I heard him running the bath in the second bathroom down the hall. We’d spent a lot of time there, after dinner and before bed. He liked to wash my hair and soap me down with a fluffy sponge and sometimes even shave my legs for me, which was kind of sexy because it was nerve-wracking (I was always worried he was going to nick me, though he seldom did).
And we would talk.
At first I thought it was just going to be an occasional romantic gesture, but when I saw that he was making a ritual out of it, I was slightly concerned. The reasons for my concern are entirely my own baggage: bathtime with Dad was one of my (only) happy early-childhood memories of the man. For some reason, he got a big kick out of it. I had lots of bath toys and we always used Mr. Bubble:
He’d sit on the toilet lid or get a chair and we’d make statues out of the bubbles and bubble hats and throw foam Nerf balls back and forth and splash around, fun stuff like that. Sadly–but necessarily–that had to end when I got older. I don’t remember how old, but I was still pretty little. Dad said that he was sorry, but I was getting too old and it wasn’t appropriate anymore and I would have to bathe myself from now on. I was sad and disappointed, but, on some level, I understood what he was saying.
So, this nightly after-dinner bath ritual struck me, at first, as kinda paternalistic (honestly, though, I do have to wonder if that was his entire motivation, but I never had the balls to ask if he was trying to deliberately do the boogie-woogie all over my Daddy Issues), and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be comfortable with it. Additionally, my bathtime is my alone-time, and when I’m with him, I didn’t get much privacy.
Well, it turned out to be fine. It was easy for me to get over my minor hangup, and he really seemed to enjoy doing it, and we’d have fun. It made me feel cared about. I even let him take some photos of me in the water, as long as I was in poses that concealed everything, which I would normally never let a man do (one of them turned out so well that he blew it up, had it professionally matted and framed, and hung it in the hallway close to his bedroom).
Plus, it would put me in a nice relaxed mood for when he beat the snot out of me during the sex later.
Tonight, bath time was no going to be so much fun.
I worried that he was up to something when he told me he’d draw the bath himself–I was the one who did that. He had a huge copper tub and it took forever to fill.
Finally, I heard the water turn off. He walked back into the dining room and told me it was almost ready, go wait in the bathroom.
I stood up stiffly from the table and walked nervously to the bathroom.
The tub was full of water, all right. As usual.
But there was something different. Something…off.
I looked in the mirror above the sinks.
There was no condensation on the glass. No steam in the room.
The water was not hot.
He strode into the bathroom carrying an enormous bag of cubed party ice from the freezer. In front of my unbelieving, horrified eyes, he tore open the bag and dumped the contents into the water. Then he balled up the bag and put it into the waste container.
“Bath time!” he announced happily.
I’d been through icewater torture once before: Heinrich & Co. made me sit in a steel vat of it while they interrogated me the first day of Abduction Weekend. Believe me, that shit’s no joke. It was horrible, and I was not eager to re-create the experience, especially for no fucking reason (Abduction Weekend had a point).
“Nope,” I said.
“I don’t want to. This is cruel and unnecessary.”
“It’s my prerogative.”
“It’s not safe.”
He reached into his pocket and took out a mechanical egg timer he’d brought from the kitchen. “You can do ten minutes. That won’t hurt you.”
“Don’t make me do this,” I said.
“Margo,” he said, lowering his voice, “Do you really wish to turn this into a more serious confrontation? We can put all of this behind us in ten minutes.”
What this boiled down to, for me, was: Do you want this punishment, or what’s behind door #3? Because it’s not this, it’s going to be something else, sooner or later. He wasn’t going to force me to get in the water. He wasn’t going to pick me up and dump me in, though he was certainly strong enough to do that. I could tell him to fuck off, get my purse, and go hole up in one of the spare bedrooms that had a deadbolt on the door. He (probably) wouldn’t try to stop me.
But then…then I’d have to wait. For the other shoe to drop. And, almost certainly, unless he had a change of heart after sleeping on it…he’d be plotting.
Because it’s not over…until it’s over.
Be as stoical as possible, no matter how much it hurts. Don’t break down, don’t beg, and don’t panic. Don’t give him the satisfaction.
“This is a stupid thing to do for a man who needs my trust,” I said, and started to undress with my back to him. “Later, you’ll feel like an idiot.”
I looked over my shoulder to check his reaction. One thing that most of the men I get involved with have in common is that they think they are the pinnacles of human perfection in this world. They are not used to being called idiots. Rebukes to their judgement really throw them for a loop.
His mouth was open–I’d bet anything he was going to add more time to the timer as a penalty–but he seemed to think better of it and didn’t say anything.
I approached the tub and looked down at the water. It was deep, with a layer of ice cubes bobbing merrily on the surface.
“Start the timer,” I said, and stepped into the bath.
It was freezing, but not so painful on my legs. It was when I lowered myself into the water that the shock of the cold hit. I yelped and hissed in breath. Couldn’t be helped.
My skin broke out in gooseflesh all over and started to flush red almost immediately.
He pulled up a chair and sat, crossing his legs. Front-row tickets to the show.
How can I describe it for you…? Ten minutes in icewater feels like a very long time. Long enough to suffer, but not long enough to go numb. I started to shiver violently and when he handed me a bar of soap I had difficulty holding it; it kept squirting out of my shaking hand and I’d have to rummage around on the bottom of the tub to find it. The ice cubes clinked against the copper walls. My nose ran and my teeth chattered.
He watched me intensely but didn’t speak. He didn’t need to. I knew him well enough to know what he was experiencing: he was aroused by my distress and playing it cool for the time being because he needed to be in control of the immediate situation. The sexual overtures would come later, when this was over.
He didn’t tell me to wash me hair, which was a small mercy. Most of my hair got wet anyway, but I would not have wanted to drop my head into that water.
The bell on the egg timer chimed.
Very carefully–because I was shaking all over–I grabbed the edges of the tub for support, stood up, and stepped gingerly over the side. I didn’t let go of the tub because I was having trouble straightening my legs and I was concerned about whether I’d fall down.
He watched me get out and then finally stood up and fetched a big fluffy towel from the rack. He started to rub me dry with it. I wanted to snatch the towel out of his hands and tell him that I’d do it myself, but, like I said, I was still unsteady and I also didn’t want him to hear my voice while I was still shivering.
“Brave girl,” he said. His voice was gentle now. “Can you walk?”
I shook my head. Snot was still running out of my nose. I wouldn’t look at him.
“Here,” he said, and wrapped the towel around my torso. He bent, put his arm under my knees, and scooped me up. “Let’s put you under the blankets.”
I hadn’t wanted to go to his bedroom, but I’d already capitulated on so much, and was in such a sorry state, that insisting on going to my own room seemed like a lost cause.
He carried me down the hallway and put me into “my” side of his bed, covering my damp, shivering body with the white down comforter. When he covered me, I turned on my side away from him, looking the other way.
He left and came back with hot tea and a big bottle of water for me, laying them on the nightstand table. Then he lowered the lights with dimmer switches and sat on the edge of the bed by my body and stroked the top of my head, which was peeking out from under the blanket.
“Where I was born, we heard stories about trolls who kept treasures of gold underneath the ground. They guarded their treasure very jealously. You are like a rare treasure, kept beneath the earth. There are not very many like you.”
And, like myself, reader, you may make of that what you will.