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Lavender Baths

     You can cure a depressive episode by filling your bathtub with lavender-scented water, turning on the type of soft indie music that sounds like it belongs in a coffee shop, and sinking into the tub until your earlobes are underwater. This last part is crucial, though—if your ears aren’t hitting the water, it won’t work.

     I should know, anyway. This is the third time I’ve used this tactic this week.

     George is becoming concerned. George is my cat; he wasn’t supposed to be my cat, but the folks who lived in the apartment under me left him behind when they moved away, and I felt too guilty to leave him to fend for himself. I know George is becoming concerned because he isn’t just sitting on the toilet lid and watching the bubbles in my bath pop with half-shut, olive eyes, as he normally would. Instead, his paws are on the edge of the tub, and he’s peering warily into the water, as if he’s wondering when the tub permanently became lavender-scented and -stained.

     Lyle is becoming concerned, too, though Lyle is always in a state of concern. Lyle is not another cat; he’s my boyfriend. I guess he’s technically my fiancé, but that word bothers me, so I call him my boyfriend. He only marginally minds.

     Lyle is not concerned because this is the third lavender-scented bath I’ve taken this week. In fact, he’s an aggressive advocate for “self-care,” so he supports it. He even bought me a small vial of rose-scented bubble bath in case I get sick of lavender. (I haven’t, but I appreciate the gesture.) He’s concerned because my path from the front door after I get home, to the hook in the bedroom where I hang my book bag, to the bathroom and the linens closet where the towels are kept, is completely silent. I no longer say hello when I walk in the front door. Instead, I make a beeline for the tub or for the dresser drawer where I keep my pajamas, and I get to work at getting cozy, like I’m a robot whose function is to do exactly and only that.

     Still, Lyle usually sits on the bathroom floor next to me and asks me about my day. Sometimes I answer him, sometimes I don’t. My days are boring—how many times could he possibly want to hear that I went for a walk, scrubbed a clean kitchen even cleaner, and spent the morning sipping the same old cup of coffee at the café downstairs?

     This time I twirl my big toe in the water, distracting George just for a moment before he goes back to warily watching my face. The question inevitably comes from Lyle, who has settled down with his back against the tub and a mug of chamomile tea in hand. I hate the smell of chamomile tea. “How was your day, love?”

     “Fine,” I reply, offering him a small smile. I’m trying my best not to stonewall him, but it’s hard when I want to be alone.

     “Anything interesting happen?”

     I twirl my toe in the opposite direction while I think. “No.”

     A long silence passes between us.

     “I know this helps you feel better, but it’s 3 PM, June.”

     I take a deep breath.

     “Why don’t you find something different to do?”

     “I don’t have the energy for anything new.”

     “It doesn’t have to be brand new or difficult, just different. When was the last time you went to the bookstore to buy yourself something you haven’t read?” Lyle asks, nodding through the open bathroom door at the stack of books next to my side of the bed. Their spines are cracked, their edges soft with wear and tear. One has water damage from the time I learned not to read in the bath. “When was the last time you went to The Grind to grab a coffee?”

     “This morning.”

     “What did you get?”

     “The same thing I always get. A drip coffee with cream.”

     “Well, that’s not different. What did you eat today?”

     Both toes twirl, making lazy whirlpools that threaten to collide.

     “Jesus, June. After this, go down there and get some banana bread or something. I don’t know what’s worse: when you don’t eat, or when I catch you eating white bread with nothing on it.”

     The Grind’s banana bread sounds amazing, which almost makes me feel worse. I’ve been on a spending freeze since I last checked my bank account. Shockingly, savings don’t automatically replenish when you aren’t working.

     “I can’t afford that.”

     Lyle twists his lips at me. He almost looks cute, with a shock of brown hair falling over his forehead and his blue eyes as thoughtful as they are, but I still wish he’d leave.

     Lyle starts digging around in his jeans pocket. He produces a ball of blue lint and a five dollar bill. “There,” he says, looking at me. “Left over from lunch today. Treat yo’ self.” Lyle puts the money on the bathroom counter and flicks the ball of lint into the trash.

     “I’m not going to spend your—“

     “I’m asking you to. Telling you to, rather. Even if it’s something small, you need it.”

Before I can protest further, Lyle stands, bends to kiss my forehead, and leaves.

     I watch George bat at the $5 bill on the counter and sink further into the water. The lavender bubble bath has made my skin slippery, and I trace lines over my stomach and shoulders, feeling the weird smoothness. As much as I don’t want to spend Lyle’s money, I could go for a piece of buttery banana bread with vanilla glaze and crushed walnuts. That is, if The Grind isn’t sold out for the day.

     Poor Lyle. He tries hard enough, and I feel bad for him. His constant encouragement and attempts at getting me to talk are usually nonproductive. Objectively, I appreciate the effort; subjectively, it’s annoying. I’d rather fester in my own silence and disappointment in life than feel his voice grate against my brain. But when I begin to get frustrated, I remember the time I checked online for a studio or one-bedroom apartment I could afford by myself. It’s a little difficult to find a place to live on a zero dollar budget. So I nod, say my day went well, and accept vials of rose-scented bubble bath when they’re given to me.

     I watch the steam rise from the surface of the water. It’ll be hot for another fifteen minutes or so; then I’ll get out. Until then, I watch the tiny bubbles pop around me, wishing I were them.


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