It feels like I’ve been in this place for eternity. Yet, all I know of this place is its two bathrooms and the figure I’ve seen twice and spoken with only once.
In this room, there’s a bathtub. In this room, the bathwater is always ice-cold. In this room the tub and the tile are a brilliant white – so white and brilliant it is almost blinding. In between this room and the other is a door. On this side – the white side – the door connecting the rooms is painted white too.
On the wall of this white room with the cold bathwater hangs a white clock. To see the time I have to stand very close to this white clock since the room with its glistening white tile is so pure, brilliant and blinding that, from a distance, the clock is nothing but a blur. Sometimes before sliding into or out of the ice cold water of the tub, I stand naked before this clock which must be broken since it is always set for precisely 12 o’clock. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be set for noon or midnight since there’s been nobody here but the enigmatic figure to ask.
Sometimes I stand naked and shivering before this clock in the white room. Sometimes I stand before it, imagining the hands turning. It feels like hours – maybe days – when I stand before this clock that never moves. Sometimes I stand before it imagining – pretending- it’s hands are turning clockwise in slow, ticking seconds. Other times, when I grow weary of imagining a clock’s slow hands turning clockwise, I stand there for what feels like hours – maybe days – imagining its hands turning counterclockwise instead.
Besides the clock and the bathtub and the brilliant white tiles and the clock on the wall, the only other thing in the white room is the white door that connects it to the other bathroom. It is very rare that the door connecting these rooms is ever locked.
In the other room – the only other room in this place that I know of – is another bathtub. In that room, everything is black and the water in the bathtub is always steaming from its heat. In that room, the bathtub and the tile too are black. On that side, the door leading back to the white room is black. In that room, the clock on the wall that never changes from 12 o’clock is black. And, being so dark, anything inside is it very hard to see, which is why, just like in the white room, when I stand naked before the black clock for what seems like hours – maybe days- I have to stand very close in order to see that the hands never move.
Besides these things, there is only one other – the figure. The figure, like a specter, I sometimes hear but have only seen twice – once in the white room and once in the black room. I know very little of this mysterious figure but I believe it is the one that keeps the water in the bathtubs nearly scalding and nearly freezing. I believe this is the figure’s duty, though I know nothing of who or what is serves. I believe it’s this figure that keeps the door between the rooms briefly locked as it does its work, then releases the bolt when it’s finished.
For what seems like eternity, there has been nothing to do in this place but soak in one of these bathtubs and wait for the bolt to the door to be released. That, or stand before the white or black clock and pretend time is moving. So I spend my life observing the clocks do nothing or I waste away, soaking in scalding hot or freezing cold bathtubs. When I lay in the hot one, when it gets too hot and I feel I’m about to overheat and my skin is ready to boil off the meat underneath, then I go to the door connecting the bathrooms to check it it’s open. If the door is open, which it usually is, I go through, close the door behind me and slip into the ice cold bathtub to return my equilibrium. Usually, after I leave one room, I hear the door lock from the other side. I know it’s that figure making the bathtub steaming hot again as I rest and cool myself in the frigid water in the white room.
Then, when I begin to turn blue, when my body trembles and my teeth chatter from the frigid bath, I get out and walk naked over to the door. I have to give the figure a little time to do its work. If the door is locked, I may walk over to the clock on the wall to stare at it vacantly, imagining it’s hands slowly rotating either clockwise or counter. Naked and shivering, I will stand before time until I hear the lock on the other side of the door release. Then I go into the other room and slip into that bathtub to heat myself up again.
Only twice has that figure forgotten to lock the door. I hadn’t been in the steaming, black tub long. I waited for the sound of the door being bolted from the other side. I waited but I never heard it lock, so, red, scalded and naked, I stepped out of the bathtub and went to the door. I opened it and there was the figure in the white room, I believe adding ice to the freezing tub I’d recently abandoned. I strained my eyes to make sense of this figure and what it was doing, but the room was so blindingly pure, white and brilliant, it only appeared as a hazy, haloed apparition. I couldn’t tell if it was male or female. I couldn’t tell if it was young or old.
I was so shocked and startled by this apparition, I immediately closed the door and retreated back to the steaming bathtub of the black room. Within seconds, I heard the door lock from the other side.
Sometime later – I cannot say how long since the clocks in here never change – nevertheless, it felt like a long time – I was shivering in the frigid water of the white bathtub when, again, I noted the absence of the sound of the door being locked from the other side.
This time I was more prepared. I slipped out of the freezing white tub, blue in my nakedness. I went to the door and opened it to the black room where I was sure the figure was inside, tending to keeping the water at its condition of near-boiling.
I opened the door and stood there naked. As always, it was very dark inside. Too dark, in fact, to make out any more about this figure than before. In fact, just like the previous time, I couldn’t tell if it was male or female or if it was young or old.
But I’d been in this place for what seemed a very long time with nothing but baths and a door and clocks that failed to keep time. So this time I maintained my composure. I needed answers, so I whispered to this shadowy figure, “What is this place? A resort? A hospital? An insane asylum?”
From the depths of the room’s blackness, it whispered back, “I cannot say, but you may leave anytime you wish to find out for yourself.”
I was so anxious for an answer I didn’t even notice if the voice was more like that of a boy or man than that of a girl or woman.
“How?” I asked. “There is but one door and we both know where it leads.”
I strained to hear. I strained to see. The figure motioned toward the wall opposite of the one in which I was standing. In that wall was a white door. It was the only thing in the black room that wasn’t black.
“In this room there is one door to the outside, just as is in the room behind you. And I assure you, neither of these doors has ever been locked.”
I had never seen any door but the one I saw standing in – the one connecting the two rooms. But, sure enough, there it was. I turned in the doorway to look back into the white room. I gave my eyes a moment to adjust. And there it was, just as described, a black door on the far wall of the white room.
“They have always been there,” the figure whispered. “Have you never imagined from where I come and go?”
I turned back to the figure.
“This room has been too dark for me to have seen it,” I said. “And the room behind me has been far too luminous to have noticed the door in there either.”
“Yes,” the figure said. “Or, you have never wished to know they are there. You have never cared to observe anything more than what you already know. Hence, your absurd preoccupation with the time in this place that never changes.”
“Will you be long?” I asked the bleak figure. “Will you be finishing your work soon?”
“Yes,” it said. “I will only be a few moments more.”
I could hear water being poured. I imagined this figure pouring it from a steaming kettle.
I closed the door and retreating back into the white room and the freezing tub. I slid into the water. Within moments, my skin felt brittle and I heard the door bolt shut from the other side. I wrapped my arms around myself. I closed my eyes – for how long I couldn’t tell. The water was freezing – so frigid I couldn’t think about anything but needing warmth. So unbearably uncomfortable, I was, I forgot all about the black door in the far wall behind me.
I took a deep breath. I began to feel ill. I looked at the clock, knowing what time it would be. I hoped that fool in the other room warming the bathwater would be finished soon. I needed to hear the sound of the door unlocking. I needed to be in the scalding tub in order to feel like myself again.