[People have been asking me where this is going and how long they have to wait to find out. Well, I know where it’s going – I lived it, after all – but the length of that road is as unknown to me as it is to my readers. There’s no GPS to help us along the way this time. We’re feeling our way in the dark through uncharted territories of memory.]
It’s not uncommon to hear someone speak glibly about a few moments feeling as if they were hours. We’re wise not to buy into such claims. Any imaginary extension of the time-space continuum is invariably a gross exaggeration. Whether they’re spent in a dentist chair or at a job interview, a minute is a minute and an hour is an hour.
Not so in a bathtub, evidently.
The time I spent cowering in that fixture might have been no more than two minutes, but it could have been hours. Time had truly lost meaning for me. The only concept I understood in those moments was terror.
The sound of raspy breathing wheezed through the open jalousie window above me. If I had reached my arm up, I could have touched it, but that was the last thing I would have done. A more immediate, if unrealistic, desire was to somehow slip between the porcelain and cast iron of the tub. Instead, I made myself as low profile as the film left by the previous bather.
What was there, standing, squatting, or otherwise looming on the other side of that wall? No imagination is more active than that of a young boy and mine was in overdrive. With plenty of time to dwell on my peril and more than enough fear to fuel the flame, all manner of evil tidings occupied my thoughts. An escaped convict? An alligator that had somehow acquired the ability to scale a wall? Why stop with known creatures? It could have been some mythical juvenile-eating beast that had caught the scent of fresh meat. Giant irradiated arachnids, dinosaurs, and aliens weren’t too far flung for my phobias.
To be honest, I was totally ignorant of the fauna of the east coast of Florida, as I was of most things that didn’t affect me directly. Such is the self-obsession of the average pre-teen boy and I was no exception. In this case, it might have done further harm as my imagination roamed far beyond the limits of local wildlife. Bears, lions, dingoes, and wolves might not have been native to the area, but they freely ranged in my mind.
I fully expected an arm or a claw or a fang to come crashing through that window, showering my puny body with glass before it was pierced and carried away by the nameless and faceless monster.
The breathing continued. Otherwise, the silence of the house and the outside world continued. The light in the bathroom only seemed to grow brighter, my vulnerability more intense. I was aware of my own trembling. How long can a boy hold his breath?
Then another step.