The day is bad enough for Eugene to allow himself the promise of a visit to the shrine beneath the bathtub. Torrential rain, a suicide on the tracks, carriages full of muggy, murderous dissatisfaction; the only thing that keeps him going as he clips their tickets is the thought of the cold from the tiles seeping through the back of his shirt as he lies to pray, feet tucked under the toilet bowl.
To his wife, Barbara, Eugene is the very epitome of that modern conundrum— the new man. Right on, shy about nudity, keen to talk about feelings, unable to tolerate more than a few sentences, chronically unable to gather and wash his foul socks, guaranteed to keep the bathroom floor spotless. A mixed up man. New-ish.
Eugene says goodbye to his colleagues, already grateful for the undisturbed moment when he can unfold alongside the bathtub and remind himself of what’s important. He is thankful that the twinge in his knees is only a twinge still, although he knows there will be a distant day when he’ll not be able to lower himself to the level of his fusty, industrious saints and they will be left to spin their signs unworshipped.
In all their years together, Barbara has never mentioned the wearing at the side of that old plastic bathtub, although she has long been convinced of Eugene’s chronic problems with constipation, and often brings home new remedies she’s picked up at her part-time job in the chemist.
Communing with the bathroom saints takes patience, patience only a man like Eugene, with his sensitive ticket-taking fingers, possesses. His fastidiousness once attracted Barbara. Now its application to all his projects—like the painted model railway recently relegated to the spare room—depresses her. She hopes that when he retires, he will find something more fulfilling, like her.
The jitter of Eugene’s anticipation makes it hard for him to get his key in the front door and when he does, it’s clear something is not right. The key doesn’t turn. Barbara must be home, although Thursday is her late shift.
It’s worse in the hallway, where he can hear a radio, a sound previously unknown in Barbara and Eugene’s peaceful home. There’s also an aura of recently disturbed dust hanging in the air.
His wife emerges from the kitchen, a dishtowel over her shoulder, but Eugene is transfixed by the open bathroom door and the workmen cavalierly fitting their fingers into the sacred space behind the bath’s side panel.
‘A surprise,’ Barbara trills. It’s the first step towards the comfortable retirement they deserve. Eugene stutters and fails to reply, his soul is creeping along the bleached floor of their bathroom. His fingers yearn to stroke the fine webs of his altars and he pines for the tentative blessing of the saints’ tiny legs.
Soon, the workmen will be shouting and Barbara screaming and calling for an exterminator, but for the moment, she’s transfixed, trapped by the tremble of her husband’s empty mouth.