The faucet continued to leak, despite his best efforts to the contrary. He had tightened both knobs as much as he could to no effect. He had under tightened them, to the moment before they would start producing water. That didn’t help either. Instead the only sound in the bathroom was the steady drip drip drip as the faucet contributed its percussive commentary in the otherwise silent bathroom.
He watched the drip from between his knees, the only part of him other than his face that broke the surface of the tub. Under the water, the sound of the faucet was all-encompassing, the heartbeat of the water, a pounding rhythm that served as the counterpoint to his own inaction. For every drip, he’d take a breath, until the faucet seemed to be dictating the rhythms of his life more than his own heartbeat.
At first he was so fixated on this constant reality, narrowed to a single sound and motion, that he couldn’t begin to process anything else. But over time, as the sound grew more insistent, he heard the knocking that came from outside, the alien sounds from the great beyond, a sharp erratic rat-a-tat of someone insistently knocking on the bathroom door.
He rose above the water slightly, ears exposed to the air, cold and bereft of the womb-like comfort of the bath. And indeed, here in the open space, the door sounded loud and shrill. He longed to sink back into the water, but knew that he couldn’t fully retreat. No, the invasion would continue until he finally relented. Better to face it.
“What do you want?”
“You’ve been in there forever. I need to use the bathroom.”
“Then use the bathroom,” he said. “I don’t care.”
The door opened and with it came a blast of cold air from the outside. He instinctively sank into the warm, inviting water. “Shut the door,” he snapped. She shut the door behind her.
“How can you stay in there so long? Doesn’t your water get cold?”
He didn’t answer her. She was questioning him just to nag, not out of any sense of genuine curiosity. He had done this enough that she was well familiar with his ritual of slowly draining off the water and refilling it with fresh, hot water when needed.
He heard her move over to the toilet and sit down. He didn’t bother opening his eyes. There was nothing new to see here. He did keep his head above water enough to clearly hear her, should she speak. He felt that was enough consideration.
“How long are you going to be in there?”
“No idea,” he said softly, a monotone murmur as he tried to focus on the drip of the faucet. Hard when she was speaking, when he could feel her pointedly looking at him. He wasn’t ashamed of his nakedness, that would be silly at this point, but the focused attention disrupted the calm watery dissolution of self he was seeking. “As long as it takes.”
“As long as it takes for what?”
He couldn’t begin to put what he was seeking into words. So for a long while, he didn’t answer her. She didn’t seem too interested in hearing an answer anyway. But finally he spoke up, raising a hand to gesture to the faucet.
“The faucet leaks.”
“Well, you should probably fix it,” she said.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said, trying to compose his thoughts. “I lie here and I can hear the dripping of the faucet, but each drop doesn’t really amount to anything. I can’t tell that the faucet’s dripping. It’s never enough to make the tub overflow. Each drop is singular, eventful, but in the end it amounts to nothing.”
“What are you even talking about?"
“You asked what I was waiting for,” he said. “That’s my answer.”
There was a pregnant pause. Silence. The sound of the faucet dripping began to fill his thoughts again, a small, insignificant plok plok here above the water. He opened one eye, squinting against the light, looking over at her sitting on the toilet looking at him and through him, lost in her own thought.
“Haven’t you gone yet?” he asked her.
“I’m getting there,” she said. “You make me nervous.”
“I know,” he said.
“I’m not talking about nervous about using the toilet in front of you, either.”
“I know,” he said again.
He could almost hear her mentally grasping for a response. He let her writhe on that answer, closing his eyes again. He hesitated a moment, seeing if she’d say anything else, but then slid back down into the water again.
The numbness, the warmth, as welcoming as his oldest friend.
The drops of water, loud again, the steady tick of the clock of the universe.