Mama would be proud of me. My skin soft from Olay, my head all full of confidence and water. Near enough to being a god like one of them mythic creatures she read me when I was too young to fill out a dress the way I do now. Legs thick. Butt looking good. Got the men at Annie’s Ice House staring after me with greed in they eyes, hunger dripping off they lips as I sashay to the bar. They’ll fall off they stools when they see me tomorrow night.
But this night, I rubbed the bathtub with beeswax till my knuckles hurt. Mama washed me in this tub as a little girl. She’d sit on a stool, one hand spinning the soapy water, the other holding a book of fairy stories that she’d read me.
“This my book of incantations,” she called them. “They show you what you could be when you have the power to believe.”
I believe the magic in my veins is alive, crackling hot like the Crisco I use for the fish fry, ‘cept I ain’t being cooked. I’m being turned inside out so folks can see the real me.
I filled this tub with warm water and sprinkled it with coconut powder. Mama did this lots of times. So I knew just what to do. Took some orange marigolds, red roses, and a few other things from that garden running wild since she passed. I sat in the rocking chair with that bouquet and imagined all the flowers folks would lay at my feet soon enough. I clipped the marigold and rose heads right into the bathwater and scattered the rest. I was twitching so bad, I almost hopped right in! Had to rub my body down with sandalwood oil first, then I slid into the water.
This tub’s magic, I know it. Our history whispers from the cold metal if I listen hard enough. A grandfather somewhere in the family tree hauled the tub from a burned-out plantation home. People called him a fool, but his kin had hammered that copper good, and he claimed their spirits were tied to it.
“‘It has our power. It belongs to me and mine.’ That’s what he said,” Mama told me one time.
It does have our power. It’s made of our blood and sweat. And Mama birthed me in it. And Grandmama gave birth to Mama in it too. Now I’m giving birth to myself. I can see all my power now. Legs rising like fertile mountains out the water. And damn! It feels so good. Water’s kissing my arms and licking my hips in communion, in a way none of my lovers ever have.
First time my need for the water pulsed through me, I was sitting next to Freddie on the pier behind Annie’s. Our feet dangled in the lake. Blues washed over us when the juke’s screen door creaked open and clattered shut. Bodies sweated and gyrated on the back porch. They set a mood. I could feel it in the heat pulsing off Freddie. His lips brushed against my shoulder as he talked low. I don’t know how long we just sat there, our bodies humming.
“Girl, you gotta man under there somewhere?” he huffed. “You lookin like you in love but it ain’t with me!”
Love? I had some of that for Freddie. But when I saw that water, I saw something greater than our sweat slick bodies tangled in my discount sheets. There was no other man, just my reflection rippling in the moonlight. A goddess like the Lady of the Lake, a woman of power. I saw the me I should’ve been, and I wanted to slip under the cool water and embrace her.
Before I kissed Freddie’s soft lips from sunrise to sundown, I had to, no, needed to jump in that water. Any water! I needed to meet that other me first.
Lawd! I hope they put me in parades for all the May Days and the Fourths till the end of time. I’d be better looking than Miss Goldenrod 2007 with her silicone and perfect teeth. I can’t wait to see her smug ass face when they put me on a flower throne, all pretty with violets and camellias, and push me through town on the biggest float anyone’s ever seen. People’ll forget about her and remember me. They’ll write stories about me and I’ll be a fairytale girl all the same. Nah. They’ll worship me.
And this tub like a shining womb around me, will be my altar. If I stay underneath this water long enough, I’ll change like in the stories. Maybe I’ll be a mermaiden or a nymph, an Alabaman Aphrodite. I want a tail, shining and green. No! I hope it’s purple, the color of royalty. ‘Cause that’s what I am. Don’t matter though. The water welcomes me and now I welcome it.
This must be how caterpillars feel before they become butterflies. My chrysalis is lavender and pine, a wreath of calendula and yarrow. The flowers staring down at me, their red petals like blood stars in a watery sky.
I push out the old me. It bubbles up in a chain of clear pearls that breaks against the surface. That old spirit’s free to go live another life now. I expected pain in this second birth. “You entered the world screaming,” Mama once said. But now I’m singing.
My new world flashes in yellows and whites across my eyes. A big change is happening inside my chest. It’s fuzzy like the inside of a champagne bottle. My body’s fightin it! But I gotta hold on. I deserve this. Mama spoke me into those fairy stories.
“You just like those girls with the light in they eyes. With love padding they footsteps,” she said. “Baby, you are power and magic.”
Even Freddie saw it. Told me I deserved the world and more. He’d give it to me, too, but I could get it for myself.
In this tub, I’m like a just-born girl-child, when she’s full of potential and empty of the world. This is a new birth. It’s getting dim now, but I ain’t afraid of the dark. The water swirls like Mama’s by the bath reading me. Someone’s talking too. Not sure who, but their words soothe me. The flowers spin into the dark. But I lie still as stone, watching a rose bud sinking toward me. It blossoms in the water and brushes against my lips in an open-mouthed kiss.