What Are Bubbles For?
Lily spent the morning with Esther and JJ going door to door checking on the neighborhood elderly, sick and several individuals who tended towards isolating themselves for one reason or another. Afterwards they inventoried “sun rise’s” main food pantry staple supplies and winter clothing shares. While they were making up some specific need boxes a group of very bored teenagers unexpectedly arrived and volunteered to do the much-needed basic inventory and organizing of the various home repair materials that had been supplemented by the salvage assault on the abandoned house. The group thus freed up a good part of the day for the three women.
The unexpected task relief left Esther, JJ and Lily somewhat at loose ends when they discovered that they’d done all they could in the current day’s equation. For a few minutes they debated going downstairs and helping out the teenage boys and girls sorting out the salvage mess. JJ squashed that notion by pointing out this was the first time about half the group had come forward to do anything and that their adult presence would probably upset the fairly positive cooperative dynamics currently in motion judging from the snatches of conversation they could hear coming up from the basement stairs. “I think it’s time we took a break and let them figure out how to do things. Let’s face it, the worst they can do is break the window glass down there. The rest is pretty indestructible. I want to finish reading the last hundred pages of The Mists of Avalon. It’s sitting on my kitchen table calling me. I don’t know about you two, but I’m going to accept this little gift of time and energy. Adios, lady-friends! You know my number in case of an emergency.” With that said, JJ hauled on her winter coat and made tracks across the boards to her home further up the street.
Esther stared at the yellow door as it closed on JJ. She blinked at Lily. “I want a bath. Yes I do. All to myself. Right here in the middle of the day with a few Katie Webster tunes to sing along with while I do some serious lavender soaking. Oh yes. Bathtub calling Esther direct. That’s where I’m going, Lily. I suggest you do the same.” She hugged Lily and took off in the direction of the two rooms and bath set aside for her and Anton’s privacy.
Left to her own devices in the middle of the hallway, Lily shrugged, pulled on her coat and returned home. For a moment she considered venturing to the second floor to see if Rosa needed a hand. The absence of sound coming from above signifying naps for the younger children and quiet time for the older ones impressed itself upon her. When the children were being quiet, Rosa was having a respite of her own. Lily headed into her apartment which seemed oddly still without any activity in progress. Sarge was out with Ricardo, Anton, and some other people doing indoor home repairs. She was far beyond caught up with her course work and she’d indulged in a long soak in the tub last night. It was strange feeling at a loss in her own place until she took a notion to put on Swingin’ Easy and just flop on the red velvet couch and listen to Sarah Vauhan while watching the dark clouds lumbering across the grey sky outside the windows. This turned out to be such an agreeable arrangement that she moved the record player and the box of lps to the table behind the couch so she had even less effort to put forth while doing her best to do absolutely nothing.
Lily drifted along with the clouds and music for the better part of the afternoon. For a time she even dozed off until the record player arm reached the end of the record and pulled her back to the present moment. Stretched out on the couch with her feet up on the backside she had just begun a new toe dance when there was a knock on the door. Without taking her eyes off her feet, she called out, “It’s open. Come on in.” She heard the door open and felt a swish of cold air from the hallway.
“Umm, hey, I don’t think I should do that just yet, Lily. “
Preoccupied with her little toe game, Lily didn’t bother rising up from the couch. “Suit yourself, Sarge.” As an afterthought she added, “Do you know what that funny smell is?”
“Umm, no.” Sarge stood in the open doorway waiting for her to look in his general direction. When she didn’t he coughed and cleared his throat. “Hey, ahhh, Lily, would you mind doing me a little favor?” He watched her left foot chase her right across the top back of the couch.
“Sorry, but I just have to ask. What the heck are your feet doing?”
Lily ‘s feet and toes immediately stopped all motion. “Ahh, just a little dance exercise coordination game.” Her feet disappeared from the back of the couch. She lay on her back looking up at the ceiling. “So, um, hey, how about coming inside and closing the door on the cold air and that smell.”
“Yeah, um about that. Do you have something like, I don’t know, maybe a couple of plastic trash bags or something like that handy?
“In the box under the kitchen sink, help yourself to whatever you need.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea just yet. Would you mind getting me one or two depending on the size?”
“Why? Did you break your legs or something?”
“Or something more or less covers it, me.”
Curious, Lily slowly rose up off the seat cushions and looked to where Sarge was standing in the doorway. “Why do you look like some sort of slimy claymation toy that just got put through a garbage disposal, Sarge?” She wrinkled her nose. “Ahhh yeah, unless my nose deceives me, you are the smell.”
“Funny you should say that, Lily. About the garbage disposal that is. Yeah, um, I didn’t go through it so much as it came back at me.” He looked at his shirt and pants. “Most of it is out in the snow, but as you can smell, it’s taken a liking to my clothes. I don’t think I ought to change in there. If you’d get a bag for the pants and shirt to set in until I figure out what to clean them with, that would be good. I could just leave the bag out here in the hall and then hightail it directly into the shower.” He watched her get off the couch and come warily towards him.
Lily looked him up and down and shook her head. “Shower? No way.”
“Ahhh, okay. I get it. You don’t want this stuff messing with your old drains. But I know I can keep that from happening with one of those little strainers you use for skimming scum off the top of the soup.”
Tentatively she poked at the sticky gunk on his arm then on his cheek. “That’s a good idea, Sarge. A strainer would work pretty well. I’ve got a couple of smaller ones that might fit in the drain. But, um, I think you’re going to need some serious soaking time in the tub.” She gestured for him to bend down so she could touch his hair. Upon doing so she withdrew her fingers and grimaced at the goo sticking between them. “Okay. Trash bag coming right up.” She went to the kitchen and came back with a large black plastic bag. “Here you go. Okay, I’m going to start filling the tub.” She started towards the bathroom and turned around when Sarge protested.
“Just a shower. It’ll be quicker.”
“Yeah, um, Sarge, I don’t think quicker is going to get that sticky muck out of your hair or off your skin. You need a bath.”
“A bath? Huh? No. Lily, wait.” Hearing the sound of water running in the bathroom he shook his head then began removing his clothes and stuffing them into the trash bag. By the time Lily returned he was down to his socks and underwear. “Well at least the socks and boots aren’t soaked in this muck.” He looked at Lily. “There’s nothing on my feet so we’re good on that account. What do you think?” He looked at his arms and legs where he could now feel the gooey residue hardening on his skin in the cold air.
Lily just waved him inside in reply and shut the door behind him. “Get in the tub already.” With both hands she shooed him towards the bathroom making sure he didn’t take a detour along the way.
When he baulked at getting into the tub she mistook his resistance to her presence in the bathroom. “Oh get over it, Sarge. Off with the boxers. You haven’t got anything I haven’t seen before. Come on, get in the tub. Let’s see if some lemon juice cuts through that goo. If it doesn’t we’ll try some vinegar and baking soda next.”
He looked at Lily then at the tub and frowned. “Yeah, ahh, you know I’ve never done a bath before.” He reached down and swirled the rising hot water with his right hand. “Um. This seems a lot like getting into a pot of boiling water on the stove. You know how they cook lobsters live? How about we just do the shower and see how well it works? Ok?”
“Oh come on and get in there already. Do you see me standing here with a bowl of melted butter just waiting for you to turn bright red so I know you’re done cooking and ready to eat?”
Sarge stood up and looked at her and around the bathroom. “If it was breakfast time I wouldn’t put it past you.” He tried to back away from the bathtub. “What’s with all those bubbles? Where’d those come from? Lemon juice doesn’t do that in water.”
“You’re serious? You’ve really never had a bath before? Not even as a kid?”
“Not even as a kid. I’ve been in a pool though. That’s sort of the same thing. This is a lot smaller. And it’s hotter. This is more like the sink I threw my brother Mark into the last time we fought.” Sarge shook his head as he looked at the large, deep old bathtub. “I know it’s just water. Oh hell. First time for everything, I guess.” With one hand on the rim of the antique tube he carefully put in one foot then the other. Very carefully he lowered himself into the tub while tensely frowning. “I think the hot water is making the smell worse.”
“Why am I not surprised at that. What the hell was down that garbage disposal drain pipe anyway?”
Sarge flicked his fingertips at the bubbles floating on the top of the water. “I don’t know. Never smelled anything quite like that before. But there’s like five older kids in that house. They’re in that stage just before they become teenagers. They might have mixed up something weird just for the heck of it and put it down the drain to see what would happen. Maybe a science experiment from school or something like that.”
“Maybe they were trying to make one of those volcanos. Kids get a kick out of making them explode.”
“Oh yeah? Well this one blew big time in the disposal. I’m not the only thing that smells worse than a dead squirrel in the street on a hot day. That entire kitchen is major nose kill zone now.” He sniffed his hands. “Come to think of it, that is just about what this smells like. Those little buggers are not going to like the payback coming their way. Oh yeah. I’ve got plans for them.”
Lily sniffed his hair. “Dunk your head and let’s try the lemon juice.”
“What?! You mean like put my whole head underwater? No way! ”
Lily looked at him and nodded. “Yeah, like put your whole head in the water. You do it in the shower all the time. What’s the big problem?”
“No, I beg to differ. It’s not the same thing at all! You’re telling me to give myself a damn swirly.”
“A what? You mean like sticking your head in the toilet bowl and flushing it?”
Lily leaned sideways and flushed the toilet. “There! You’ve got surround sound to get you in the mood. Now shut your mouth and hold your breath and get your whole head wet!” Seeing him starting to build up steam to resist this notion, she put both hands on the top of his head and pushed just enough to get him sliding downward on his own. Once he was under the water she quickly scrubbed his scalp with her fingers then let him up. “There now you’ve had a Lily swirly and you’re still breathing. And stinking.”
Sarge sputtered and shook his head. “Ooo you’re in a pushy mood, aren’t you, Lily?”
“No, I’m in a I-don’t-like-this-stinky-smell-mood, Sarge.” He watched her warily as she poured lemon juice concentrate from a bottle into a plastic cup, showed it to him then tossed it into his hair. Getting the distinct feeling he wasn’t about to submit to another dunking, she used the cup to pour more water into his hair. Lily stared at then tested a gooey mass with her fingertips. She poured some lemon juice straight out of the bottle onto his head. “O yeah. Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s your lucky day, Sarge. Whatever this smelly shit is, the lemon juice is cutting it pretty good. First we kill the goo then we’ll deal with the smell if the lemon doesn’t do it in. Hang on. The end is in sight.” She went to work on his hair with gusto. “See, nice bathtub. Right? Nothing to worry about. It’s not like this is a Roman bath with a fire under it to warm the water. There’s just the hot water heater over there in the corner doing its thing. Relax. Enjoy yourself.” She caught sight of the jar of her favorite blend of dried flowers. Taking hold of it with one hand she thrust it at him. “Here, play with this while I chase the gunk.”
Sarge took the jar, opened it and sprinkled some on his arm. “Definitely helps with the smell but it’s not doing much in goo removal department.” He eyed the quart sized open bottle of lemon juice on the floor. Letting his hand drop down, he quickly picked it up and poured half of it over his arm and into the tub without Lily being aware of what he was doing while she extracted a sticky mass from the top of his head. “Traction. Oh yeah.” He surprised her by suddenly immersing his head again and swishing it back and forth underwater briefly before coming up for air again. “Okay, that’s enough of that for bath number one.” He wiped the water off his face with both hands and took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Leaning back on her heels, Lily let him relax. “Why didn’t you have baths as a kid?”
“Would you let six boys who constantly fight with each other anywhere near a tub of water like this? The word ‘drown’ comes immediately to my mind. Need I say more?”
“I’m getting a certain picture.” She looked at him and shook her head. “Didn’t you ever get along? You all had to give it a rest sometime, right?”
“No. We did not and still do not. I don’t think we can either. We seem to set off some sort negative chain reaction in each other. Or at least I do with them and vice versa.” Sarge lifted a handful of bubbles to look at them closely. “Hey, these are kind of neat with the way they catch the light.” He looked at Lily and with total sincerity asked, “Are they supposed to do anything?”
She nodded, leaned forward and blew them off his hand and into his face.