‘Bath Time’ by Jenny Diski

Written in Diski’s imitable style, ‘Bath Time’ offsets realism and desire. The story is a lesson in reduction, distilling human existence into a single dream, a woman’s longing for the perfect bath. ‘Bath Time’ scratches at the edge of absurdity whilst staying close to gritty, visceral details: Imperial Leather, greyish vinyl tiles, a “slow stream of immersion heated water.” A life is told through time in encapsulated hot water: embryonic baths, Dettol disinfectant childhood baths, a kaleidoscope bath tripping on LSD… Finally, the story leads us to a much-awaited Christmas Eve and the prospect of a present on the 25th, the ultimate, empyrean bath, the fulfillment the woman’s “greatest ambition.”

When I first read ‘Bath Time’, as a twenty-year old Drama student, I loved the story so much it inspired my final degree show. My play about women, bathrooms, and metamorphosing bodies was a reflection of Diski’s world. When the lights went up, three women occupied a real pink bathroom suite: a pale rose toilet, curved sink, and a bath filled to the brim with tiny, bright white polystyrene balls. As the main character lay in the ‘water’, describing scrubbing raw her teenage skin, the tiny balls poured over the edge of the bath in mounds, which became waves, spilling across the stage floor. The little white bubbles, perfect spheres, dropped off the brink of the stage in a curtain like a waterfall, falling into the orchestra pit.

First published in Sacred Space, edited by Marsha Lowe, Serpent’s Tail, 1992. Collected in The Vanishing Princess, Ecco reissued 2017

Chosen by Susanna Crossman. Susanna is an Anglo-French writer and co-author of the French novel, L’Hôpital, Le dessous des Cartes(LEH, 2015). Her fiction has been short-listed for the Bristol Prize and Glimmertrain. More at: https://susanna-crossman.squarespace.com @crossmansusanna

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