You lower yourself into the too hot water, stomach sucking in involuntarily as your skin contracts away from the scalding swirl. This ritual baptism has some alchemical effect on the brain - like someone dipping an idle finger into the pool of your mind and stirring its surface, allowing thoughts to drift upwards. The head-down task-by-task view of the day widens, pans, and we see glimmers of the horizon; we hope, dream, plan. The bath draws out existential aches, cools and soothes the fervent heat coursing through our blood as the steam drifts upwards towards the ceiling.
I have seen a thousand homes with my toes brushing the overflow hole between the taps - the baths of my life are their own glimmering seam on my timeline, a river running through my memory’s landscape. Friend’s faces giggling and looming with sweat, inspecting funny triangular boobs that have diminished in the heat. Secret hair-removal experiments with a chair pushed up firmly against the door of the family bathroom. Shared baths at uni, drinking beer with the lights turned off and whispering brave things. I have cried in the bath, hugged my knees and sobbed, naked and childlike - letting the water stroke me and wash my tears down the drain.
When you’re young bath-time is an hour of safety, certainty, sameness - a key refrain in the melody of our childhood. The gushing from the taps signalled the beginning of a little ritual of motions that ended in my slipping away to a place filled with dreams - discarded school uniform on the landing, little feet hopping impatiently on the cool linoleum, adult hands with rolled-up sleeves testing the temperature, leaping the insurmountable gap between the cold porcelain edge and an outstretched towel.
I have let the water swallow me whole as a hangover pounds through my body, head fully submerged, hoping to draw out the poison through my follicles. I have had baths of shame - holding endless conferences with myself over evenings filled with regret and covered in hard kisses. But the bath welcomes you anyway and quietly cradles you in its cool porcelain - cleansing, whispering. It holds you in a state of floating utero; safe and surrounded.
Some immutable truths about the bath:
There are two types of siblings - tap end and non-tap end. I think tap-end kids are a special kind of interesting
The water will always be too hot until you lower yourself in and discover a layer of cold water underneath
You’ll always leave your book on the toilet seat just out of reach
You’ll always abandon it after 5 minutes anyway to stare at the ceiling
So long live the bath - it is the heart of my home no matter where I am and the river running through my days no matter what happens.
Written and illustrated by Jess Bird