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Hello, I’m eighteen years old and I feel damp. I live in the green house on Love of God Street. I’m the bathtub mildew.
I used to be attacked with all kinds of killer products, but since the flat was sub-let to the Dávilas, I haven’t had to worry.
I’ve settled into the two lower corners of the tub, and am planning to make my way surreptitiously to the back of the tap, which is most appealing, with all its metal nooks and crannies. After that I shall make a strategic withdrawal in order then to invade the whole bathroom, and my kingdom shall have no end.
Yesterday I heard something. Mrs Dávila was sitting in the bathtub very quietly. I sensed something strange because she didn’t start to wash, nor did she move. She just sat there naked, huddled up, watching the tap dripping, her right arm brushing against me, her tender back sliding into the murky water. Outside I could hear a deep, angry voice. I knew who it was talking, though he doesn’t come in here often, that much I must say. The voice spoke of a deranged woman, of a woman who needed help. It talked of a lost youth and a wait.
The telephone clicked when he hung up. Mrs Dávila shuddered and drew closer to me, her back trembling, covered in water-drops. I heard a gentle sob.
Mr Dávila is good-looking, there’s no doubt about that, but he never washes his head and he’s always spraying me with his toenails. He says he understands his wife’s situation, but things can’t carry on like this; he’s a young man, a man with his own affairs, who talks on the phone; a man with his whole life in front of him. My God, I’ve really taken against him. What I particularly hate is when he pays me a visit (he could at least use the soap, he certainly needs to). He’s in the habit of whistling while he undresses, of scratching at his groin. The warm water falls down his nape, between his legs. The worst bit is when he really begins to relax; I withdraw into myself because I know what’s going to happen next, and I can’t help thinking, for God’s sake, please don’t shower for another month!
Meanwhile Mrs Dávila continues to spend her time here, curled up in the tub, obsessively combing her long curls. She rarely turns the tap on; sometimes she doesn’t even get undressed. She just sits herself down, in bare feet, with a bland, pretty smile on her face. She can stay like that for hours. Then her husband comes in, slams the door, snatches the comb, throws it on the floor. He says she’s mad. He doesn’t want her in the house, he can’t take it any more. He drags her out of the tub and smacks her in an attempt to clear her thoughts, to arouse that sleepy brain of hers. I contract, shivering through my pores. But she never cries. No way, she just picks up her comb and leaves the room.
I know they want to take Mrs Dávila away. I can feel it, I realise it when she spends hours writing her name on the condensed mirror, running her finger time and time again over my juicy surface, stroking me so much I have to shiver. I must confess, one day she really scared me. She came in here, started staring at me and singing a song about a forest and a girl. Then she did something really weird: she put her forefinger on my most mucilaginous bit and scraped it, pinching off a piece. I screamed out in silence. She gazed at the mould on her finger, then lifted it to her mouth. That hurt; come on, everybody knows bathtub mildew lives and breathes and has feelings and all that stuff. And yet I swear just the thought that a part of me was rolling around inside her little strawberry mouth made it all worthwhile. After that she’d come back every night and eat a little of this humble must. It’s become our secret, a communion as absurd as it is unconfessable.
Mrs Dávila is a special kind of woman, she always has been. I don’t mind that. I love her in my own way, and most of all I’m grateful to her for giving me the most important moment in my modest fungal life. It was a few years ago, I can’t remember how many. Mrs Dávila was pregnant. I was young back then and my nether regions weren’t half as big as they are now. She would settle into the tub and whisper, stroking her swollen tummy, “You’re not having it. You’re not having it. I’m just as capable of looking after it as you are. You’re not taking it away from me.” And the day arrived. It was October 10th, 1972. That night was the most emotional I’ve ever experienced. She knew it; she knew it was going to happen. She locked the door, got undressed very calmly, and stepped into the tub. She opened her legs, pressed her feet against my edges. She stayed next to me for hours, her laboured breathing echoing inside me. I heard a scream, then another. I couldn’t tell what was going on. Her husband kept banging on the door.
The water gradually turned red. A tender, fleshy lump slid into the heart of the warm tub. The child was crying; me too. I never saw it again.
Mrs Dávila’s illness is getting worse all the time. It’s got to the point where I can’t sleep at night, waiting for her to turn up with her torch. As I explained before, she’ll sit in the tub, scratch away at me with her finger. Tear off a piece, put it in her mouth, swallow. And so on for hours. She’ll finish me off at this rate, but I don’t mind.
Until today, when my worst fears were realised.
It’s been a terrible winter, the water’s frozen in the pipes and I’m having a tough time of it. I’m drying up and my colonizing squadrons haven’t got further than the plug chain. He’s been shouting again. Saying they’ll come and take her away to the madhouse, for her own good, everything’s arranged, tomorrow will be the great day. I couldn’t follow everything he said, but I had the feeling I’d never see Mrs Dávila again.
That evening she came to pay me a final visit. She got undressed, loosened her hair, which fell down her back like a flurry of small spiders. She combed it, then put on a pearl necklace he’d given her before they got married.
Next I see her open the drawer in the cabinet. Take out some scissors. Turn off the light.
I feel the bathtub slowly filling, the steam clogging my pores. I hear a whimper. What the hell is going on?
My God, would someone turn on the light? I feel her right elbow weighing down on top of me. If I had hands, I’d embrace her; if I had a voice, I’d shout out loud. Tell her husband to come. I no longer feel the light weight of her arm, which drops down into the water.
When the light finally goes on, I think I’m going to die. All her inside, sweet and red as cherries, has soaked the floor, the tiles – beautiful spasms of her which run all the way down me. It’s her permanent smile, her empty eyes, I won’t forget.
Mr Dávila comes in and takes her in his arms. Her head, drooping to one side, hits the door frame as he leaves the bathroom.
After a moment he comes back in on his own, checks the tub. His piggish face contorts into a grimace, a mixture of relief and disgust. His nightmare is finally over. And he didn’t even have to do anything.
It’s then I reach a decision. I decide it cannot stay like this.
The days go by. While I plan my revenge, I send my most diligent spores to his razors; perhaps they’ll go rusty, he might even get tetanus. I also fill the drainpipe with my fungal tentacles so that every time he turns on the tap, the bathroom floods.
At night I huddle in my corner, hoping she’ll come back with her torch and caress me. But no, she never comes back. One week goes by, then another, and another. One night I decide Mr Dávila won’t get up the following morning without paying me for what he’s stolen.
My ranks are depleted, but I gather my gelatinous strength and, with a superhuman effort, stretch as far as I can to the wall I’m missing. Then I try to bridge the decisive gap separating me from the damp patch that has conveniently appeared where the leak is, and there I absorb as much as I can by way of provisions. I inflate my mouldy pores, breathe in and drag myself across the tiles with discretion. The tap drip-drips into the tub.
I can hear him snoring in the other room. He sounds like a huge pig grunting at the back of a cave. I think of Mrs Dávila, and this gives me strength. I can see his callused feet hanging off the bed. They move a bit when I touch them. The stuffy atmosphere in the room affords me some refreshment.
I slowly make my way up the sheets, along his body, until I reach his sweaty neck. I have to admit I never would have made it had it not been for the mould along the edges of the dirty sheet, a real culture in need.
I rest a little on the damp curve of his lips, and then ever so slowly introduce my tentacles into his mouth. Slip down his throat. It’s not bad here, nice and warm and fluffy. I might even change residence.
I stick to the walls of his mouth and trachea, absorbing as much dampness as I can. He clears his throat. I distend my mouldy fingers, inflate them again and again. It’s all over, mister. He has difficulty breathing. The way he coughs and retches makes him convulse.He doesn’t even have time to wake up.
Translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Dunne.
Nina Melero is a translator and writer. She teaches Spanish and Translation Studies at Kingston University and at the University of Westminster. Her publications include research articles on applied translation theory and literary translation as well as short stories, some of which have been awarded literary prizes (Art Nalon Letras 2007, Planeta Jóvenes Talentos 2005 and 2007). Tenebrario is her latest collection of short stories. Nina is currently completing her next book, Messiah 2.0, a cyberpunk novel about inhumanity and the non-human. You can find out more about Nina at www.ninamelero.com; her work is available to purchase from the European Bookshop.