Bath Day

Written by Hope Silver

Translated by Krystyna Steiger

Edited by Nicole Powell

Before the mirror in the women’s bathhouse, she recalled the day when, as a five-year-old, she’d come here for the first time, along with her mother.

“Mom, everybody here is naked, let’s go home,” she said, tugging on the hand of her mother, who was clattering the zinc wash basins and mixing the water from both taps: hot and cold. Over the din of the basins and the sound of the pouring water, the woman didn’t even hear her daughter’s plea.

The little girl was terribly shy. It seemed to her that everyone was looking at her. The floor was so wet, and she was afraid to take even a single step. 

“Let’s go,” said her mother, grasping her hand and, taking baby steps, the little girl obediently tiptoed along behind her.

The steam room was huge, with a tall oven and rocks that hissed when water was splashed over them. The girl couldn’t see them, because they were high up, somewhere, and it seemed to her they were hissing rattlesnakes, puffing out murky billows of poisonous steam.

“Mom, I’m scared,” she whispered and tightly squeezed her mother’s hand; the palm was wet and sticky. Her mother’s reddened, naked body, covered in drops that trickled down her skin, one after the other, elicited a strange feeling in the girl: with no clothes on, she’d become unfamiliar, resembling all of the other women in the steam room.

The little girl examined each of the women closely. They were so varied... Fat. Skinny. Young and old. The old ones impressed her most of all. Their skin resembled bedlinen that had lain, crumpled, for too long. It was so strange and out of the ordinary!

An elderly woman, who was splashing water onto the rocks with a long ladle, was very gaunt, as though she were shriveled up. She resembled a dry twig on a tree on which, for some reason, somebody’d hung a hat.

“Mom, what does the lady need a hat for? Could it be that she’s cold?” asked the child.

The women in the steam room started to laugh.

“Of course not,” replied the woman with the ladle. “It’s just nice to put on a cap in the steam room, so the high temperatures don’t ruin your hair.”

“And aren’t you afraid to ruin yours?” the girl asked her mother with interest.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” the mother replied with a smile.

For the rest of her life, she recalled her mother precisely so: smiling and damp, her curly hair dripping with moisture. Fate did not allow them very much time together: ; the mother’s next sky diving trip took her away from the little girl. The odd sense of estrangement from her mother that arose in her then, in the bathhouse, never left her. When this damp, laughing, lively face appeared before her dry, powdered up and serious, she still didn’t understand what she was feeling...

Because of the bathhouse excursions, having become regular, something strange hatched in the little girl’s soul, relating to the human body. Curiosity mingled with shame, when at the age of 13, her body began the irreversible processes of transforming to womanhood. She was terribly self-conscious of her sweaty underarms, of the little hairs starting to grow on them, and there, too, where she’d always secretly looked in the bathhouse, trying to keep her gaze unnoticed by anyone. Behind her father’s back, she used his razor and painstakingly shaved off every single one of them. The young, adolescent girl was especially embarrassed by her small, protruding breasts, about which she could only do one thing: hide them under loose clothing. The agony of growing up continued for over a year and, sometimes, the girl even thought she was happy her mother was no more: there was nobody forcing her to go to the bathhouse in which, right now, she’d likely be burning with shame. 

But she wasn’t an ugly duckling for long; a few years later, her figure was the envy of many a classmate. The childish self-complexes were behind her and, when she was home alone, the 17-year-old would undress, put on some music, and dance, reveling at her reflection in the mirror. She appeared very beautiful to herself. And it really was so. There was no end of suitors for the girl. Her father was already tired of telling the especially annoying ones, at her request, that his daughter wasn’t in.

In her last year at the university, her girlfriends persuaded her to accompany them to the bathhouse. The experience of that first bath day washed over her like water from a basin. It was the very same bathhouse to which she’d gone with her mother, but the old, zinc basins and the harsh, frightening streams of hot and cold water were gone. All of the women she looked at seemed familiar: as if they were the same as those 15 years back. There was the fatso with the funny toes. And there was Baba Yaga with the mole on her nose – she was terribly afraid of that mole when she was little. And this, it seemed, was the same woman who’d added steam, tossing scoop after scoop of water over the sizzling- hot rocks, only she was even more shriveled.

‘Will I really be like that, too, one day...?’ she thought, glancing into the locker room at a feeble, little old lady with two elongated, dried-up breasts, coiling each of them into the cups of her bra with a habitual action.

A sense of impending old- age firmly lodged itself in her head.

Once again, she started visiting the public bathhouse regularly. For some reason, she needed to see these elderly women: with ossicles on their toes, arthrodial knees, and blotchy and wrinkled skin. 

She didn’t want to socialize; she only watched, trying in vain to imagine herself in 40 years.

Now, seeing an old woman in the mirror, resembling the one who was dried up as a twig on a tree, she envied the fate of her mother – that she’d never ended up the way her daughter saw herself reflected in the mirror. Withered, wrinkled, alone, and of no use to anyone.

Her own relationship with her husband had failed from the start, and her daughter had quickly become a stranger and left home at 17, having hurled harsh words at her: “You hate me for being young and beautiful, because you’re getting old.” Worst of all was the fact that much of what her daughter had said was true.

Old and wrinkled, with knobby knees and ossicles deforming her toes, and sagging breasts resembling a pair of just-laundered rags, the 80-year-old woman stood before the mirror in the bathhouse locker room and, in the reflection, she saw a voluptuous, curly-haired beauty – just the way she remembered her mother.

“Shall we go?” she asked, smiling and grasping her daughter's hand.

Taking baby steps, the old woman obediently tiptoed behind her.

Copyrights © 2015 — 2024
Hope Silver (Nadezhda Serebrennikova)
Publishers:  Evolved PublishingThurston Howl Publications