Wiping steam from the mirror, Gordon was able to glimpse his wet head for only a moment, noticing the further encroachment of skin towards his hairline. Then, the steam came back. Damn.
This water is fucking hot. There are no bones about it. Gordon always let the water run for five minutes before hopping into the shower each morning. Sheri used to scream at his blatant waste of heat, but he had always fallen back on his argument that it was an unbreakable habit, one grown at Colgate University as a counter to the constant invasion of ice-cold water as morning routine stipulated toilets should flush whenever Gordon was in the shower. The pains of being a freshman become arguments for life.
Now, however, the water was just too damn hot. Gordon moved to the shower and turned the knob. Round and round…round and…round. It wouldn’t stop turning. Gordon frowned. He would have to call the plumber today, set aside a four-hour block of time on Saturday, his one solid day away from the office, or church, or care for Sheri. That just put a crimp on relaxation. It was all part of the latest routine, though. Nothing in this house seemed to work right any more. The AC kicked on in the dead of the winter nights, and the heater–well, thank God for flannel pajamas and blankets. Mother taught him well.
He turned the knob a few more seconds, then, after a moment’s thought, moved to the “COLD” knob. SNAP! It popped off, cracking into pieces into the tub below. He reached into the rising water–only to pull his hand out. Is that water boiling? Where is the cold water?
He slid his hand under the new, high pressure stream emitting from the “cold” knob, and felt only blistering hot water. He held his hand in his towel, and looked down. He had forgotten to remove the drain clog. Dammit, Sheri! She had always done this, afraid of bugs or spiders crawling through the drains at night, ready to needle their way up her leg if she tried to go to the bathroom. Everyone has their habits. La-di-da.
Gordon looked again at the stream of water shooting from where the “COLD” knob was a moment ago, and couldn’t imagine a worse time for this to happen. He was due in the conference room 8 AM sharp. That was how it’d always been on Fridays, ever since he instigated the half-days.
He reached for the door, only to find another setback: another broken knob. Without the knob to unlock, the bathroom door remained tight as a drum – another well-built security caution thanks to Sheri’s paranoia. What else could be wrong with this house? He imagined a haunted mansion, knobs falling off like baby teeth in the night. What would you do with the knobs, leave them under your bed so the monster could take them as payments and not chase you? As a child, Gordon refused to leave his teeth under his pillow, afraid of the hideous, gumming Tooth Fairy, just as his sister was scared of the dark. He imagined the Tooth Fairy as a stunningly frightening woman who could wipe out a block of men with her eyes–but her smile was full of gums, gnashing together, bleeding as she tried to shove in all the baby teeth she collected in the night. Each of the teeth would jut in different directions, were filed to sharp edges, each with the name of a child who was eaten, devoured. Gordon wondered if the children were boiled first, or just eaten raw.
Gordon plowed his shoulder against the door, and coughed from the steam. He swiped the mirror again, but it steamed over almost instantly. He looked in the tub. The height of the water was growing, constant, foreboding. A flood in the bathroom? Are you kidding me? Come on, Gordon, get out of here. This is ridiculous. He shouted for Sheri. He screamed her name, but could barely hear his own voice over the power of the shower behind him, the sound of the water bubbling and pouring forth, the stream of water from the empty knob striking the wall, peeling the paper.
He decided to go for it. He stabbed his arm into the boiling water, crying out against the burning, the pain. He tugged at the clog, for a moment wondering if it was glued to the floor. Then, just as fast as the pain rushed up to his shoulder, the clog broke free. His hand flew through the air, fingers, reddish purple, clutching it tightly. He shook, trying not to move his arm, acting as if it were asleep and any movement would send sharp needles through his body. He stared at the drain…but the water only continued to rise.
Panicking, he shoved the door again, kicking and punching…but it did not open. He felt the situation close in, as if in a bad horror movie, another never-ending sequel to SAW. He wondered if a man would pop out of the tub with a riddle and a stopwatch, a ten-minute clock, spouting an elongated math problem that is frustratingly simple. He envisioned a digital timer in the bathwater, just for giggles, while Sheri watched from another room with a gun to her head, the string around the trigger tied to the hinge of the door that Gordon was trying to kick open.
He kicked again. He felt the door give a little. He picked up the back of the toilet, the porcelain slick in his hands. He swung hard, at the top of the door–busting the fake-wood like it was stale cheese. He punched out the top of the door, and looked over the jagged edges. A marble end-table blocked the bottom of the door; Sheri’s favorite piece of furniture, a piece she’d inherited from her mother.
Gordon began to climb out the top of the door, and stopped halfway through, his naked belly caught on the shards of wood, and his right hand now incredibly purple and numb. He dropped back into the bathroom, slipping on the floor. As his head crashed against the toilet paper roll, he felt a burning sensation along his left shoulder. The boiling bathwater was dripping and splashing over the side of the tub.
The steam coated the air an opaque white, teasing Gordon’s vision. He saw before him a mountainous journey from his new spot on the floor to the hole in the door above him.
Gordon scrambled to his feet, and went to kick the door again. He decided to take his time, remembering his father’s motto – “haste makes waste.” He breathed, “Om, Om,” and released a burst of air and energy as the boiling water brushed his toes. This was it, one last attempt. He pumped his leg and kicked. Again, the door remained still.
Gordon sat on the toilet. He wondered who put the end table in front of the door, and also how long it would take until the hot water ran out. He suddenly glanced at the bottom of the door. He anticipated the rising hot water to pour out the bottom of the door, down the stairs. Hopefully, the water would cool down enough for Gordon to hack away at the door, something he just didn’t have the strength to accomplish now.
But a funny thing happened. The water did not escape. It just kept rising. The absurdity of the situation implied that there was no hole in the bottom of the door to begin with, that this was all just a hallucination for an overworked Gordon.
He decided to scream for help after taking a moment to close his eyes. The swirling steam granted him a dizziness not unlike inebriation, and the air was think and heavy. He shut his eyes, only for a moment, and told himself to concentrate on plowing snow from the driveway in winter, or eating ice cream cake on Sheri’s birthday, or the feeling of their son’s ice cold hand as he lay dying after finding Gordon’s gun under the bed. He thought of Sheri’s blank, cold stare as she sat catatonic in their bedroom, no doubt listening to the water stream across the bathroom.
He stared into the bathtub, not two feet away, as hot water continued to spill over the side of the tub, feeding the new puddle on the floor. He stretched out his legs, and felt cold needles under his toes as he leaned forward to watch the bubbles pop, to watch the steam rise and the burning particles under waters as they broke from hot to just a little cooler at the surface. He closed his eyes and cleared his nostrils, allowing the steam to take over completely.
He heard a small splash, and felt a burst of warmth surround him before sudden, frozen darkness. His body seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as the sound of the streaming water cut off, and the air, instead of feeling thick and heavy, became a liquid rush of warmth and comfort down his throat, into his lungs. His body became numb, and he imagined his wife waking up, turning to face him, and grinning. He imagined his son laughing and waving, dog paddling through a pool.
In the next room, Sheri blinked into consciousness once again. She grinned at the pile of laundry on the bed, at the hammer and wrench hidden under the pile. She called the plumber.