Mom loved to take scalding hot baths when I was little. She would run the water very slowly, almost at a trickle, to keep the hot water from running out. It would take almost a half an hour to fill the tub, a deep claw-foot bathtub, and the water would be almost to the point of spilling over, steam crowding into the room and creating a veil-like vision of everything. Then, with Kate and I sitting in the bathroom, Mom would drop her robe and slowly slide into the water, sucking air between her teeth at the burn of the water on her skin. She would go in inch by inch, her descent marked by whispered curses as her skin reddened from the heat. Once she was settled in, her head resting on the back of the tub, she would let out a relaxed "Ahhh," and motion with her dripping hand for one of us to hand her a washcloth. She would wipe her hands, drying them, then motion for her pack of cigarettes in their leather snap-case sitting on the sink. I would hand her that, and hold the case while she lit a Virginia Slim 100, inhaling and then exhaling glamourously, holding the cigarette between the tips of her first and middle finger like a movie star, her long red nails shimmering with beads of water. We would sit with her, hanging on her every word, watching as her breasts bobbed to the surface as she lay reclined in that tub. Her make-up would fall beneath her eyes, making large black semi-circles that dripped down her cheeks, and still, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
Once, I don't know why, but as she ran her bath, I walked in after she had left the bathroom, and poured an entire bottle of baby oil into the water. It sat on top, large slicks bumping into eachother as the water neared the top of the tub. I knew what I had done was going to make Mom get mad. I tried to scoop the oil back out of the tub, but it slipped through my hands, escaping and forming new slicks on top of the water. When Kate walked in, I pretended nothing had happened, afraid that she would tell on me. Kate sat on the floor in front of the sink, waiting for Mom to come in, waiting for the bath time ritual. I didn't know what to do. I knew I was going to be in trouble, but I had no way out. I had to sit there, frozen, looking at Kate across the haze, the air thick and hard to take in. Mom walked in, and when she went to put her hand into the water to check for maximum heat, she noticed the oily film beading around her hand.
"Who did this?" she asked, her voice screechy with annoyance and anger. "Who did it?"
I said nothing. I was terrified.
"Someone better say something," she said, her eyes starting to bulge like they always did when she was about to scream.
I wanted to talk, wanted to take the blame, but I had no words. I knew I was going to get spanked. Kate's eyes met mine and lingered, almost like a conversation. Her eyes were asking me what was going on, and mine were telling her that I was petrified, and guilty.
"Tell me, who did this?" Mom shouted, her voice getting deeper, as she stood with her robe falling off of one shoulder, her hands squeezing her leather cigarette snap-case.
I inhaled deeply and put my head down, ready to take the blame. My mouth opened, prepared to make a confession.
"I did it," Kate said, looking at Mom.
I sat there shocked, a sense of incredible relief and guilt at the same time, as Mom began yelling at Kate, screaming that she didn't know what was going through her head, that she was a disrespectful daughter, that she was getting a spanking. Right in front of me, Mom spanked Kate, spanked her bare bottom until she cried. I wanted to run and make her stop, wanted to help Kate, but I knew it was too late. Mom sent Kate to our room, and drained the tub, shaking her head and sighing with exasperation. I could hear Kate crying from across the hall.
I carried the guilt around from that night for over a decade, until I was nineteen. Kate and I had never spoken about it after it happened. When we were together on a long car ride, just the two of us, I finally brought it up. I told her that I was sorry, that i had felt horribly guilty afterwards every time I thought about it. She didn't even remember it. She thanked me for the apology, but couldn't remember anything like what I was describing. I still think she is repressing it.