I took a long shower. The hottest water I could stand. I watched the water make rivulets across my arms, my stomach, my shoulder. It beaded into these rivers on my skin. My skin was pale. I used the soap Mel had in the shower. It smelled faintly of lavender. The creamy lather was luxurious. I hadn’t felt that kind of luxury in a long time.
The room filled with steam. I stood there with the shower beating into my hear. Months of grime were sloughing off of my body, it seemed like. I did not want to leave. I turned around so that the water beat against my back. The showerhead was not particularly special. It sent out water at an average rate, but for me, it was decadent. I didn’t want to to turn it off. I could have stood there for days. There was that much to scrub off. There was so much to scrub off.
I abruptly had a flash of Eve’s skin. Of Eve entering the shower. Of her sliding her arms around me. Of drinking water from her lips. It came to me suddenly and I shook my head hard. The memory came as a surprise and a shock. Such moments creep up on us sometimes and we are unprepared for their effect. I didn’t expect to still remember so viscerally. As though my brain couldn’t help it. As though my mind were trying to recreate the moment, a moment I wanted so badly to feel again, to experience again in the flesh. A part of my brain knew it was impossible, but there is that part of the mind that refuses to cease to dream. That part of the brain that refuses to believe that it cannot mold reality into whatever shape it needs. That can even make us believe that reality is exactly as we want it, changing our eyes to make us see things that aren’t there, to feel things that aren’t there, to hear things that aren’t there.
I did not want to be one of those people. I wanted to live with my feet firmly planted in reality. I wanted my head to dwell in the clouds. They were softer. They were gentle and kind. They dissolved against my skin. They could transform. They drifted with the wind. I could have been a cloud. I wanted to be a cloud. I was a cloud. Eve was a cloud, and she was with me. I knew this. The knowledge did not destroy my insides. It comforted me.
Tears came, as they couldn’t help but come at such a moment. Eve’s memory was stronger here. I knew there would be moments when she would return and assault my senses. I pictured being in the diner again without her. I knew what it was like. But the world was different now. It had been months. There were new people there. I was new. It would feel different. I wouldn’t be afraid of it. I would embrace it. I would have to.
I wiped the mirror clean with my palm, thinking of how Eve hated when I wiped steam from our mirror with my hand because the oils would leave handprints and streaks on the glass. She was always strangely obsessive about such things. Humans and our particularities. She didn’t mind using paste to affix a news article to the wall but couldn’t stand a streak on the mirror. She always wanted to see her reflection clearly, she told me.
My reflection in the mirror, in this room still filled with the steam of my impossibly hot shower, told me that it was time to accept that something new was happening. That something new was in the process of coming into being. That I was coming into being.
I rubbed the towel hard into my scalp, drying my hair. It never took very long to dry. The towel was coarse. I left red marks on my skin as I dried myself.
I wrapped the towel around myself and breathed in the remnants of the steam. It hydrated my lungs, filled me with a kind of peace. It seemed healing. The scent of lavender soothed me. I pressed my nose to my arm and could smell the soap in my pores. I hadn’t smelled so womanly a scent in a very long time. I had only known industrial-strength soap in the last months. Citrus, sometimes. I wasn’t surprised that Mel used lavender soap. I wasn’t surprised that she was an artist. I wasn’t surprised that she kept extra towels in the bathroom.
I was surprised that she would allow me the luxury of this place, of being in her home with her. I wondered what inspired such kindness.
In a city where so many people are alone, where people are so often and constantly disconnected, I found that it was natural for people to offer kindness to each other. It comes quietly, and we don’t always see it when we aren’t looking. We have to look. We always have to look for more than the ugliness, we have to be more than on guard for pain. We have to be prepared to embrace sweetness. We are able to taste it for a reason.
I was asleep on the sofa when Mel returned late that night. I pretended to be asleep. I wasn’t ready to talk much more, I suppose. I wasn’t prepared for more questions or even for conversation. I wasn’t prepared to speak. I kept my eyes closed. The light turned my eyelids red over my eyes. I could see the small veins. I was surprised that Mel would turn on such a bright light.
I felt her sit down next to me. Her warmth seeped into the curve of my waist where she sat. I felt her gaze on my face. Her weight shifted as she leaned forward and brushed my hair out of my face. Her hands smelled of the diner’s vanilla soap. She was gentle. My eyes stayed closed.