When I looked in the mirror I was surprised to see how bloodshot my eyes were. I’m pretty sure I slept the night before. Pretty sure. But who really knows anything for sure in this world?
I washed my face and dried it on the faded blue towel that always hung on the circular shower curtain rod above my cracked tub. Six and a half months here, and I’d yet to take a bath in that footed monstrosity. I’d considered it half a dozen times, but whenever I reached to turn the taps on, an image flashed through my mind of the landlord finding me in a puddle of bloody shards when my downstairs neighbors called about their ceiling leaking.
So no baths for me here. I washed my hair in the kitchen sink, and if I really needed a hose down, I went over to a friend’s house with some excuse about the water pressure at home. Nobody cared; I didn’t stink at work or anything.
I took one last hard look at the tub before turning and heading out of the bathroom to get dressed for work. Something was off about it. I don’t know. Maybe something was off about me. I shrugged it off for the thousandth time.
I’d forgotten about the spaghetti sauce I spilled on my jeans last night at dinner. I work on the phone, though, so it doesn’t matter too much what my clothes look like as long as they cover all the parts that people like to be covered. I thought I smelled something off when I slipped the fresh polo over my head, but that could have been anything. I picked it up from the cleaners yesterday on my way home. It had to be fine.
I stuck my head in the bathroom to check on the tub once more before I left. I didn’t know why it was on my mind so much today. I still don’t. Probably never will. It was still the same, same gray cracks crazing the white porcelain coating, same clawed feline toes gripping the black and white tiles. I thought I might be losing it. Pretty close to the truth.
One of the homeless people I pass every morning turned her head to follow me with her eyes as I passed. I usually give her change, but I didn’t have any on me today. I could feel her eyes crawling on my skin, their burning intensity growing with each second her gaze stayed with me. I took the next corner to get out of her sight, not caring that I’d be making myself late to work.
“Do you want to sell that?” A woman in a secondhand shop’s doorway reached out to grab me by the arm. I was momentarily confused until she nodded down to the leather satchel I carried. I shook my head and pulled away from her before she could sink her claws any deeper. The day was getting stranger and stranger as it wore on, and I didn’t know what I could do about it.
I checked over my shoulder to make sure she hadn’t followed me, and the smell I’d caught the barest whiff of when dressing was back, and stronger now. It reminded me of raw meat, but I wouldn’t have put my shirt next to any. I didn’t even buy any yesterday, and I’m fairly certain that the dry cleaning lady is a vegan. I remember seeing her behind the wheel of a Prius with some vegan bumper stickers once.
I reached back to rub my shoulder where my bag was beginning to wear heavy and touched unexpected wetness. I pulled my hand back to have a look, and it was bloody. I stopped, and tried to lift my collar and twist my neck enough to have a look at my own shoulder blade. I didn’t feel any pain, but the blood had to be coming from somewhere.
Underneath my shirt, I didn’t appear to have any wounds at all. I looked up, searching for something, anything, that might have dripped this thick redness on me, but I didn’t see anything unusual. A blind man leaned out of his window on the second floor, but he had nothing in his hand. I supposed he could have dumped a cup of blood and then put the cup down, but what kind of blind man would be able to do such a thing with any kind of accuracy?
He paid no attention to me, anyway. The blind man’s clothes were dirty and disheveled. Maybe he was a squatter. But I was only distracting myself from the bigger question at hand. I reached around again, but my shirt was dry. For now, the smell was gone. I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples in small circles, trying to ease the pounding that was beginning in my head. I turned around, giving up on work. My boss would understand.
I gave one more glance at the blind man, but he was gone, disappeared into the apartment to do who knows what, the delicate floral curtain left to flutter languidly in the faint breeze coming down the street.
The secondhand shop was closed when I passed it by for the secondhand time, oddly enough, the woman who accosted me nowhere to be found. The dust and dirt from the street had built up on the stoop so thickly that I doubt I had truly seen her at all.
I felt a sudden sharp pain in my left arm, and when I looked down, the blood was already dripping off my swinging fingertips, spattering into meaningless patterns on the sidewalk both fore and aft of me. I squeezed my eyes tight, then opened them again, and the blood was gone. Heading home may not have been the wisest decision I’ve ever made, but I didn’t want to commit myself to the loony bin just yet, thank you very much.
The homeless woman was missing as well. I didn’t question that; I don’t think I could have dealt with another second of her stare.
I ran up the three flights of stairs to my apartment, key in hand, but my door was ajar when I made it there. I pushed it open with one hand. The place felt empty, but who was I to trust my own instincts anymore? I went straight to the bathroom as if pulled by an invisible string.
I haven’t left the tub in days now, but I’m still afraid to turn the water on.