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the Woman kneeling by the Tub

The woman kneeling by the tub wears nothing but a pair of narrow black-rimmed glasses. Her chin tucked she’s looking only at her hands folded one over the other in her lap. On the white tile floor beside her an oval copper tray and on the tray a gold plate and a bone knife, a white plastic funnel, a rehoboam pitcher filmed with a milky residue. Beside the tray a stack of thick white folded towels. The bathroom about her’s large and lined all in tiny white hexagonal tiles, the lines of grout gone dark with age and grime. The tub sits on its four clawed feet on a low blocky pedestal at one end of the room, beneath a window of frosted glass, blackly blank in all that white.

Her nose twitches shifting her glasses. She doesn’t lift a hand to scratch. Her face has been carefully painted, her lips an exaggerated Cupid’s bow in a thick bright red, her eyelids brushed with gold over dark long lashes. She blinks. Her nose twitches again. She doesn’t look up. Her hands don’t move from her lap.

The tub filled almost to the brim with water motionless strung with ropes of something viscously white. A woman stretched on her back submerged eyes closed her black hair drifting loosely tangled curls about her head and shoulders, tendrils looped over her face, her breasts, along her arms. Her hands float limply either side. A bubble of air creeps from one nostril to shiver a moment before its release, blundering up and up through fronds of dark hair and strands of white stuff slowly, so slowly, until wobbling it reaches the surface of the water clinging there to its underside a moment before breaking the silence with a tiny crack. The woman by the tub blinks rapidly behind her glasses but does not lift her hand, doesn’t turn her head. In the tub the Queen’s hands move now, slowly, stirring, tangling, shredding the ropey strands to milky clouds about her fingers. Her head rolling slowly, so slowly from one side to the other, eyes still closed, lips parting just enough to release a mouthful of smoke, reddish, brownish black, and where it billows in the water the milky ropes pull back, away, break apart in the water that’s begun to slosh against the sides of the tub, water with a greasy sheen. The Queen’s eyes open then in the water, in shock, in terror as her mouth opens around a great gout of the stuff pouring out of her. One hand breaks the surface of the water with a splash reaching for something, and the woman kneeling by the tub does not put out her hand to grasp it, does not look up. The Queen braced on an elbow now hauling her hand back down out of the useless air pushing arcing her back up and up the water sliding from her face pulling her hair back with the weight of it her mouth still open throat jumping eyes still open searching as water streams from them as that stuff the color of old blood drips from her mouth and nose down her cheeks, her throat, across her breast and shoulders. The water in the tub darkening, clearing. A tearing retching gasp and the Queen begins to breathe, head jerking, chest heaving, a foot squeaking against the tub as she tries to brace herself, and the woman kneeling by the tub has closed her eyes, and her hands in her lap are folded together.

“Anna,” says the Queen. “A towel.”

And now the woman by the tub leans forward, lifts a towel from the pile and shakes it open, handing it to the Queen, who wipes her face, her mouth, her chin and throat. “These will have to be burnt,” she says.

“Ma’am,” says Anna.

The Queen stands, letting the soiled towel fall to the tiles. Anna hands her up another, and she scrubs at the sticky stuff along her shoulders and arms, her breasts and belly. “Sluice it clean. Do not let it into the drains. Pour it into buckets and tell Cragflower when you are done. He’ll know where to take them.” She drops the towel and lifts a foot to the edge of the tub, and Anna kneeling again dries it with another towel. “Ma’am,” says Anna. “All of it?”

“It’s gone brackish, and sour,” says the Queen. “We must simply gather more and try again.” Her foot cleaned and dried she steps to set it on the tiled pedestal, and lifts her other foot dripping from the tub.

“There’s nothing to be done?” says Anna, rubbing it clean.

The Queen kneels there on the pedestal beside her, plucks away the stained towel and drops it to the floor beside them, takes Anna’s face in her hands. “Scrub yourself when you are finished,” says the Queen. “Be most careful and thorough. I’ll not have you sickened.”

“Ma’am,” says Anna.

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M.E.Traylor    3 September 2010    #

Whoaaaa. I wonder… I wonder… I guess I’ll see.


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