Rooms of Water (Ajar Press, Summer 2016)

Rooms of Water

In a tub, one evening, she steps out and quickly wraps a towel around herself and he asks her, why? Why has she stepped out so fast, so determinedly; why is she behaving like this? And she turns her head, her body still facing away from him,
            ‘You wont remember any of this.’
            And she turns away from him and steps into the cold bedroom, the air conditioner a hum in the room. She sits on the floor next to the bed with the towel wrapped around her tightly, trying not to think, trying to get on with the next step: drying her shoulders, then her calves, wiping the drops off her face, slipping on her clothes, stepping out of the hotel, taking a taxi home, falling asleep and forgetting him entirely.
            But she can’t get up, she can’t take the next step, not while knowing she has him there.
            She feels caught; caught between walls in a space she only too easily remembers and she curls herself tightly and waits to move or waits for him, waits for something.
            Her lungs feel squashed inside her chest and she feels like she is sipping small breaths of air. She reminds herself to breathe. She closes her eyes.
            She is water. She is water. She is water.
            And then she hears him move in the tub and the sound of water runs through the pipes as he lets the bathwater out. She wants to apologise, wake up and go to him, slip her arms around his wet shoulders and lay her face on his bare back as he stands still, perhaps angry with her, gone into one of his silent rages.
            She closes her eyes.
            She is water. She is water. She is water.
            Eventually he steps out of the bathroom, shuts the door behind him, a towel slung across his hips. He sees the top of her head, walks toward her and sits at the edge of the bed and sighs. Water drips onto the carpet. They say nothing. Then eventually with her chin drawn against her knees, she starts, ‘You will forget. You will forget all of this. You wont remember.’
            As if the moment contained no importance, no weight, as if she could not lose herself to this because the memory of it would be too vague for him and too distinct for her. The importance of this moment, its reality, depended on the importance of its memory later.
            She refuses to let this stain her.  She gathers her face, catches the edges before they fall.
            He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand this anguish of hers. He doesn’t understand that she knows even as the moment is happening, even despite all his good intentions, the moment is being lost. She knows this. It’s all a waste. What is the point of playing roles and investing this much if nothing will come out of it? These things, these hotel rooms, these moments are supposed to be steps to something significant but he refuses to follow the steps, only retrace them. He doesn’t understand this. All he knows is that he wants to be here right now, that he wants to hold her in his arms. That is all he knows and he wonders if he will ever understand and she wonders if she can ever explain.
            They circle, hover like vultures, unsure of whether to pick at bones or continue south.
            She sits, cold now, shivering. Wondering what she is doing here. She wishes, more than anything for the strength to stand up, for the strength to get up and just leave. Not to upset him or prove anything to herself.
            Just to do it because it is Right.
            He leans forward and puts a hand on her shoulder and that is all it takes; she feels weak, wants to swipe his hand away and hold him close at the same time and the confusion makes her feel sick. She stays still. Keeps her eyes closed. Dreams of water. He climbs down next to her on the floor; takes her face in his. And presses his forehead to hers. It feels like such a natural action but she fights against feeling anything, even though she knows she will return to it again and again later. She leans in, give in, as she always does, this giving space, this bendable creature, who will always make space in herself for him. She softens, rests her head against his, lets his hands fall around her and they sit like that for a moment and she tries not to think this moment is sacred because he will forget, and she will remember and nothing is sacred if it can be forgotten.
            (She is right. He will not remember. It takes him only a month to forget. One day in the future he remembers a shadow of it. It is a feeling that he cannot place; a shape with a dull outline that he grapples to fill in; a drawing of plans to a house he cannot recall even though he senses its importance.)
            But as she had predicted, she remembers. The drops on her shoulder. The forehead against hers. The hum of the air conditioner. The sound of water in the pipes. She is still sitting in the room, knees drawn to her chest.
            She closes her eyes.
            She is water. She is water. She is water.

(Originally published in Ajar Press, Summer 2016 issue.)

Posted in Ajar, Loss, love, Shubnum Khan, Vietnam, Vietnamese, water.

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