Palomar Takes a Bath

Here is a passage from a story I was writing in 2018, for my own interest and pleasure and never for publication. Palomar is a composer and musician. In this excerpt, he takes a bath.

The water shook itself over his feet. Silent feet. All his body silent, awoken from a dream of huge music, cacophonous or beautiful. The limit of his feet, place where his white skin stopped, seemed to also be the limit of motion and life. Before his feet there was the moving thing. His boundary was the boundary of life. He was utterly thick, entirely filled throughout all his form, and there was nothing living or alive within him. He turned the faucet and sank down.

The water was cool. The apartment was hot. The hours Palomar had fed to the pool at his school’s gymnasium, fed as you would patiently and gradually let rope down as it is needed. The vastness of the time seemed remarkable to him now. It was good time and not wasted. The noise came from the ceiling and walls, geometric calls and cracks and the slappings of steps and reverberation of railings striking and bouncing off the strings and spots of the lights on and in the pool. The lights of the water. He had gone so often to that place that they became ordinary and then indistinct and at last cosmically distinct, a daily and hourly table of information, and as these things go Palomar was made aware of how the food came to him and that it sustained him.

He had heard of men in the Himmalayas, Buddhas, who by great focus and selflessness and starvation become fully conscious of each of their breaths, to the point of being able to pause and reactivate their own blood circulation. That was probably like the sounds and lights of the gymnasium’s pool. Palomar lay in the tub, head on its rim, knees unusually relaxed if not straightened. It was a huge tub. Palomar lay in the tub and knew about himself. With his athletic habit and the other somatic qualities intrinsic to Palomar but mysterious to Palomar, Palomar knew the location of his body and its shape. He knew the distance from his shoulder to his hand, from his hand to his foot. The ceiling was white and the bath’s light covered it, moving like a snake in its new beautiful skin – the strange beauty of snakes, the sense they give you of moving while their bodies are still.

Palomar brought himself down. He lifted his feet from the water and set his ankles on the end of the tub. His body flew down like anything grabbed down underwater. Like the meat demonstratively offered to sharks in nature documentaries, grabbed by the huge blunt mouth as by a big hand badly, clumsily, & surely pulled down. His back made the huge brass-section rubbing blow against the tub as he slid. Now Palomar lay with his ears underwater. He listened. Music like none other. It visited him, whole and perpetual, and it wasn’t a question of imitating it later, or partaking in it as you would an inspiring thing, or of forgetting it was real as you forget intense feelings of early love are real, or working smoothly or indeed being inspired; though maybe it was healthy to sometimes experience and sometimes forget these things, there is a storytelling aspect to that forgetfulness: it is a story you tell yourself about how what you have seen was not seen.

It would not have occurred to Palomar to talk himself out of the memories of these sounds. To be visited by these sounds was like going definitely to the pool, and the experience he now had of being a man who had spent so many hours of his youth swimming: the visit had hard certain lines and was pleasing for the fact of its being itself, not its suggesting other things, though certainly it was pleasant in other ways and certainly it suggested other things. It was most like the year. It was like the year and the week, which Palomar synesthetically had seen as a definite location, a pale orange stripe, gradient, labeled with the days, or in the annual, a ring of places around him, its sites spent-time-at every year of his life. These, the days and year, he experienced with child good-humor, relying on it because it was reliable and unaffected by its superficial resemblance to dismal repetition, the repeating things which end people – things like Aida’s black door, which begets itself & begets itself simultaneously & forever & in this constant buzzing multiplication subsumes everything dynamic which touches it.

The air picked up through the little window; Palomar felt it move cool as a breath over his toes and inner knees. The new curtains must have been lifted into the room and up; the light in the lavatory, lain here as much as in the main room through the open door, turned green. The ceiling glowed.

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