The tiles seemed to cover up an even more insidious form of decay, a fatal leprosy that wafted inches behind the chlorine-scented air.
When she had been at Cassiano's apartment a few days ago, this atmosphere of morbid contamination had manifested itself more strongly than ever before. It was the middle of the night; she was standing at the sink, naked and heavy with sleep. She held onto the basin: the walls were suddenly stirred by a tremr, as if a cold shiver passed through them, as if whatever dreadful thing they covered had begun to rouse them with its breath. Marceline was a bare shadow in this enamel-shimmering, shivering hull, yet in another moment, a rising seasickness would pull her back into this world. But then Cassiano appeared in the doorway. Before she could move, he pushed her onto the floor, so abruptly that she banged her head against the rim of the tub. Her long hair caught in the bristles of the toilet brush, clinging to its fibers, as if they were the floating planks that alone could pull her to safe shores. With each of Cassiano's thrusts, the brush had held her tighter by the scalp.
Today she had just arrived at his apartment when he took her by the hand and pulled her down the hall. Surprised, she tried to twist out of his grip; when she couldn't, she dragged behind him with all the heaviness she could invest in her frail limbs. In the bathroom he let go of her wrist.
"Wait here for just a moment," Cassiano said and disappeared down the hallway.
Marceline glanced at herself in the mirror: translucent skin, supported by a phantom body ' a medusa with a woman's silhouette. She might as well have been made of transparent milk. But the floating sensation of her limbs was soon shattered by Cassiano's violent embrace. He came up behind her, squeezing her ribcage until her breasts bulged between his fists. Beneath his arms, Marceline saw long, dark hairs, just like her own, floating in the bathwater.
"I've missed you all day," Cassiano said to her reflection. He clasped her more tightly. "And here you are, like a lovely apparition, about to seep toward the ocean floor."
He twisted her face back towards the mirror. "Look. Your face is just a blur, a washed-out shadow. It seems it was left in the water too long."
"Don't resist me," he said when she tried to jerk away. "I have to finish something I am working on, then I can be with you. I want you to wait in here for me." His grip loosened. He turned her until she faced him. Together they crouched on the floor next to the tub. "Don't be afraid," he murmured. He brushed a strand of hair out of her face and gently closed her eyes.
Now she was in the dark, the cold enamel bathtub rim pressing into her shoulder. Cassiano pulled off her dress and her shoes, arranging her body on the floor.
"Wait here. I'll be back soon."
The door closed. Marceline was enveloped by the smell of salt and carrion, semen and fish, bilge water fouled by algae and mephitic foam. The odors swam in the cold, damp air that wafted out from beneath the tub. Blindly, she turned her head towards it, small pebbles pressing into the side of her face.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying in a dark, moist cave. Moon jelly fluttered around her like drowsy eyelids gliding shut. Marceline stretched out her arms towards the phosphorescent jellyfish. Beyond the clusters of floating hydrozoa, the water was darker, sweeping towards a narrow crack in the stone walls. The moon jelly drifted along until most of them had been swallowed by the jagged stone mouth.
Marceline wanted to follow them, but when she stretched her arms towards the fissure, only her hands would pass through. In a sudden fear that she would be left behind, she tried to force the walls apart, she grasped blindly to remove loose rocks and pushed herself against the wall, until it seemed she would burst from her skin. The cave pressed down on her, yet she could not get out. Soon the jellyfish had seeped away. Icicle fingers wrapped around her chest, holding her in claustrophobic solitude and grief.
Much later, when she came to, she found herself next to the tub in Cassiano's bathroom. She lay on the cold floor, staring at the ceiling. Cassiano had been gone for a long time, so long that the bathroom had begun
to fall to ruin. There were cracks in the ceiling, gaping holes in the corners above the sink.
There seemed to be a space between the other side of the bathtub and the wall that she had not noticed before; terrible sighs were coming from that narrow space. Apparently a woman was lying there. The woman's moans seemed weirdly sensual; disturbingly so, since the fading gasps were clearly the last efforts of someone who was dying. Marceline wanted to call out to the woman to comfort her, but she found she could not move her lips.
"Aaaaahhhh," Marceline sighed. "Aaa' eeee oh, oh oh'" Seawater trickled from her half-open mouth. She sighed again, stretching the weak sound that came from the bottom of her lungs. The dying woman on the other side of the bathtub had fallen silent in order to listen. The vowels from Marceline's throat grew into a languid incantation, rising and falling, until the music was carried to its conclusion. The last breath floated from her lungs.
And as if her eyes were contained in this last note, as if the vowel incantation had been a password leading out of herself, she could see her body, wrapped in the scent of mildew and moist rot, algae wound in her damp hair. She lay perfectly still. Only the salt on her lips still worked away, slowly burning into the water-logged skin.
"You were crying," Cassiano said, wrapping her in his arms. Marceline sat up with a start, clawing at his hands. They were in bed, in Cassiano's room. The light from a small blue lamp weaved through the dark; outside, ferocious bursts of rain hammered against the window ledge. Marceline gasped, inhaling deeply into lungs that would not fill, and lay back down on the wet pillow. The damp strands of her hair rubbed soothingly against her neck.
Cassiano pulled a blanket over both of them and covered her with his chest. He slipped between her legs, warming every surface he could find.
Finally. There were so many eternities between each night and the next. There had been so many eternities since he had held her like this. For a moment, she was brought back to life. For just this moment, it was more than water that was fast invading her.
T H E S P I T T I N G I M A G E
Foto: Claudia Reinhardt