Marguerite’s Bath

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For as far back as she could remember, Marguerite had always liked taking baths that were too hot in huge enameled cast iron bath tubs.
Schoolteacher Georges Senlis, her husband, sometimes used to tease her saying, “If you go on like this, you’ll melt like the soap you wash with!” Georges had been dead for ten years and Marguerite had not melted, far from it. She called herself plump. She liked that word, plump.
At eighty years old, Marguerite still had the same face as when she was a little girl. Laughing blue eyes, round cheeks that a touch of rosacea colored but did not spoil. Her hair had gone white but she wore it in the same pageboy style that had captivated Georges at the firemen’s ball in Le Mans, on the 14th of July 1938.
Georges was a conscientious husband, but from his fifties he was diabetic. He spoke little. He used to say, “I don’t like talking when there’s nothing to say,” which implied that other people, and Marguerite in particular, indulged in mindless chatter.
Marguerite had become a chatty widow who liked confiding in her friend Hortense. “Georges thought,” she used to say, “that the man should bring home the bacon and the woman look after the house and the children, but there was one thing he agreed to without any objection from the very first year of our marriage, and that was to put in a bathroom just for me with a huge bath that took up all the space. And, you see, for that alone I can say that Georges was a good husband.”
She also told the story of how one day, when she was ten years old, she had seen an engraving in a history book that she would never forget. Cleopatra was taking a bath in asses’ milk, her naked body reclining in a pool of blue and gold mosaics, and a dozen slaves dancing attendance on her every desire. “Of course, there was no asses’ milk for me, much less any slaves,” she would laugh, “but with the housekeeping money I managed to buy the first bath products when they came out in the fifties.”
As the years went by, four children had arrived, but Marguerite had stood firm. As soon as she was alone in the house she would run herself a very hot bath filled right up to the top and add oils, crystals, foam, according to her mood and the period of her life. First came the classical period: bubble baths with vanilla, apple, sweet almond and honeysuckle scents. Later there was the sophisticated period: ginkgo biloba, macadamia oil, aloe vera, tender nuka… So many names which increased tenfold the pleasure of the bath. And since she had been a widow, Marguerite floated with ever greater pleasure in extract of Atlas cedar, rind of Eastern yuzu, nectar of guava from the Virgin Islands, essential Neroli oil from Carthage or agave sap from the Yucatan.
It was also after the death of her husband that Marguerite began to eat and drink everything Georges had advised her against, in particular fat, sugar and alcoholic drinks. The first things she bought were some avocados which she enjoyed with a creamy sauce, mayonnaise and ketchup. Every evening she drank a small glass of Muscatel, accompanied by some pistachios. And that’s how, as the years of her widowhood went by, she had gradually become rounder. One morning, feeling weary and in a nostalgic mood, Marguerite took a hotter than usual bath and fell asleep.
“Wake up, wake up right now!”
She jumped and opened her eyes. Her skin was red and burning. The steam hid the familiar outlines of the bathroom furniture. The smell of nectar of guava made her feel sick. She was suffocating. A feeling of panic spread through her. She stretched out her arms towards the taps and tried to get up, but in vain. It was impossible to get out of the bath tub; her body, now swollen like a balloon, was keeping her prisoner!
“Have you gone mad, Marguerite?”
“Georges, is it you, Georges?” she exclaimed, opening her eyes wide.
And suddenly, she saw him. He was there, sitting on the stool.
“My God, you are scarlet, and what a lot of weight you’ve put on!”
“Help me, Georges,” moaned Marguerite. “Please help me, I don’t want to die, especially with no clothes on.”
Georges sat still and silent on his stool, not reacting. Marguerite was desperate and began to think as hard as she could…
“I’ve got an idea, Georges, I’ve got an idea! When you’ve got swollen fingers and you can’t get your rings off you rub soap on your hands and – bingo! – they slide off. So we’ll do that. Will you get a bottle from the top shelf behind you, on the left?”
Georges did, but could not help exclaiming grumpily,
“What’s all this clutter? Which one shall I get, the blue one, the yellow one, the green one, the round one…?”
“Whichever you like, Georges, you choose.”
Georges took a bottle at random and put a bit of liquid on his right hand. He began to soap his wife’s shoulders and arms. Beneath his large hand and rather rough embrace, Marguerite felt her body being gradually transformed. She watched as the gold bracelet on her left wrist emerged from her roll of flesh and slid up her forearm, her heavy chest became light as air, and her thighs grew slender and appeared beneath her shrinking abdomen.
“I am melting,” she said to herself, “I am melting. Look at yourself, Marguerite, you are twenty years old and it’s not time to die yet.”
She is engaged. She is wearing a blue dress. She is smiling on Georges’ arm. They are kissing…
Her right hand grips the taps. Marguerite, with one swift movement, lifts her bottom and her hips, pulls herself up alongside her husband and murmurs, “Come here, Georges, come here my darling.” She reaches out, takes Georges by the neck and pulls him firmly towards her. For a moment he resists but his hands slip on Marguerite’s oily arms and their two bodies topple into the bath tub, pulling out the plug with them as they go.
Marguerite and Georges, entwined, disappear with the perfumed water of the bath.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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