It’s the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, and half her cake is gone. She lies–or rather, awkwardly crunches and sprawls–in the tub, watching steam rise from the water, the bathroom lit only by a nightlight and a three-wick, vanilla-scented candle. And as if that weren’t enough of a cliche, she’s listening to Sade and Enya (over the sounds of her neighbors doing laundry next door). She’s spent these first twenty-five years of her life avoiding and vehemently defying cliches. She figures she can give herself just this one.
She never feels, on the eve of birthdays, like the age she is going to be turning. But this time, she is certain the calendar has gotten it wrong–she’s aged years in the past three months alone, and twenty-five seems at once far too young and far too old for the body, and the mind, her soul inhabits. She stares at her feet, beginning to prune, and scratches at her shoulders underwater, with the few unbroken nails left on her hands.
Becoming still again, she stares at the belly she gained this weekend, after eating too many cookies and too much hummus, and then, compounded by this day of too much cake. Gaze down the sides, and she thinks she can no longer tell the difference between tattoos and scars–one intentional, the other not, but what is intention anyway? Circumstance showed up on her doorstep like her forgotten great aunt from Nevada, head topped with a floppy hat as red as a hibiscus, big suitcase in tow, and with no foreseeable plans of leaving. She gave Circumstance the good chair, slid over the footrest. Learned to make tea the right way, and to wait.
She sinks further down, until just her head and knees are in the open air. She can no longer tell the difference between the sweat that slides along her temples from the tears she cried this morning from the water snaking from her scalp, where she pushed back her hair with dripping hands. She reaches up an arm to draw hearts on the steamed-up shower door, then traces out a 25, then a long, shaky line. She looks up at the ceiling, the dim light, the quivering shadows from the candle. She tells herself, Remember this. Next year, it will be different.
She slides down further still and opens her mouth, lets the cloudy water flood in. Then she spits–hard–across the tub, like a fountain, like a child. Just for good measure, she rolls onto her stomach and starts to blow bubbles, watches them ripple and hit the tub wall, reverberate along the sides. She thinks of the butterfly effect, a component of chaos theory, wherein the few flaps of an insect’s wings in one place can trigger a hurricane on the other side of the world. She wonders, if she blows enough bubbles, this will bring change her way, whip Circumstance off the chair and out the door. She’d stay in here all night if it would.
But Sade is getting scratchy, the wet heat no doubt breeding mold in the walls, and so she lifts her body, limp and sopping, from the water. Turns off the music, wraps herself in a towel, and blows out the candle. She pauses a moment to look at her reflection in the half-steamed mirror: her damp and dark hair, her eyes still rimmed with makeup. Tonight, she thinks, I’ll sleep, and next year, it will be different. Whatever different means. If there’s one thing that’s constant, it’s change, and this, she’s come to know. It’s what made her turn off the world for an hour tonight, on the eve of her birthday, to sit in the tub, to listen to music, and to stare into space, at her imperfect body. It’s what gives her hope that somewhere–Moscow, Dubai, someplace she’s yet to see–where daylight has dawned and it’s already the thirteenth, a butterfly has landed on a ruby red hibiscus, and begins to flap its wings.