I step into the tub for a shower.
Ahh. A greyish black speck against the perfectly smooth, white surface of the tub.
I was bound to notice. Everything else was bleached clean, sparkling, sleek, shiny and fragrant. The slender faucets glinted in the recessed lighting, complexly designed yet pretty in the light that came in through the spotless, transparent shower curtains. Everything in this space was designed for perfect control from the temperature of the water to the force of the jet from the showerhead. A smell of heavy, synthetic fruit from green plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner overwhelmed the senses with promise divorcing existence from the brutal wintry day outside in its sweet entrapment.
A speck it was indeed, quite out of place in this dazzling white cube of perfection. For the person who occupied the tub, the roof was perfectly angular in the corners, the tiles sparkled white, the tub was cleverly contoured and the plastic shower curtain sparkled.
Just like the city outside with its perfectly clean river and its hard, glittering skyline full of metallic jagged angles and spikes on a sparkling clear day brutally cold like this one.
There was no wind here in the tub. Yet the speck moved.
Or was it my imagination? Had my senses been muddled in this bitterly harsh winter moving constantly between temperatures outdoors and indoors?
I knew that in the city outside, the cold could preserve old, black dirt in the heart of new, sparkling water frozen solid and deadly on the roads and in the drains and in potholes gorged out of the concrete of the city roads by ruthless ice. Yet, even on those wintry days, in the apartments and the shiny malls and super-clean office buildings the billowing heat indoors from the vents could bring in dry, desert heat where people basked in indoor sunlight next to pools high up on glass skyscrapers and in indoor gardens where the dust and sounds and pollution of the streets below could only skim the limits of memory and imagination.
And in here, in the shower, despite the cold outside, it was back to the warm, wet, humid tropics.
But no. As I step into the tub, the little greyish-black cobweb-like speck does move. From where I stand, in the light and shade of the shower curtain, I can imagine its hands and feet and tiny wings for the first time.
For the first time, I can imagine The Speck trying to dig itself out of the scrape that it has gotten itself into having ventured out of the gutter. The gutter of the tub is well protected outside with shiny metal trappings where I can see it but dark and stained, as guttery as they come on the inside. I know because I saw a repairman open it up once when he had pulled out a big clump of hair at the end of a metal hook.
This thing, whatever it was, must have traveled through all that hair and dirt and soap scum to reach all this bleached whiteness here.
The speck moves a little more energetically. But it is out of its depth in all this cleanliness.
I watch. At first, the surface is too smooth and without any tiny bumps or cracks for The Speck to use as landmarks to tell direction. It slips repeatedly. Yet, with unmistakable instinct it climbs closer to the edge of the tub as though it knows.
The Speck is unmistakably alive.
What can I do? I can’t wait forever.
I turn the tap on with the knob at “cold” even though I know the only way for The Speck to get out of all this suffocating beauty is only to get back into the gutter. Yet, this thing is alive. It still slips its way steadily and hopefully further and further away from where it came from.
All that distance traveled is only a joke to me. It isn’t even as big as a single step.
And now the cold water rushes towards the gutter. At the same time it rises closer and closer to The Speck.
Yet, I hope, I hope somehow that a wave of water will drive The Speck upwards out of the tub. Perhaps The Speck will feel the vibrations and find the strength to climb out quickly outside the sphere of my temptation.
Or perhaps it will spring sudden wings and fly out.
If it does, I shan’t interfere. That is all decided.
But The Speck does not know how to use a chance when it has one.
At first, it seems confused. It moves towards the water instead of away. Yet, it does not seem as though it wants to die. It’s agitated by the water. What did it expect? It rushes back and forth and back and forth along the same little lines towards the edge and then back again.
Towards and away, towards and away, towards and away it goes in a tangle so tireless that I myself feel tired watching it in all this suffocating hope and beauty and silent noise of life and hopeful death.
So admirable yet so disgusting in this bathroom after all.
Can I help? Should I? Do I dare interfere with fate?
Can I live with the guilt?
The cold water has almost reached The Speck. I take a longish back scrubber with a wooden handle and try to give The Speck a push. It ought to be grateful.
The Speck resists help. Or perhaps it cannot determine the bigger danger. It crawls away, now neither towards the edge nor the water but in a completely different direction. It has decided to try something new yet again.
I know I can squish it with the wooden handle and put an end to all this redundancy of life right now. I need my shower.
But I switch off the cold water and I wait.
I sit on the tub and crouch forward. I must see The Speck’s tiny feet as it begins its tedious climb up the side again. Again and again and again its little feet start the climb and then fall backward. Again and again and again I can see its beady eyes fill with hope in my mind’s eye only to be dashed and then reappear again.
The tub is too new and smooth and white. It eliminates the sense of time and direction and distance for The Speck and I.
The sound of the exhaust is overwhelming. This heat is dizzying even though it’s sub-zero temperatures outside. All the cold and ugliness outside can kill. But so can the heat and hypnotizing cleanliness inside.
How many more times can The Speck climb? When will it stop?
All the cold water has drained out. Yet I need to take my shower. The Speck has slowed. It seems to have gotten tired now. Yet it isn’t completely still. It isn’t willing to give up. Its leg still tries a last drag towards the edge in a parody of hope.
I try to straighten from my crouched position. If I can only get far enough, The Speck’s hands and feet and movements are imaginary. It’s a speck once again. A piece of cobweb. A speck of dust. A fragment of metal from the gutter. A bit of grey thread.
The Thread has had its chance. I have had my chance.
I have tried. I have tried enough. I have tried it all.
I set the water at “warm.” I turn the tap on. I cannot be here forever. I have dug myself into a hole wasting time watching passing things. I must take a decision. I must wash away this piece of thread and complete what I came in here for. I must stay clean. I must complete my shower. I must keep trying to get through the day.
Because a harsh, cold, brutal New York winter awaits me outside.