From “All of Our Fears”: An Anthology


Ablutophobia

(Fear of bathing)

The rain was falling so hard that it was nearly impossible to see across the street. Denise Williams closed the curtains so that she could not see the source of her terror. She wasn’t exactly afraid of the rain, but she was afraid that if she went out into it that she would begin to feel that she was wrapped in a shower curtain struggling to avoid the drops that would wash away the dirt on herself. Denise Williams feared any sort of water making contact with her body. This fear started when she was six years old and her mother had not paid attention to her when she was playing near the family’s swimming pool. She had been knocked into the pool by Schatzi, the family’s pet German Shepard. Her mother, who was in the kitchen talking to a friend on the telephone, did not notice her daughter’s absence until she heard Schatzi’s barking. Her mother, putting her friend on hold, yelled at the dog to be quiet until she saw him barking at something in the pool. She quickly hung up the phone and ran out of the house to see what he was barking at. When Denise’s mother saw her daughter slowly sinking to the bottom of the pool, she jumped in and rescued her. Fortunately for Denise, her mother knew CPR, since she was a nurse at the local hospital.

The next incident that caused Denise to fear applying water to any part of her body was when her uncle Raymond was babysitting her while her mother was working overtime at the hospital. It was time for Denise to get ready for bed, when her uncle called her to come into the bathroom to get her bath. Denise, who as an innocent seven year old, didn’t think that it was unusual to see her uncle waiting for her in the bathtub. She got undressed and waited for her uncle to pick her up and put her in the tub for her bath. Denise was unaware of any bad intentions on the part of her uncle and was distracted by the soap bubbles which filled the tub almost to the top. She was having a good time with her uncle, when she noticed a funny smell coming out of his mouth.

“Uncle Ray-Ray, what’s that funny smell?”

“Oh, darling, don’t worry about that. Your uncle was just having a special drink.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Say, darling, do you want to play a fun game?”

“Yeah. What is it?”

“It’s called ‘Submarine’.”

“How do play it?”

“Well, you dunk your head under the water for a little while and look for uncle’s submarine.”

“What do I do when I find it?”

“Just grab it, okay?”

“Okay” And with t-hat, Denise held her breathe and dunked her head under the bubbles. She looked and saw something that was long and hard and grabbed it. The next thing that Denise felt was her uncle’s hand forcing her head down under the water. She tried to struggle away from him but her uncle forced her head between his hairy legs. After what seemed like an eternity, her uncle released his hold on her and she popped straight out of the water crying hysterically. Her uncle, instead of trying to calm her down, just got out of the bathtub, grabbed her by her arm and roughly rubbed her body with a towel. He then told her to go get dressed for bed, shoved her out of the bathroom and slammed the door. Denise went to her room, while wracked with a case of the hiccups. She got dressed, got into her bed, and prayed that her uncle would not come into her room to say “good-night.” After that terrible night, she would wake up screaming from nightmares featuring soap bubbles and submarines. When her mother would try to ask her about her dreams, Denise would only sit up on the bed and draw her knees up to her face. It took two years of visiting a child psychologist for her to open up and admit what had happened to her. After her mother turned her brother into the police, Denise never saw her uncle again.

The rainstorm didn’t let up until two o’clock in the morning and Denise was finally able to get some sleep. After six hours of dreamless sleep, Denise got dressed, dabbed a bit of perfume behind her ears and left for work. Fortunately for her, her work did not require interacting with a lot of people; she was only able to get a job as a telemarketer and her boss gave her a cubicle far enough from the other employees. Denise did not really have any friends at work, so she did her job, clocked out at the end of her shift and went home.

As she was driving towards the freeway on ramp, she saw a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart filled with her meager possessions. Denise almost always felt a sympathy for homeless people because she felt that if she didn’t have a job, she would be one of those women. Even though she knew that she was a slave to her fears, the stories that she had heard about homeless women being raped was a bigger fear. She quickly put the thought of Uncle Raymond out of her head and pulled up to her driveway. Although she didn’t mind doing grocery shopping, she always sensed when other shoppers noticed her smell and preferred to have her groceries delivered to her house.

It was a nice clear summer day and Denise decided that she would go for a drive out to the countryside. The fresh air of the countryside and the minimum amount of people always made her feel relaxed. She saw a roadside stand selling fresh produce, so she stopped and bought a box of strawberries. After awhile, she grew hungry and stopped at a small restaurant and ordered some chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and a glass of ice tea. The waitress who took her order was friendly enough and didn’t turn her face away from her when most of them would have because of her heavy use of perfume. Yes, she decided, this was a very relaxing day. Around three o’clock, Denise decided to return home. She didn’t want to let the strawberries get too much sun and start to rot. She would have to wash them when she got home, but washing fruit did not feed into her fear. She would just take the flexible hose attached to the sink and rinse them.

Denise was listening to a radio station that played songs from the seventies, when she saw the sign pointing to the upcoming on ramp of the freeway. As she was waiting for the light to turn green so that she could cross the road for the on ramp, she saw a man dressed in unmatched and filthy clothes holding up a sign that read, “Need money for food”. Since she was a single woman in a car and the sun was almost setting, she ignored the man and his sign. She was afraid that if she stopped to give him a dollar, that he would highjack her and her car. The light turned green and she drove onto the on ramp without giving the filthy man another look or thought. An hour later, she was pulling up into her driveway, carrying in her box of fairly fresh strawberries. Once she had rinsed off the strawberries, she put most of them in the refrigerator, while keeping one small green plastic box of them on the counter. She took a small bowl off of the shelf, dumped the strawberries into the bowl and poured some milk into the bowl with a teaspoon of sugar. This was Denise’s favorite comfort food ever since she had been a child, before the bad times had happened.

She had just sat down to watch the news, enjoying her strawberries and pulling their stems off when she heard a sound coming from her bedroom. She lowered the sound on the television to see if she had heard right. She heard a door close and realized that someone was in her house and that they were now in her bathroom, because she heard water running. She turned off the television, put down her bowl of strawberries on a stand, and grabbed her phone to call 911. Her mother had always warned her that she should buy either pepper spray or a baseball bat for protection since she was a single young woman living alone, but Denise never felt the need for either of these items since she lived in a good neighborhood. The 911 operator came on the line and asked her the nature of her emergency.

“Someone has broken into my house and it sounds like they are in the bathroom.”

“What is your address, ma’am?”

“793 Evergreen Street. What should I do?”

“Don’t do anything. I’m sending over a unit right now.”

Denise hung up the phone and sat frozen in her chair. She had no idea how long it would take for the police to arrive, so she was unsure if she should wait for them outside or stay in the house. Finally she decided that she would take a peek into her bedroom to see if anything had been stolen or destroyed. She tiptoed over to her bedroom door and saw that it was ajar. She slowly pushed it open wide enough to see around. Everything seemed to be in order, except for a couple of her dresser drawers being open. Denise never hid anything important in the drawers, so she wasn’t worried about that. Suddenly, the bathroom door opened and a man in his mid-30’s stepped out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. His blond hair and face were filthy and his hands looked like they had some scars. Denise suddenly let out a small scream, and the man looked up at the door. He saw Denise and started to run after her. Denise tried to run towards the front door to escape but she slid on an area rug and fell down. The man caught up to her and grabbed her by the arm. He started pulling her towards the bedroom while she tried to struggle out of his grip.

“I just wanted to clean up a bit, bitch.”

Denise was not listening as she started to scream. The man grabbed a vase which was sitting on a side table and hit her over the head. Once he was sure that she was out, the man picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. He tore her clothes off then carried her into the bathroom. The water in the tub was hot and steaming. The man took off his towel, put Denise in the water, and got on top of her. He was forcing himself into her when Denise gained consciousness and started to scream again.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch!” Denise tried to get out of the man’s grasp, but she was pinned down too tightly. She felt the pain of the man’s hard penis as he raped her, but she also felt the heat of the water on her body and she was back to being six years old with her uncle Raymond. Just as she felt her body starting to slide lower into the water, the man’s weight was lifted off of her. The police had finally arrived! After the man was taken out to the police car, a female officer came into the bathroom, grabbed a towel from the rack and helped Denise out of the tub. Denise’s eye were glazed and she did not realize what was going on. When the policewoman started to dry Denise off, Denise finally broke down, fell to the floor and started crying uncontrollably. The officer was startled and, for a moment, was unsure of how to handle the situation.

Rachel Williams parked her car in the lot, walked into the hospital, and signed in. She was met by the Director of the hospital and escorted to a room. They both sat down and the Director told Mrs. Williams that her daughter was not having a good day, and that it might not be a good idea to see her.

Denise rocked back and forth with her knees to her chin on her cot. Behind her half-closed eyelids, she saw a submarine floating in soap bubbles. Denise was in her childhood, screaming. The nurse walked over and gently inserted the hypodermic into Denise’s arm.

March 12,2012

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