It was curious and not unpleasing, how Peleg and Bildad were affected at this juncture, especially Captain Bildad. For loath to depart, yet; very loath to leave, for good, a ship bound on so long and perilous a voyage—beyond both stormy Capes; a ship in which some thousands of his hard earned dollars were invested; a ship, in which an old shipmate sailed as captain; a man almost as old as he, once more starting to encounter all the terrors of the pitiless jaw; loath to say goodbye to a thing so every way brimful of every interest to him,—poor old Bildad lingered long; paced the deck with anxious strides; ran down into the cabin to speak another farewell word there; again came back on deck, and looked to windward, looked towards the wide and endless waters, only bounded by the far-off unseen Eastern Continents; looked towards the land; looked aloft; looked right and left; looked everywhere and nowhere; and at last, mechanically coiling a rope upon its pin, convulsively grasped stout Peleg by the hand, and holding up a lanterns, for a moment stood gazing heroically in his face, as much to say, “Nevertheless, friend Peleg, I can stand it; yes, I can.”
You are in a room. It is a fairly spacious room, for a bathroom. The walls are white paint above white tile, the floor is also tile, old brown tile, with old dark grout between the tiles. Everything in the room is old—not ancient, but, if you had to guess, thirty years old. A little younger than you are, at the time. The sink is the kind of sink you’ve been seeing your whole life—it sticks out from the wall, its guts are visible underneath, it has a tiny lip around it that can just fit soap and a drinking glass. It has a mirror above it, and to that mirror you stick, by their suction cups, two plastic animals, an elephant and a giraffe, whose bellies open up to hold toothbrushes. This is not your bathroom, after all, it is the bathroom of your infant boys.
The toilet is standard issue. When you are potty training your son, you spend a lot of time in the bathroom, sitting in front of him as he sits on the toilet, as if he is an idol you must prostrate yourself before. When the other toilets in the house are all occupied you sometimes sit on this toilet yourself, generally in some kind of wet.
The closet has two louvered doors that open so you can step inside it a little, and look around on the shelves for what you want. It is more generous than any bathroom closet you’ve ever had, and is a good place, if you’re little, to hide during hide and seek. A low shelf on the right holds a pile of soft white cotton towels, each with a corner stitched over to make a pocket that will hold your baby’s head. You have scattered thermometers a higher shelf, and spread Band-aids around on another. The humidifier on the floor was bought in a humidifying emergency, and will never be used again.
The tub is a very familiar tub. Every American who is reading these words knows this tub, with its white, sloping, ceramic sides, its once-tacky, worn-down, anti-slip shapes on the bottom, its metal and frosted glass surround, the doors running in a sharp metal track that cuts your arm when you lean over it to hold your boy, to scrub your boy, to fetch toys from the drain for your little boy to play with. The toys fill with water and then with mold, and are a minor source of dread, since mold is probably bad for babies, but you can’t figure out how to keep the toys, with those little holes in their bottoms, from developing the mold, which then squirts out shamefully when the boys squeeze them during playtime. Unless you’re just supposed to throw the toys out all the time? Some people, you’ve heard, wash their toys with bleach. And some people have net bags that they hang from the side of the tub, into which they load all the wet toys at the end of the bath, but you and your husband don’t do this, you leave the toys in the tub where they lie stranded, once the water has drained out.
When your son is sick, you two sit on the cool tile floor together in the middle of the night. He goes to sleep in your lap and wakes up to be sick, and then comes back again to sleep on you. You sit on some towels, so you will be more comfortable.
The light coming through the window behind the toilet is green from the leaves on the trees in your backyard.
It is really a very pleasant room. Bath time at night can be hard because your boys don’t want to get into the bath—and then, almost always, when the bath is done, it seems they don’t want to get out of it. And in the summer, you decide that swimming at the town pool is like having a bath, and put the boys to bed without washing them, which means, I guess, that you sometimes find the whole thing a pain.
But now that you are not strictly and officially in the room, the room is bathed in a heavenly golden light. The boys are so little, with such slippery, sticky skin. When they’re a certain age you bathe them together. You wash first one uplifted, twisting face, then the other. One time you knock your boy’s loose tooth out while you do this, and he sees the blood and somehow is out of the tub before you can stop him, running around this room screaming and trailing pink blood over the towels and across the tiles. You clean each boy’s hair by soaping it with a soapy washcloth, then tilting his head back, pouring warm water through it, leaving it shaped into soft clean curls. You sing to these sons, songs about baths, but you also have strange, unmeasurable periods of time, where they play happily in the water, and your mind is free and untethered to the place where you are. And you see, although you don’t see this for some time, that this room is a room machine, and you can go there, or leave there, anytime you want.