here,” Fletcher says. Pointing at the front door.
“But someone might—” Tobias protests.
“They’ll be fine. You don’t want to carry them, do you?” Tobias watches them disappear inside, as if swallowed by the house.
Tobias, sets the bags down gingerly, follows Anna, enters the house last. He follows the dim glow of Fletcher’s Indiglo watch.
“Your watch is phosphorescent,” Tobias says.
“It’s like we’re at sea and you’re a wave or a flushed toilet.”
Under the reflection, Tobias could see Anna’s blue peach fuzz on her chin. “Whatever we do,” he whispered, “we can’t split up.”
The first floor is plain and bare. There is little beyond the emptiness to look at: boarded up windows and even the kitchen stripped of all its appliances. The counter tops bare and skeletal.
They follow some stairs into the basement. Kitchen utensils scattered and broken in the dirt, Tobias sees a single misshapen shoe and a bed cover coming out of the earth. He barely makes out a patchwork of seventies polyester prints. It rises out of the ground and stands stiff, with five folds that almost look like the fingers of a misshapen giant rising up from underground.
“Did the prostitute do this?” Tobias asks.
“That bitch,” says Anna.
“She gets angry sometimes and there’s no one to talk to,” Fletcher explains.
The basement is a maze of concrete pillars and white plaster walls; a tomb without windows. The air is chilly. Dust hangs in equilibrium and clings to any surface.
“Fletcher, where are you going?”
Her form recedes. “I don’t know,” it says.
“We have to split up,” says her faraway voice, “it won’t be creepy unless we split up.”
“It’s already creepy.”
“Did you find anything?”
“Old dog biscuits. Whole box.”
When Tobias bumps into his brother, he moves away like a particle. He can’t see where. There is a trench on the left with a pile of loose dirt beside it. There is a shovel sticking out of the loose dirt. He strains his eyes to see in the dark but only sees shadows—variant shades of dark that created a landscape of unliving things—dirty castaways, broken plates. The milk bones crunched under shoes. He walks towards the darkest place, her hands stretched out in front of him.
“Bastards,” he scoffs. He picks up the shovel. Scrapes the bottom of the trench, holding the shovel with only one hand, the effort ambivalent and pointless. He drops the shovel but it doesn’t make any noise when it hits the ground.
It is black inside the trench. He feels the cold damp earth air rising out and touching him. He could hide in here as a joke. He should crouch. That’d be funny if then they couldn’t find him after he came all this way. Probably someone had been digging for pipes. It is only knee deep. He couldn’t see any pipes. He feels a lump of something under his tennis shoe and decides it’s a dead mouse. Something curled into a rigid ball with some give to it. It could be a squash ball. Its eyes probably eaten out. Dead rubber or fur and bones. The chill crawls up the back of his neck. Back cramps. He shifts the weight onto his knees. His knees ache. He’s lost track of the others. He hears different sounds. It sounds like a bird sneezed. Probably something else. He loses track of the mouse, skin crawling. Everything black. He closes his eyes, but it doesn’t matter. It looks the same. In front, behind, left, right, faraway and close: all the same. He teeters, puts his hand out for balance, not thinking. When his fingers don’t touch the ground, the earth, his heart stops. A blinding light of panic shoots through the back of his eyes. Gags a moment, fingers nevertheless feeling fur on the hummock, despite his disgust he pats it, trying to discern what type of animal in the darkest part of the trench behind him, he imagines the mound is something dead. Maybe what Cassie would feel like after she thawed. Because he cannot pull away, he leans in, straining to see, imagining any moment something with teeth will spring from the afterlife, grip him by the throat and take him into hell!
Inches away, it doesn’t smell anymore. He feels an edge, realizing suddenly it’s a rug. A piece of shag carpet.
It’s more scary when there seems to be nothing.
In order to avoid that nothing, Tobias leaps up, scrambles out of the ditch and pisses in a perceived corner. Hopes his shoes aren’t wet.
He won’t tell about the carpet. They might make fun of him.
“Let’s go back upstairs,” he hears Fletcher say—spots his watch, a firefly.
“Where’s Anna?” Tobias hears his own voice; it feels faraway and weak.
“She’s not down here?”
They hear a thump upstairs.
“She’s messing with us.”
“Unless it’s the dead prostitute.”
“We have to go see!” And then adds (because Tobias hit him upside the head as a joke),
“Upstairs I think…maybe she’s D.E.A.D.” Fletcher laughs maniacally.
“Then kids would come see where she died.”
“She’d be famous,” Fletcher says.
“Let’s go find her.” They climb to the first floor. Tobias in the back. He keeps checking the darkness behind them.
“Maybe she’s in the bathtub,” says Fletcher, “Spooning a corpse.”
“That’d be creepy. I don’t like that idea. Anna?”
They stand in the plywood foyer, waiting, non-committal, the second story stairs before them. It feels like they’re standing in a clammy shadow.
“We should go get her,” Tobias says. “ANNA?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“But what’s she doing up there?”
“I don’t know. Who cares.”
“What if something happened to her?”
“We’d hear her crying.”
“What if she died?”
“Then it would be silent.”
It was silent.
It was Fletcher’s turn to call, “ANNA?”
“Yeah?” her voice closer than they had expected.
Tobias could hear her smiling. “Anna, is that you?” He imagined her: one hand on the banister, four steps from the ground.
“Of course it’s me, dumbass. Who else would it be?”
“But. How can you see in this dark?”
“I eat carrots!” her voice lilting, triumphant. Moving farther away from them again.
“Now where are you ?” Tobias asked. His voice betrayed panic. “What are you doing?”
“I’m pissing. Shuttup.”
The smell of urine creates another point of reference. Piss, Plywood, dirt and Fletcher’s watch.
Fletcher clears his throat, “Didn’t find the dead hooker, huh?”
“Nope. But I did find the bathtub.”
They hear her zip her pants.
Anna appears, suddenly, at arm’s length. Suddenly close.
Under the cast of Fletcher’s watch her face looks blue, spectral and floating; reflecting an insecure light. Around the halo of his wrist the foyer looks infinitely large and endlessly receding. All sound hushes around the silent house. There is an in-breath and an out-breath where gusts of breeze find cracks to slip through and tussle the intruders. The house makes a breathing sound as plastic flaps pull in and out of the windows. As Anna comes closer and closer she regains the entirety of her form—shoulders, chest, arms, torso, legs and, at last, feet.
She is smiling and Tobias smiles too.
Outside finally, Tobias is once more harnessed with the weight of his bags—they are situated in his preferred position, the backpack over his chest, the duffle slung over one shoulder. They all of stand in the street under a street lamp barely lit, they stand with hands in their pockets. Orion is above them, static and remote in the sky. Cars drive past.
“The prostitute broke my watch,” Fletcher says. Its face was blank. He holds it to his ear. Shakes it. “Nothing, see?” He shows them. Shakes his head. “That wench.”
“You didn’t pay her.” Anna shrugs.
“You would take her side.”
“What’s on your pants, Fletcher?” Tobias points.
“I don’t know.”
“It looks like shit.”
“The prostitute shit on my pants!”
They laugh. Anna the most. “I think she won, Fletcher.” She punches him, grinning.
“You should have paid her, I told you.”
“I didn’t know what she wanted.”
“Can we go yet?”
“Can I wash my pants?”
“Fuck, guys, we’ve got to get out of here. I’m fucking hungry.”