Amaranthine And Other Stories
The Birthing Tub
Sean peeled a single strand of stringy, russet hair from his shoulder and caressed it between his wrinkled fingers. The bathroom tiles were decorated with grimy cracks. He stuck the hair on the tile, next to the others. Tilting his head, he studied the tokens with sorrow in his eyes. It seemed like the entwined hairs formed a mysterious map. A map to a better life, he wished. The hair did not belong to him, yet they lurked all over the cottage, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. Farewell gifts from Magda. How long has she been gone? Months? Years? Sean could hardly remember. She had robbed him of logic, as well as his heart. Nothing made sense anymore. Her departure created a void. The joy of living evaporated along with her. Time ceased to exist. Sean inhaled and submerged his head, bathing in the serenity of underwater silence. It brought him a temporary peace. He thought about Eli and how he was born in this very tub. Witnessing his birth was one of the happiest days of Sean’s life. He had to stay strong, if not for himself then for Eli. As long as he had Eli, he would find the strength to carry on living.
He exited the bath and reached for a stained towel. It smelled of neglect—dirt and mould. Sean could not remember the last time he swapped it. Another one of Magda’s hairs was wrapped around his wrist like a constrictor. You always were a snake, Sean thought, uncoiling the cruel reminder and flushing it down the toilet—if only he could flush his feelings along with it. He caught a glimpse of his skeletal reflection in the steamed mirror, resisting the urge to wipe it and reveal the full horror of his anorexic body. No, he already accepted his Auschwitz appearance. No need to torment himself further. There was nothing he could do. Sean had a beastly appetite, yet the consumed nutrients simply vanished. Magda used to envy his rapid metabolism. “What’s your secret? You can eat anything you like without gaining a pound!” she said.
Body dried, he slipped on his robe. A startled moth flew out of the garment. Sean clapped his hands, annihilating the insect with feline reflexes. Bastard! I’ll teach you to eat material from my robe! He washed his palms, watching the golden dust dissipate into the sink. Entering the kitchenette, he removed the chicken breasts from the freezer. What day was it? Tuesday. No, Thursday! It did not matter to Sean. His life had become a routine. Routine was important. After Magda’s abandonment, routine kept him sane. The microwave broke last month. It dawned on him how much time had passed since he’d last ventured outside. Shit, has it been that long already? Sean accepted a voluntary redundancy package the company offered him. He paid the rent several months in advance and stocked up on food. Frozen chicken, rice, beans, spaghetti, tuna, various soups—canned goods mostly. Quitting his job seemed irrelevant. His life had transformed into a game of dominoes since Magda left him.
She was the tip of the iceberg. She was the avalanche that buried his existence. Now he had to dig himself out of the snow. At least he had Eli. The loyal Eli. He would never desert him.
He sliced through the bag. The knife was blunt. Sean realized it would’ve been easier to rip the bag open with his fingers. Prevailing at last, he removed a piece of chicken. It still felt solid, even after leaving it in the sink to defrost for fifteen minutes. Oh, well. The damn thing will defrost when it’s cooking, he thought. Soon, the air in the kitchenette carried a smell of frying onions. Sean stirred it and returned his attention to the frozen meat. He reached for a sharper knife and began to cut his dinner into little squares, leaning on the blade with every ounce of his puny weight. The onion made his eyes water. Why was he still bothering with that fucking thing? Did he care about taste? All the accoutrements and exotic spices? No. His life was about survival now. Fuck the spices. But then he remembered why he still fried the onion. Because Magda told him so. “Every delicious dish starts with fried onions. That’s the base,” she explained. Her Polish creations often made him salivate. Sean did not argue with her culinary reasoning. Now he felt like tossing the brown mishmash into the bin. The wok trembled in his hands. No, frying the onion was part of the routine. He must stick to the routine.
Since the turbulent separation, Sean devoured an identical meal every night. Chicken breast with brown rice. If he felt brave enough, he hazarded a little honey or mustard to enrich the dish. Not tonight. He stared into the wok, stirring the mixture absentmindedly. How long was the chicken cooking? Five minutes? Ten? Without a clock in the kitchenette, he could not tell. He did not care, either. Food poisoning was the least of his worries. Magda had left him. That’s what mattered. Sean poked the chicken with a wooden spoon. The texture seemed rubbery. Maybe a minute or two longer, he thought. Drops of burning oil landed on his knuckles, a result of over-vigorous stirring. “Cock!” he shouted out loud, shaking his hand through the air. The rice boiled. He removed the plastic sack with a fork, letting the excess water drip into the sink. Satisfied, he emptied the contents onto his plate. Sean gave the meat a final stir and scraped it on top of his rice.
The chicken was undercooked. Sean chewed the tasteless grub from side to side in his mouth, resisting the urge to spit it out. You must keep your strength up. It’s about survival. The pain will fade. You must eat, he encouraged himself. Sean split the next piece in half with his fork. The shades of pink were undeniable. He carried on munching. It was all routine, even the undercooked meat. Every night he attempted to prepare the chicken thoroughly, every night he failed. “You’re a failure!” Magda said to him. More than once. His reply remained the same. “Only in your eyes.”
“Only in your eyes,” he muttered again. She often smirked. He hated that fucking smirk. It irritated him more than words. The contempt on her lips. The superiority in her eyes. Her slyness had frightened him from the beginning. It also served as a magnet. Magda’s intelligence was an attractive quality he could not resist.
“Get out of my fucking head!” he roared.
He needed a distraction. He needed Eli. He could always talk to Eli. Eli possessed the ability to vanquish these unwanted emotions. After dinner, Sean poured himself a generous glass of whiskey and collapsed into his Chesterfield chair. The chair was his throne—his sanctuary. It provided a sense of invincibility.
When he presided in his chair, even Magda could not challenge his authority. He sniffed the leather before leaning towards the aquarium—tapping a nail on the glass and addressing the floating thing within.
"I love you, Eli. You're my last friend on this doomed planet. How would I cope without you?”
The segmented body of the creature appeared lifeless. It nestled at the bottom of the tank, white and flat. He marvelled at the great length. Eli measured at least three and a half meters. Sean read that they developed at a rapid pace. Certain articles even claimed 1cm growth every hour. When Sean gave birth to him in the tub, Eli was already at an impressive size. He saluted his offspring and gulped down the amber liquid. Sean relaxed in his seat and reminisced back to that glorious day. His eyes lingered over the empty spaces she once occupied. Suddenly, he felt dirty. From the angry sex no doubt. Magda suggested it. “Fancy some break up sex? No strings attached?” she said. Always the temptress. She enjoyed torturing him, toying with his feelings until the bitter end. He nodded, intrigued by the lustful proposition.
Sean slipped his pants down, already hard. Magda stepped towards him, raising her skirt. The absence of underwear suggested she planned this in advance—even anticipating his answer. She did not kiss him. Instead, she reached for his cock and impaled herself on his erection. The sudden penetration swept his breath away. He experienced a new feeling there and then—a feeling of violation. Why was she doing this to him? Why the deviant treatment? She rode him with hate pouring out of her eyes. His heart ached with every thrust of her hips. After the farewell coitus, Magda raised herself from his lap and left the room. No words were spoken. No words were needed. She slammed the door behind her, disappearing from his life forever—in search of her own fortunes. What exactly was she searching for? Sean did not know. He only guessed that Magda searched for something more—for something he could not provide.