ONE HUNDRED TWO
While the peppermint tea was steeping I ventured uneasily upstairs. There was a closet on the ground floor with a toilet, half a sink and an extractor fan in it, but I wanted a real bath. The bathroom was the size of an archery range and the bathtub was big enough for me and six friends. You could wash your elephant in that bathtub. I doubted that hot water was included in the rent. Were there bathtub inserts, like the water-containing version of the insoles you put in a too-large pair of shoes? Maybe I should just buy a small wading pool and set it up with a siphon next to the tub. There was plenty of floor space.
The parlour looked like an explosion in a department store by the time I finally found a usable bath towel. The ones in the bathroom linen cupboard were so worn they looked like cheesecloth and their original color could have been anything from fuchsia to that bad one out of space. If it was the latter I was glad it had faded to imperceptible.
Sid found the prospect of a human being having a bath uninteresting, and retreated downstairs again. The hob’s scrambled eggs had obviously been satisfactory: the water was hot. Once I was submerged I had to hold onto the sides of the bath: my feet didn’t touch the far end. I sang while I was in the bath too—the acoustics in an empty tiled room the size of a skating rink were not tremendously warm and friendly, but they were better than wondering if I could hear the madwoman in the attic who was only one flight of stairs away from the bathroom. I put my nightgown on and a huge woolly sweater over it. The sweater had been providing padding in one of the kitchen boxes. It had begun life as Gelasio’s but he’d ceded ownership after about fifteen minutes: purple wasn’t his color. That was sixteen or seventeen years ago. I had decided I could claim it as mine. Even if I did have to roll the sleeves up.
I padded downstairs warm and clean and ready for peppermint tea and chocolate. (Of course I’d found the chocolate. That box had been very carefully labelled.) Sid had made a large messy nest of all the discarded towels and other snuggly things in the middle of the parlour floor. I was pretty sure she’d done some diving in open boxes on her own initiative. “You are an evil, wicked dog,” I said. She opened her one visible eye halfway and gave her tail an absent-minded thump. All dogs do becoming one with the furniture with admirable conviction but there is nothing more emblematic of perfect, boneless relaxation than a stretched-out sighthound on a bed of her own devising.
I had to steal some of it back to make up our bed in front of Caedmon. There were groans of protest but Sid followed me into the kitchen to see what I was doing with my spoils. The bath had sufficiently restored my feet that I managed to finish pumping up the thrice-blasted air mattress (mostly) without too much more whining and snarling. Then I had to figure out how to create a bedhead/wall equivalent so I could read in bed for a while before I turned the light out—without setting anything on fire, that is, since leaning against Caedmon would probably be ill-advised. And yes, of course I had to read in bed for a while before I turned the light out. Silly question. But this meant there had to be a bedside light as well. Hmm.
As someone who doesn’t deal well in three dimensions, my eventual construction was rather clever, if I do say so myself, consisting as it did of three of the four forbidding parlour chairs and a layer of book boxes between them and the wall. I plugged my designated bedside lamp—which I’d found while looking for towels—in with a flourish, and set it on the bedside-table-facsimile chair. It made a better table than it did a seat.
I had brought my dirty laundry downstairs. I would tackle the cellar and the washing machine tomorrow but I unloaded the contents of my jeans pockets onto one of the empty shelves. I paused when I got to the pebble. What—? Oh. Sid’s pebble. I’d drop it in one of the ruts in the driveway tomorrow too and let it do its infinitesimal best to prevent us from falling into another universe. Tonight it could spend on the table, out where I could see it, to remind me that it had a purpose.
It was faintly shiny. Mica or something, I thought vaguely, but this reminded me of other shiny things, and I groped for the bigger, bulgier pockets of my leather jacket, hanging on the back of the one remaining chair, and thrust my hand into the nearest and bulgiest.
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