Having already poured seven stove-heated pans of boiling water into the bath, I finished topping up the bath from the cold tap, turned it off, dropped my towel and gingerly stepped into the water. With my arms on either side I slowly eased myself down into the water. I’m not sure why I had so much trepidation about getting in; it wasn’t as if the water was going to scald me. I suppose it’s more because I was moving into uncharted territories; this combination of water boiled on the stove and water from the cold tap is hard to judge. It’s funny you take things like hot water for granted until you get a letter through your front door telling you that a pipe has broken and there’ll be no hot water in the building ‘until further notice’.
Finally I settled my bottom on the floor of the bath and leaned back into the water. I’m not sure if I’d have deemed the temperature to be comfortable, but it was bearable at the least. Suddenly, I jolted as I felt something beneath my thighs, splashing the walls with my sudden movement. What was that? A cold front!? Could the hot and cold water not have properly combined yet? Could there have been currents of cold water passing through? Was that possible? My memory of basic science told me that it should all have levelled out at a uniform temperature, but perhaps it takes time for that level to be reached? Maybe I was in the tumultuous early stages of the evolution of the bath’s ecosystem, where large cold fronts still roam, as yet unbroken by the warming atmosphere. Or something like that.
Anyway, at least I was now in, mostly submerged. I needed this wash. Having had no hot water all week had been awful. Well, not as awful as it would have been if I were still employed and having to wash every day before heading to the office. At least while I’m sitting at home applying for jobs and surfing the internet all day nobody’s around to complain that I stink from not having showered for days. Or about the fact that I’m sitting on the sofa mostly naked. There are some upsides to being unemployed after all, I suppose.
This was it though, the breaking point. Five days since I washed, and that one cold shower only lasted a minute or two before I could bear it no longer. I was dreading having to undergo that process again, but thankfully my flat mate Tyler had been around to show me how real men deal with these situations. Boil water on the stove, throw it in the bath and top it up with cold water. Simple as that. I still probably would have never thought of it. Tyler said he’d used six large pans of boiling water. He’s definitely manlier than I am so I think the decision to play it safe and go with seven pans of water was a good one. But, actually, I may have overestimated my own dauntlessness; currently, the temperature of the water in which I sat was already at what I would deem ‘lukewarm’ and seemed to be on course for ‘tepid’ within the next few minutes. Time to get cleaning. I fished the jug from the side of the bath and started to wet my hair with the bathwater.
Oh boy, the feel of that water running down my back almost gave me shivers. Was this really worth it? Does anyone even notice if a guy like me washes his hair or not? I feel like the only person that appreciates the fact that I condition it is myself, when I absent mindedly or nervously run my fingers through my hair. It definitely gets a bit thatchy when I don’t, though. Anyway, I have Callum’s birthday drinks tonight. That was the main reason for this bath after all. I couldn’t show up and meet all his friends for the first time so unclean that when I shake each of their hands the lingering aromas of stale pizza and cum will be transferred straight onto them, if not some actual remnants of those substances. No, that just would not do. Besides, if I make a good impression, maybe some of Callum’s friends could become mutual friends… Maybe I’d meet an interesting female friend… Maybe I’d meet someone who’d be interested in running her hands through my hair... Not tonight, of course, but maybe further down the line if we hit it off tonight. Maybe she’ll subconsciously notice that I’ve taken the time to wash and condition my hair. First impressions and all.
But stop. I shouldn’t allow myself to get carried away in these fantasies. I let them play out far too graphically and for too long that when they don’t come true cracks start to appear in my heart. I can feel them. I’ve got to manage my expectations. I’ll probably talk to Callum for a little bit then stand around and be quiet while he and his other friends talk about all manner of things that have nothing to do with me. Maybe I should go prepared with conversation topics. But what? For someone who does nothing but surf the internet all day I’m really not all that up to date on current affairs, and I doubt anyone’s going to want to discuss the merits of Pornhub’s new layout with me. Thankfully it's a Sunday night so we can't be expected to stick around and drink that much, can we? Well, this is Callum and he has chosen to go to his favourite pub, so who knows.
It was really getting chilly in the bath now. I checked to see how the little guy was doing down below, but it seemed as though he’d receded back into his cave, this wasn’t really his best environment. I decided to get him out of his misery. We still had to pick what we’re going to wear tonight. Jeans and a hoody or jeans and a jumper… tough choice.
I hauled myself out of the bath and pulled out the plug. I gave myself a dry down and a sniff. Not bad, I thought, considering the situation.
Here we are again, topping off the bath with cold water. Five days on from my last bathing experience and we’re still yet to receive ‘further notice’ about the return of hot water. All the other guys in the flat have been able to take showers at their girlfriends’ places while I hung around stinking the place up. This seemed a particularly cruel reminder from life of my perennial singleness.
But perhaps not for much longer. My expectations of meeting someone interesting (and interested) at Callum’s drinks had somehow come to pass. Her name was Marie and we had hit it off straight more or less straight away.
We had both been silently standing on the fringes of the group of people gathered for Callum’s birthday, staying quiet. I noticed her when she looked down at her phone, which illuminated her soft and beautiful features, and I could barely take my eyes off her from that point. I quickly identified her as another loner in this group too, and when she went up to the bar to get another drink I mentally gripped my testicles and followed her.
Standing at the bar and checking that we were out of the site of the rest of the birthday party, who might have been watching and making me self-conscious, I made my introductions. She had a warm and friendly air, and seemed happy to talk to me. I found out that she was new in town, having just moved to London from Switzerland – “Vienna?” I had asked her, before instantly realising my stupidity and smacked my forehead with a loud slap, a la Homer Simpson. Luckily she had found this more funny than ignorant, although her laughter did little to quell my squirming insides.
Thinking about this moment again now as I lowered my nakedness into the water took my mind off the fact that, despite having put in ten pans of hot water this time, this was still certainly not a comfortable temperature. I suppose after a certain point the first pan that you put in will have already gone cold by the time you’re putting in the ninth or tenth, so what’s the point? There must be a point of highest efficiency. If this lack of hot water continued much longer I might have to start plotting graphs to figure out the best number of pans of water to put in for highest temperature. I was just about bored enough with my daily life to actually do something like that.
I turned my mind back to the night of Callum’s get together. Marie, it turned out, was from Bern, somewhere I knew nothing about, so I prompted her for more information about it and why she had made the move to London. I was instantly lulled into a comfortable conversational rhythm by her vaguely French accent and beautiful and expressive brown eyes, which, like the rich coffee that they resembled in colour, both warmed and alerted me. After a time of this easy back-and-forth chatter and more alcohol I found myself growing in confidence and some of my long dormant A-Level French bubbling to the surface as I started peppering my speech with “mais oui”s and “peut- être”s, which seems overly hammy to me now, but made her giggle at the time, and seeing her flash her gorgeous smile only encouraged me. She was also impressed by my pronunciation and in turn started to pry me for information about myself, which I was more than happy to give, while dancing around the fact that I was currently unemployed.
I started to pour the jug of water over my hair as I recalled Callum coming over and dousing the spark that had begun to kindle between myself and Marie. I shivered, though whether it was at the cold water on my skin or the memory of his inebriated approach, I’m not sure.
Marie and I had been chattering happily for maybe twenty minutes or so – so engaged that I had even forgotten that we were there with other people - when Callum came stumbling over, evidently quite drunk and inserting himself between me and Marie at the bar, bringing our conversation to an abrupt and rude halt. It turned out Marie had just started in Callum’s office that week and he had invited her to the drinks in a friendly come-get-to-know-me kind of way, but seeing his advances towards her now, it was obvious he had more involved activities in mind.
Unperturbed, I decided to try to turn the situation to my advantage. One good thing about having known a lout like Callum for a long time was that you inevitably ended up with a decent amount of embarrassing stories about them. Before Callum could try to start putting the moves on her, I proceeded to regale Marie with stories of some of Callum’s “finest moments” through our many years of friendship. She laughed continually at my stories, and while Callum tried to play them off heroically, she and I silently shared knowing looks and stifled laughter at his bullish bravado. The encouragement emanating from her helped me to embellish and tell the stories all the more vividly, and by the time I came to the point of telling her about Callum showing up to our Monday morning lecture on the first day of term still half drunk, stinking of beer-and-kebab vomit and dressed in nothing but a toga fashioned out of a stained bed sheet, she was in hysterics, while Callum had fallen silent and red faced. Defeated, Callum retreated to the comfort of his usual circle of friends, leaving Marie and me alone once again.
I bought her a drink and we wiled away the rest of the evening talking to, and about, the other guests. At the end of the night she gave me her phone number and told me to text her.
As the memory of that night came to an end, and the warmth of remembering Marie’s company dissipated, I suddenly snapped out of it and realised that I was still sitting in the bath, which was now rather chilly, and I’d barely even started scrubbing yet. I needed to get clean, since Marie and I had agreed to meet up again that evening. I offered to walk her around some of the nicer parts of London, before ending up on Primrose Hill and then going for a nice dinner at one of the delectable-looking restaurants in the area. Not cheap, but thankfully my Jobseekers allowance had just hit my bank account that day.
As I finished scrubbing up I started to ponder conversation topics again. But then I stopped myself. Nobody needs to prepare conversation topics; if you truly get along with someone then conversation would flow naturally, as it had done on our first encounter. But what if it had been a one-meeting-wonder? I quickly flushed these doubts down the plug hole; there was no use in going in with that kind of negativity. Besides, I felt good about this girl. Really good.
It’s amazing what the attention and affection of a beautiful girl can do for one’s confidence. In the last few days I’d found that when I was walking down the street I no longer felt like vermin when I spotted an attractive female. No, now I felt more like a stray cat: mangy but loveable.
Before getting out of the bath I felt around for the little guy downstairs again, to see if he was interested in a little playtime, but just like last time the water had become too cold by then and he was not forthcoming, despite my attempts to coax him out.
Unflinchingly I pulled myself out of the water, toweled myself down, wiped the mist off the mirror and had a good look at my reflection – not bad - and went to prepare myself for an evening of charming.
Here we go, I steeled myself for one more time with this cockamamie pan-heated hot water bath scheme. Once again I’d decided to go for a total of ten pans of hot water, but this time I did so by heating two pans at a time to fill the bath more quickly - I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before!
Once the water was ready I lowered myself down into the tub again, which was slightly more palatable this time around. I kicked my legs a bit and swished the water around with my hands as I submerged my torso, trying to mix the hot and cold waters. I felt ridiculous doing this again, since the hot water in the building had been fixed a number of days ago, and I had in fact been taking showers since then, but I was due to meet Marie again that night and this had become part of the ritual before seeing her. I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t just completely random that she happened to take a shine to me after that first cold bath. My lifetime’s worth of lack of fortune with the fairer sex took a complete 180 spin that night - and continued into our second encounter - and I can’t rule out the possibility that it might be because I accidentally invoked the power of some kind of love god by performing this bathing ritual. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Buffy.
I smiled at the memory of our bonding over television shows – Buffy chief amongst them. There seems to be an underlying comfort between fans of that show. When I had found out that she was a fan I told her she reminded me of Willow; “a lesbian!?” she had spluttered. I had to stifle my laughter and quickly explain what I meant: “No! No! No! Smart, beautiful, kind… sexual… bewitching…” She blushed a little at this and we continued strolling through Regents Park on our way up to Primrose Hill, taking in the beautiful shrubbery around us as the sun was beginning to get low in the sky.
I then had to ask her, “so who am I more like, Giles or Spike?”
She thought about this for a little then replied “Neither; you’re not stuffy enough for Giles and not enough of a bad boy to be Spike. No, you’re definitely a Xander.”
“Xander?! But, he’s not even British!”
“No… but he’s sweet, cute and very funny…” now it was my turn to blush, “plus, he’s the one that Willow had a crush on, remember?” she gave me a knowing smile and I caught an arousing glow in her eyes.
“Right, before she became a lesbian,” typical, I had to ruin the moment. But Marie laughed whole heartedly and slipped her hand into mine. Who knew all those years of geeking out over television would one day pay off with a lady?
All through my reminiscences of this conversation I had been scrubbing away at my body, making use of the water while it was hot. I wanted to be extra clean tonight, since I was going to go over to her place and there had been a suggestion of my staying over. I guess I had better take her some kind of house warming present too. What simultaneously said ‘welcome to your new home’ and ‘I want to snuggle with you’? I guess flowers would have to do, unless I thought of something better. What are the sexiest flowers? Roses? Are they even in season right now? Cripes, I was clueless.
I finished scrubbing myself down and paused to sit and reflect on the rest of the evening. Another reason why I’d decided to take a bath is because it was an undeniably good place to think. Surrounded by walls on three sides, the shower curtain on the other, and the privacy ensured by the lock on the door, it was a good place not only stew in your own bodily excrements, but your thoughts too.
When we had reached the top of Primrose Hill we sat for a moment to catch our breath. There was just enough sunlight left for me to point out various landmarks in the cityscape. She leaned her head on to my shoulder as I directed her attention towards the BT Tower, The Shard and such. When I pointed out St. Paul’s she mentioned that she’d been there, but hadn’t been impressed.
“I think it’s a beautiful building, absolutely, but our one back in Bern is more stunning and interesting. This one just seems like a big dome on top of a big building.”
“Hmm, I kind of agree,” I replied, “I’ve always preferred Canterbury cathedral myself.”
“Oh yes! I visited there on a school trip years ago. It is indeed very beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen.”
“You know, I grew up in Canterbury. I’m glad you’ve admitted that our cathedral is better than yours. I’m going to remember that. Now we can never have that argument, I can hold it over you forever!” Was this a weird thing to say? Probably, but she seemed to enjoy it, seeing my boyish pride come to the fore. She snuggled in closer and gave me a soft and moist peck on the cheek.
“Come on, let’s go get some food, I’m starving,” she said as she hopped up off the bench, tugging me along with her.
Hand in hand we strolled along Primrose Hill Road until a quaint French place caught her eye and we decided to give it a try, dining on a free table outside the restaurant to enjoy the last of the warm summer evening. She ordered several things from menu, telling me that French food was her favourite, as her grandmother who’d grown up in France used to make it for her all the time.
“Sadly she passed away a few years ago. But not before she taught me all her recipes and made sure I perfected the art. I haven’t had the time to make any for myself since I got to London though. I’ve been so busy with moving in, getting used to my new job… and hanging around with charming young Englishmen of course,” she said smiling flirtatiously and taking a sip of wine.
We discussed the people and their dogs as they passed us on the street, seeing many other couples on dates like us. We would give our opinion on whether we thought they were going to hit it off that night or not. Usually I would sympathise with the male, wishing the best for him in his sexual endeavours, but she was less kind. She often admonished their clothing or facial hair, sometimes their shoes or even their manner of walking.
“So what about me?” I said after a little while of this, “I’m certainly not the most fashionable man on this street.”
She looked me up and down, smiled and replied “well no… but you have a certain style. You know what suits you and you wear it well. And anyway, I’m sure I can help you to pick out some more clothes soon enough.”
I swelled with a bit of pride, “Thankyou… and yes that would be great if you helped me find some clothes.” I paused for a moment to take in her divine visage once more, wondering who or what had smiled on me to let me wind up in this situation. “I know I’ve already said this a million times tonight, but you look absolutely stunning, even more so in this softer light.” She smiled and reached over to silently take my hand as we continued to watch the passersby.
Before too long our food arrived and despite my reservations about how much we had ordered we had no trouble in decimating each plate, only leaving scraps behind.
Afterwards she sat back satisfied, “Not bad… not bad at all,” she said. “Though not quite as good as Grandmama used to make.”
“I wish I could have tried it,” I intoned, honestly.
She smiled at this, “Why don’t you come over next week and I’ll make the works for you? I should have my place all set up by then and I’d love to have an excuse to cook. Is there anything you don’t eat?”
“No not really. Well, I’ve never tried snails…” I snickered.
She laughed too, “Well we don’t have to eat snails. Besides, I’m not sure they sell them anywhere in this city. It’s settled then; you’ll come over and have the full range of Grandmama’s menu!”
“Sounds like a date!”
“Absolutely,” she beamed, “We’ll also have to throw in a film and some snuggle time on the sofa. I’ll let you pick the film, I trust your taste.”
I could barely conceal my ridiculously excited smile behind my glass as I downed the rest of the wine. “Another bottle?” I suggested.
After the meal I walked her to the tube station where we were to say our goodbyes. The whole way there I was trying to build up the courage to kiss her before our separation, trying to figure some clever or sweet line to say before moving in, but I couldn’t think of anything. When we arrived outside the tube station, I stopped, flat footed and dumb, but she quickly span round to face me, got up on her tiptoes and planted her soft lips right on mine, letting them linger for a while with just a hint of tongue in the mix. I froze for a second then embraced her and tried to kiss back. I have no idea whether I did the right thing or not, but upon stepping away from me she gave me one last flash of her beautiful smile and glowing eyes. “See you next week,” she said, before disappearing into the station.
The memory of this kiss, which I had replayed over and over again in the intervening days without wearing it out, started to stir the little guy down below the water, and I suddenly snapped out of my memories and back into my aqueous surroundings. I felt around for the little guy beneath the depths, and tried to capitalise on his excitement. Come on dude, I thought to myself, I boiled all those pans of water for you! But it was too late, I’d been daydreaming too long and the water had become tepid once again. The little guy’s excitement had been short-lived and he’d now scampered back into hiding again.
I hopped out of the bath, checked my reflection and took a look down at my frigid member once more. No worries, I thought to myself, I have a feeling tonight’s going to be his night.