New Short Fiction Award
Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.
Trudy Carpenter of Northport, Michigan is the winner of the twenty-third Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on March 10, 2010.
Trudy Gordon Carpenter retired from community college teaching in 2005 and began a new career in fiction. To date, she has published three pieces in the North Atlantic Review, and one piece in Survivors. She has also completed the 954th draft of her first novel, A Lesser Fault.
“Girl in a Bathtub,” by Everett Shinn, 1903
Bumps Out Then Bumps Back
One black leather pump hides under the sofa; the other skidded behind the front door, keeled over in shock. Stockings lie limp on the carpet, slim legs broken, and shrunken feet awry at the heels, pale rungs shred up the thigh, as jagged and useless as fear. A gold chain lies coiled like a snake, broken beyond repair, not sparkling, just stunned.
In the bathroom, water gushes wild and wide from the metal spigot, creeps up the sides of steep white porcelain an inch at a time, swirls with thick steam and current from the source, a dank basement room, a mystery pumping system, a light hum in the pipes and a bill at the end of the month. She squeezes her lashes then twists the tap shut. Leg poised, she dips a foot until it reddens, inhales a moan and jerks back, exhales and steadies herself as best she can on a floor she waxed. Tiny drops like beads of mercury slip off her foot and pool together, seep toward low molding at the wallpapered wall. She waits and remembers to breathe, pulls it in, blows it out. If she forgets, it will stop.
The second foot creates an eddy in the tub, rings wider and wider, rebounding at the sides, careening back. She drops the other leg from above and tips her head down at the neck, watches the surface slice her calves clean, under the knee and wavering, paler and wider below than above. She lowers her bulk to a slippery seat, grasping the rim with both hands and sloshing the liquid close to the edge. She stretches her legs and stares at the toes, so far away and huddled, maybe not even hers. Her body seems foreign. She knows it from somewhere, but where? A tinge of pink rises at her lap, swirls up and around, as impossible as smoke, as careless as crime.
When she leans back, the bulb above stares her down; its bright eye burns til she blinks. Arms shrink to her sides, and hairs spring up like coils. The walls slide away. Just in time, she remembers to breathe.
She sees the white blouse, now missing some buttons, and her new blue wool skirt in a pile where she peeled them, like a snake sheds old skin. She will cart them arms-length to the trash bin under the kitchen sink, bury them under wet coffee grounds and wilted lettuce, strangle the bag with a metal twist-tie, and hurl it outside. But now she touches her neck, feels the burn where the chain jerked away. She presses her throat with her palm. A sob threatens up, but she swallows.
She cradles Pears soap, first nestled in its cardboard box, fresh from an emerald isle shes never seen. Its amber luxury, almost opaque, oval and smooth as an egg, too bulky for one hand when new, now slivered by use to thick glass. She lifts it to her eyes and looks at the shower head high above, its holes staring down like black eyes, flat as tar, cruel as pain. When she closes her lids, the image remains.
The doorbell rang and she answered. That was her sin. Not even original. She shudders and squeezes her fists at her sides. Glycerin gives and moulds to her grasp.
She glides the silk bar around her mouth, and again, over lips, tasting its smell, high sweet tang of citrus in the sun, then slopes it up her cheeks, across her forehead, behind her neck. Up her right arm, swirling tiny hairs. Then up the left, a matching limb. Toes, one at a time, between thumb and forefinger. Soles of both feet, up the arch, to the ankle that aches from the fall. Each hand ministers to the other side, tidy bilateral arms, legs, shoulders, feet, hands. She shudders. Did she lock the door?
And then she sinks back, sloshing recline, her belly rounded and soft, smooth and still. Her hand crosses the line from brown to white, tanned souvenir from before-this summer days in the garden. After-this will never be the same. Her breasts lie flat as dead fish with one eye. And then she washes the thighs, up and down and back and forth, the suds skimming foam. Then. There. There. She lurches once, and bitter bile skids to the floor.
The Pears escapes and bobs, skitters here, now there, back near, set free. Pale fingers chase, touch and miss, touch and miss, melting more of its sum with each run.
She sighs and slides her head under. Hair floats like algae around submerged rock, waves back and forth, near and far, like memory. Silence always echoes in a watery grave. She holds her breath and listens. Did she lock the front door?
Surfacing, she blinks. Then, closing her eyes, she sinks, waits in her dark for the water to cool to no-feeling, the high window to lighten to dawn. Pears floats by her leg and sideswipes the tub, bumps out then bumps back.