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ordinary lives

The stench of sin

Patrick stripped the clothes from his sticky body. The pool was a pristine sheet of blue. He sat at its edge, dipping his toes in the cool water. A dragonfly flittered erratically in front of him, caught on a current only it could see.

An evening swim and soak in the hot tub was just what Patrick needed to slough off the unwanted sounds and words hemorrhaging in his memory. So many people he’d brushed aside, handled badly, just hadn’t cared — their injured specters loomed over him.

Like the clingy sobs his ex-girlfriend had broken into when Patrick told her he was leaving her for a man, sobs he’d dismissed as pathetic neediness.

Or the look of sheer betrayal from his ex-boyfriend when Patrick announced that it was over, that he was attracted to women after all, never mind his previous declarations that Jake had opened a whole new world to him.

And especially the sad downturn of his new girlfriend’s lips when he’d confessed his past history to her, long after they’d swore to keep no secrets from one another.

Patrick slid into the pool, dirtied by the memory of their pain. He hadn’t meant to hurt them. Didn’t matter. Intentions were as useless as the sympathy he could’ve given them. What did they want from him anyway? He lunged into his laps — five on breaststroke, five on butterfly, five on backstroke, and the last five freestyle.

Breathe. Repeat.

Breathe. Repeat.

Breathe, just breathe.

He emerged from the pool shivering and sank into the simmering hot tub. The warmth bled in through his pores. It had been years since he’d taken a soak like this, not since that summer he’d blown out a tire right outside some one-assed town in the middle of his cross-country drive. Crazy place was so far out in B.F.E. he’d spent the whole day sitting with the regulars in the sulfurous steams of the local hot springs, just waiting for a replacement tire.

“First timer, huh?” a woman had asked him by way of introduction. He stared without words, mesmerized by her nest of crackly gray hair, and the electric blue muumuu draped over her ample body. That was Yolande, he soon found out. She was an herbalist, had been coming to the springs every day for twenty years on account of her arthritis.

“Seems soothing,” Patrick offered, although the water was rather tepid, and he sniffed something rotten, the burst of a fart burrowed under the stale stink of sweat.

“That’s the smell of your sin, boy,” Yolande joked, grinning as he scrunched his nose. “Gotta get rid of all your bad hoohah before you can get good and clean.”

Crazy Yolande, Patrick thought, shaking his head, but at least the soak worked. His skin was a sheet of puckered prune and the chlorine dragged at his eyelids. He was exhausted, too exhausted, to think of anything but getting to bed. He stood in the tub, and stepped out of its bubbling entropy. As he followed the sidewalk towards home, he got a whiff of something pungent. Lingering. Foul. The burst of a fart burrowed under the stale stink of sweat.

The stench of his sins had followed him home.

Vanitha Sankaran  is presently writing a collection of vignettes, to be titled Ordinary Lives. Her recent work can be found online at Prose Ax, The Independent Mind, Orchard Press Mysteries, and The Paumanok Review. Her current print work will appear in upcoming issues of Mindprints, The Guild, and FUTURES. She is also an editor at the new e-zine flashquake.