The Bath
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Dalton came into the house from school, letting himself in with his own key. His parents were still away — the car was gone from the driveway, and their coats were missing from the hooks on the hallseat. He put his books down on it and stood for a moment, thinking of what he would do. He couldn’t bear, at the moment, to remember Gloria handing him back his pin just before Mr. Clancy’s chemistry class, wrapped in a scented note folded into a scented pink envelope. That had been the longest class of his life, but when it was over things had gotten even worse.

Unbidden, against his will, the image of Gloria rose to memory — he saw her going through the door hugging her texts to her breast, the arm of Johnny Martin around her waist. She hadn’t glanced back, but Johnny had, and his grin had been smug and triumphant.

Dalton stood in the hall a while longer until his eyes refocused and he realized that he was looking into the single picture hanging on the wall. It was a landscape, the vista of an ideal country. There were hills and a lake, sheep grazing in a meadow, a piper playing silences to a shepherdess. He recalled the poem they had been studying in English class, Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” He couldn’t bring to mind the exact lines the picture recalled to him, so he bent to his books and picked up the textbook the class had been reading. He found what he was looking for on page 101: “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal — yet, do not grieve; / She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, / for ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”

He hadn’t understood the poem at first, but Mr. Haskins had explained it, and he understood it now. He wished he could freeze time at yesterday when Gloria had still been his. He’d have settled for that.

He turned around and saw the mail lying where it had fallen through the slot onto the floor of the hall and been pushed to one side when he came in. It lay on the carpet, near the edge against the wall. He went over and picked up the stack, began to thumb through it. His hand froze when he read the return address on one of the envelopes. His fingers trembled slightly, and he thought he detected the faint stirrings of excitement, even of hope, but he suspended the moment of discovery while he went into the dining room and sat down at the table. He picked up a clean knife left over from breakfast and slit the envelope.

He read what the letter said, but the words wouldn’t sink into his consciousness at first. It was from his father’s Alma Mater, and when at last he allowed himself to understand, he realized that he was now utterly undone — the college had refused to accept him for admission in the coming fall. How could he countenance this? How could he face his father?

And then the weight of the world fell upon him. His shoulders slumped with it, the air went white before his vision. He could hear the clock ticking on the mantel, each swing of the pendulum pushing isolate sounds toward him, the walls magnifying them rather than drinking them in.

He sat a while listening to the clock, to the noise of an occasional automobile passing in the street, to the counterpoint of his heart. At last it all drained away, leaving a clear, cool space, and he got up. He went into the hall and up the stairs.

Dalton went into the bathroom and bent to the tub. While the water was running into it he stripped and stood shivering in the chill air. He bent forward, leaned on the sink, and stared at the face that gazed out of the mirror. There was nothing to see beyond the flesh — the eyes were dark and the hair, the skin was pale and ordinary, like the features. He felt nothing about them except a vague distaste.

In the cabinet there was his father’s strop razor. He picked it off the shelf and carried it to the tub. Stepping over the rim, he first tested the water, then lowered himself into it. He lay still for a while, decided to leave the taps running. He lifted the razor, opened it, and laid the edge across his wrist.

One strong movement was all it took, and one on the other wrist. He dropped the razor onto the floor and closed his eyes. He didn’t open them to see the bright red eddies rising to color the sweet waves that flooded over him as the tide ebbed.

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