THE ROOM’S RENT went two thousand pesos over budget but it had a front porch where she could smoke. And the landlady said she had recently put a heater in the hall bathroom and courteously showed her how it worked, how to blend the shower water from warm to hot, how hot the water could be. Steam filled the bathroom. She liked the bathroom. A beveled mirror above the wash basin and a full-length one behind the door gave it an illusion of space. She liked the wood floor of the room that would be hers. Narra, she was told, and though she did not believe it, she knew she would like the feel of it on her bare feet.
And an avocado tree grew in the garden behind, by the kitchen. She could smoke there, too. And there were brick steps from the garden path going up the kitchen doorway, four of them, oro-plata-mata-oro.
There was only one other boarder in the house. He looked her age. She saw him come in that noon through the garden path, up the four steps, into the kitchen where the landlady showed her how the gas stove worked. Without matches. You just turn it on, like an electric stove.
He moved briskly, with semi-grace, was on the path one instant and in the kitchen the next. The landlady introduced them. He’s a dancer. She’s a VP of a firm in Greenhills. She was thinking, how could a dancer afford to board here, and he answered her thoughts.
“I also sell condominiums.” Lives on commissions? She did not believe it.
“Buy and sell,” he read her thinking further. “I buy them when they’re still not there, and sell at profit after they’re built.”
With what? Her mind computed: he needed capital to do that.
“With borrowed money you can do anything. What do you do?”
“Construction,” she said.
“Ah, fate,” he said.
What she liked most about the house was the hall bathroom. Her room had a private bath, as did the other room, but the hall bath have the shower heater, and mornings were cold. The heater was shared. There was an unwritten schedule. She bathed in the morning before work. The dancer at any time after that.
The hall took in the morning sun from the porch, and she stepped into this light each day before her bath, stretching in the sun, upward, downward, right, and left. In the bathroom she locked the door. Here was her world of silence before the days storm at the office.
She made a ritual of dressing, one step after the other, in timed sequence. Routine secured in her steadfastness, maintained devotion for competence at work, kept the mind watchful over the vulnerability of heart.
In her structured ritual, she unrobed, then switches the shower on to full heat forming layers of steam. She reduces the heat, and her shower is ready. Less hot, the steam turns to mist.
Drying herself after her shower, she sees through the mist on the beveled mirror: wet black hair on top of a head, an outline of shoulders, arms, torso. Through the mist she is faceless.
She dabs her body with light cologne. Back of ears, top of spine, here between breasts, inside the thighs, back of knees, ankles. A layer of mist evaporates and the eyes on her face are distinct. She combs her hair. There is still a thin veil of mist over her face on the mirror.
She turns to the full mirror on the door and studies her body’s profile. A good breast shape though small. A thigh with no scar from childhood vaccinations. The scar is on the left. On the left, too, site a slight belly flab but the right side of her stomach is taut. The right side of her is her better side.
She dries her ears with cotton tips, her navel, too. The mist is clearing. She snaps on her bra. The mist is her time frame. She must be done before it disappears. The white of her bra, panty garter against mist, vestiges of nose, mouth, birthmarks become visible in the gauzy mist remaining. She puts on her robe. Finished, she opens the door to let in air.
The mist vanishes in the sunny air. She always looked back to check if id did, if everything was in its place, the bathroom clean for the next who showered.
Once with nothing to do, she watched the dancer practice his dance on the garden’s path. In black tights and shirt, he swayed, hip, shoulder, arm, in dysfunctional symmetry, as a tree in a storm. Sudden stillness, then a hand raised, and fingers, closing, opening, are leaves rustling in the wind.
He rolled down the sleeves of his black shirt, put on a black cap, and gloves. The night swallowed his blackness. He performed for her, an exercise in black, the dance ending on the kitchen steps where she sat smoking her cigarette; she likes his smell, the sweat after practice. The tang of it hurt the narrow inside of her nose when she inhaled, and when it traveled to the base of her, it was pleasure. The pleasure was, as was the dance she intuitively understood, hers alone.
Then once, she woke unusually late, with a sleepy energy that caused her to disregard all ritual, all invented sequence of dress. She was out in the hall in her nightgown, not her robe. She was back in her room for the towel she forgot to bring. She was in the shower adjusting the water’s heat while still undressing. She had not stretched.
That day, the mist vanished fast, ahead of its time. She wondered why. She had just combed her hair, and in the mirror her face shone almost instantly in clear view. No gradual layers of visible ness. The mist melted away in cold air blown from somewhere, touching her nakedness, a breeze. From where?
She turned at the door which was slightly ajar in time to see a shadow go. Who? She did not move, only thought- whoever it was had seen the better shape of her, her round right breast, the thigh with no vaccination scar, the front of her belly without the flab. She closed the door. Maybe it was no one, maybe she had left the door ajar herself, coming in for a shower, half asleep. Or maybe it was he. A shadow there to gaze at her, then gone away to bare the bar of sun come in from the hall.