With hands shaking from age and disease, the man removed a match and struck it against the side of the box. No flame sparked. He tried again and failed again.
For twelve minutes he stood naked before the bathroom counter, arms and legs and back aching, determined to ignite the match with his feeble hands and to light the jasmine-scented candle waiting patiently next to the sink.
Finally, shivering despite the warm air blowing through the vent above him, he succeeded, and brought the fire to the candle, hoping his tremor wouldn’t extinguish his efforts. He lit the wick and stared at the glow, breathing slowly, leaning on his hands against the counter. The flame danced as he had danced as a younger man. No rhythm, but free and content.
He left the candle on the counter and sat down sideways on the toilet seat, facing the tub. Ignoring the peeling and moldy caulk that usually irritated him, he reached over, gripped the faucet handle as best he could, and turned it. Hot water and steam poured out. He felt queasy, but he didn’t adjust the faucet. He stayed in place, outstretched over the tub, watching the water rise.
When he was satisfied with the depth, he turned it off, stood up with effort, and retrieved the candle. He kept the light on. She preferred the light on.
As he dipped his feet into the bath, he placed the candle on the side of the tub, next to two empty wine glasses. He then sat down, slowly, resting his pale back on the cold, ceramic tiles above the tub. The water turned his wrinkled skin bright red, and he felt his forehead and upper back perspire. He wasn’t used to this. He didn’t take baths and preferred his showers mildly warm, even in the wintertime. This isn’t a good idea, he thought. The heat and the hard tub pained him more than old age, but right now he didn’t care.
Before getting more uncomfortable, he leaned over the edge of the tub, grabbed the already opened, half-drunk bottle of Pinot noir, and poured himself a glass. He placed the bottle back on the tiled floor, the wine glass back on the side of the tub, and his hands to his sides in the scalding water. Then he leaned back, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply.
“No. No,” she said. “I’m doing this.”
Sitting sideways and comfortably in the luxury bath before him, she held the dark bottle in one hand and two glasses in the other, and proceeded to pour them both a drink.
“You’re going to…” he had begun to say, knowing that they both were already drunk from two bottles enjoyed earlier that night, not to mention the passions of their honeymoon, but she filled their glasses immaculately, to the brim and without spilling a drop. She handed him his, and he promptly spilled a little into the water trying to get it to his lips.
“Unlike you, I’m adept,” she laughed, before leaning over and biting him on the nose. Her bite hurt and, he guessed, and had left a momentary mark, but it gave no lasting impressions. He was never so skilled at hurting her. His insults had been as clumsy as his dancing. In three years they would separate because he was always irked and she was always bored.
This night she snuggled up to him with her back resting on his chest, her curly dark brown hair dry against his lips. She smelled of coconut and ginger. The wine had not been chilled, but it cooled him when he sipped it, and he imbibed it quickly. The hot water alone made his head spin, but the heat of her body added to it and in a few minutes proved too much to bear. He pushed her off with more force than he intended.
“I’m sorry,” he said, getting out of the bath, on this occasion meaning the words.
She said nothing, but from the sounds behind him, he gathered she had blown out the candles, poured herself more wine, and stretched out in the water.
He never bathed with her again.
If he had fallen asleep, he awoke. For a few minutes he gazed at the wine to his left, barely breathing. He wanted to take hold of it, but total exhaustion now held him down.
She and he had spoken only once after the divorce, having no children or anything else to keep them in touch. He wondered now if out in the world somewhere she still lived and felt as tired as he did.
“Oh, hell,” he half whispered when his arm wouldn’t obey his mind. His hands still shook, splashing water and knocking against the sides of the tub. He closed his eyes again and thought of the ice storm outside, the sidewalks gleaming, the trees crackling in their winter armor, the wind orchestrating all. Then, without looking, he took the glass in hand, resolved to do this in memory of her.
The wine never reached his lips.
Unbroken, the glass bobbled in the water, its base tapping the base of the tub. Water flowed in and wine flowed out, the two fluids lapping at his leg by the knee.
Sometime later the candle expired. The final wisps of smoke rose toward the ceiling. Nothing else moved, the water in the tub now cold and still.