Posted by on January 8, 2017

The Shower Curtain

Written by Christopher Malone

Illustrated by Polly Lin

November 12, 2016

The Shower Curtain by Christopher Malone & Polly Lin

Aaron,

Leaving you this note is all the courtesy I can muster. I should’ve done this a long time ago.

-Gwendolen

 

Drip

I wake up. It takes a minute to realize it, but she isn’t in bed. It’s early, I’m groggy, and things aren’t really clicking yet. When I do register my wife’s absence, I untangle myself from the sheets and stumble through the semi-darkness toward the kitchen.

Drip

I enter the kitchen, expecting to see her quietly sipping tea. She likes to do this sometimes. She’ll wake up, fix her cup with hot water from the tap so that I won’t be awakened by a late night hissing teapot, and she’ll sit quietly in the darkness, drinking her tea. Now, however, the kitchen is empty.

Drip

There’s no Gwendolen. There’s no tea. There is only a slip of paper with my wife’s scrawl on it. It’s probably a shopping list, but I pick it up and read it anyway. My eyes are still bleary, and it takes a minute to focus. When I do, my stomach clenches, now a knot.

Drip

Dear sweet Christ. Her constant drama and the frequent threats were supposed to be in the past, but old habits die hard and I hear myself breathing the words, “Here we go again.” I pick up the phone, aware of dull anger stirring in my sleep-deprived brain. I call her mother.

Drip

“Hello?”

“Hello, Mona. Would you please put Gwen on the phone?”

“Aaron? Jesus, do you have any idea what time it is?”

Drip

“I don’t really want to do this right now. Could you just put my wife on the phone?”

“I would if she were here. But she’s not. Not this time, anyway.”

“Well, if she’s not with you, then where is she?”

Drip

“I don’t know, Aaron, but she’s not with me.”

“You haven’t heard from her at all?”

“She hasn’t called me in days, and honestly, I think you have something to do with that. . .”

Drip

I hang up on her, mid-sentence. I’m really hanging up on a conversation that I’ve had to sit through over and over and over again. I can feel myself getting worked up. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves, but they’re shot, and I slam the phone down onto the table.  It breaks. Fuck.

Drip

I can’t help where my mind goes now. This is how it always happens. I imagine the worst. I see her doing all of the things I’ve always suspected. It makes me sick. I head straight for the door. I know I’m in my underwear and my feet are bare, but I think I can catch her if it’s not. . .

Drip

. . .too late. I reach for the chain lock as I turn the deadbolt and it hits me; how could she leave the apartment if the chain lock is still on? It’s not like she could’ve left the apartment any other way. All of the windows have bars on them.

Drip

The knot. My stomach. A geyser of acid, climbing up the back of my throat, burning my esophagus. I make a break for the bedroom and burst into the adjoining bathroom, just in time to fall to my knees and wretch into the toilet. Thank God the seat was already up.

Drip

It’s odd to be sick and be thinking of something else when it’s happening. I think most people would just focus on the experience of vomiting, just trying not to make too much of a mess. My mind is on the toilet seat being up. It’s an innocuous detail, but I don’t remember leaving it this way.

Drip

The vomit burns and doesn’t take long to get my attention back. It ends rather quickly, and when it does, I push away, vaguely aware of the tears in the corners of my eyes. I wipe my mouth and try to compose myself. Then I notice. . .

Drip

. . .that the bathroom light is on, but I didn’t turn it on. In fact, before Gwen and I went to bed, I was the last to use the bathroom. I had shut the door, and the toilet seat was down. The light was off before I shut the door.

Drip

I’ve become fully aware of the dripping noise in this bathroom, steady and rhythmic, but easily ignored in the chaos of vomit and thought. Now that my back is against the wall, I have to acknowledge it. I look up at the sink, its faucet gleaming in the fluorescent light, bone dry.

Drip

I’m focused on the sound now. It’s not the sound of water hitting a porcelain sink. It’s soft and muffled, the sound of water hitting water. Save for my heartbeat, it’s the only sound penetrating the still of this moment.

Drip

I turn to the tub with the overhanging showerhead. I see that the curtain is closed. This is very curious. I replay the events of tonight. Gwen goes to bed early. I shower, brush my teeth, and so on. When I leave to go to bed, I leave the door closed, lights off, toilet seat down. . .

Drip

. . .and the shower curtain open. It should still be open, but it isn’t. It’s been pulled across the tub, put on full display. I can’t stand the sight of it, this ugly sea-blue thrift-store thing with pink flowers splotched all over.

Drip

It hasn’t lost its faint chemical smell that comes with all brand-new shower curtains, fresh out of the package. Pretreated to defend against mold, mildew, and general decay, it’s a giant sheet of Formaldehyde. I hate that smell. More, I hate the dripping noise that’s behind it.

Drip

I am reluctantly piecing things together, working toward a final solution. The room grows smaller, my mind flipping through the facts. Leaving me a note was all the courtesy Gwen could muster. She should’ve left me a long time ago. But how could she leave with the chain lock still in place?

Drip

I have to open this curtain. I have to see where that noise is coming from, to see what Gwendolen should have done a long time ago. More than anything, I have to see why she’s been able to stay so quiet while I was throwing up next to the tub that she might be soaking in.

Drip

I turn to my left. I want to gently pull the curtain back, and I take a breath to steady my nerves, but they’re shot so I rip the curtain down and off its rod. She’s there, floating in a sea of red, eyes closed. A single drop of water grows fat and falls into the crimson pool below.

Drip

It makes a small ripple that hits her big toe, sticking up out of the water like a buoy. Unsure of what to do next, I reach for and tighten the water valve to the faucet. The last bit of water collects, swelling just big enough to make me wonder if it will fall.

  1. Glen Donaldson
    March 25, 2017

    Dripping with tension, foreshadowing and suspense.

  2. 2017
    April 26, 2017

    Soundtrack & Album Index, by Album Title

  3. curtain
    April 26, 2017

    Rediff.com: Online Shopping, Rediffmail, Latest India News …

  4. 2017
    May 7, 2017

    The Village (@villagemsk) | Twitter

  5. 2017
    May 9, 2017

    Ireland – Finn Harps – Results, fixtures, tables …