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Clean.

Margo wanted to shower on a train. She pictured it thusly: a compact stall, neat, clean, maybe a seat in the corner. Her face upturned, eyes closed, and hot water streaming from a surprisingly strong showerhead, the train rocking gently beneath her, the water rolling rapidly over her. Around her, life on the train, families and couples talking in their compartments, strangers sharing stories in the coach, everyone sharing mealtimes in the dining car, clinking glasses in the club car. And all the while, she'd be soaking up the heat and the wet in the rocking shower. She'd be clean. She'd be soothed. She'd have company, be involved with others, without being involved at all. Without having to share. Without having to hurry for the next person in line.

Margo blinked the vision away and returned to scrolling through Amtrak's schedule, her cursor pausing and clicking, pausing and clicking, much the way she imagined the sound of the train's wheels on rails to be.

It wouldn't be the first time Margo showered in what she considered to be an exotic location. She'd done outdoor showers at beachfront resorts. Not swimsuit-clad showers, but butt-naked showers in the fresh air with the sound of the surf and seagulls. Chic showers in spas. Showers in hotels across the country, around the world, soaking her in foreign water that burbled in different languages, with rich accents. Showers with beautiful views. Showers with powerful jets. Two-person, three-person, four-person showers, though she stood in them alone and directed all the jets her way. Steam showers, rainforest showers, showers that zapped her awake or soothed her into sleep. There was even a shower that pelted her with caffeinated water, guaranteed to raise her energy level to a new high. It did. Once, at a therapeutic spa, she took a shower while lying on a waterproof table. The showerheads flowed the length of her body, above and to the sides, swishing like a car wash. She couldn't decide which was better, the drumbeat of the water on her back or streaming over her front, making warm puddles in her cleavage and in the notch at the base of her throat, in her eye sockets. It was delicious.

By far, the most decadent, secretive shower she ever took was at a parsonage. She'd been involved in a discussion with the pastor--Margo owned a successful chain of florist shops and she was haggling a business deal with the church--when he was called away to visit a parishioner who was dying. Margo asked if she could please use the restroom before leaving, and the pastor, in a hurry, said of course, but to shut the door of the house firmly as she left, making sure it locked. Margo lingered in the powder room, intended for visitors, until the pastor's car tore out of the driveway. Then she wandered the entire parsonage until she found where the pastor slept. He had an en-suite, and his bathroom, while simple, was still magnificent by the very means of that simplicity. Margo felt the touch of a higher power here, a higher purpose, as she stripped and stepped into his freestanding and very clean shower. She immersed herself under the standard single showerhead until the hot water ran out. While she was a little nervous, she was relatively unhurried--people didn't die that swiftly and the pastor would have to do some familial comforting before coming back. She pretended she was showering in holy water.

It could have been.

Now, Margo wondered, as she scrolled, if she would see the passing rails beneath the train through the drain. She fantasized about starting her shower here, in one state, and turning the water off there, in another state. For a moment, she considered whether it was possible to shower on a plane. She'd never heard of such a thing. But maybe it was feasible on private jets, those cushy air limousines the likes of the president flew in. She put finding a connection to one of those on her mental bucket list.

Finally, she stopped scrolling and chose Amtrak's Empire Builder, the train that ran from Chicago to either Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington. Margo lived in a suburb of Milwaukee, and the train had a stop here, at the downtown station. But she decided she would drive to Chicago, park her car in a sleep'n'fly, though she wouldn't be flying, and take the Empire Builder the entire way, for the full experience. The only way to have access to a shower was to book a sleeper, so she did that too. Sleepers came in three sizes: the roomette, the bedroom, and the family bedroom. She chose the bedroom, which, from its description, should have been called the bedroomette. It was a tiny room with what they called a "couch," which transformed into a twin-size bed at night. There was a second bed lowered from the ceiling, but for Margo, that wouldn't be necessary. A table folded out, if she needed a table. And there was a private bathroom comprising a toilet and a shower stall. The entire unit could be protected from the noise of passing passengers by a sliding glass door, and the unit could be protected from view by a dark blue curtain that pulled across it.

There would be all sorts of people around her, living, breathing, intersecting her life. Margo would be a part of something but separate too. No one would be telling her to hurry. No one would be waiting to take her spot. But they would still be present, drifting in her space when she chose, settling on the periphery when she didn't.

Margo picked Seattle. The train would take two and a half days to get there. She'd stay for five, at a boutique hotel that promised luxury bathrooms. Then take the train back. The train passed through Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Margo vowed to shower at least once in every state.

Margo booked it. She couldn't wait.

As one would likely expect, Margo's shower in her own home was nothing short of epic. Her house was small but well appointed. She'd chosen a small lot and a small floor plan because she was in her late forties and still single, so she figured she would always live alone. There were two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen, beautifully decorated but not excessive. There was a powder room for the very few guests she'd ever had.

But then there was her own bathroom, never shared. The en-suite master bath was larger than the master bedroom. And the shower took up most of the space.

There was a clawfoot Jacuzzi tub for those rare times that Margo wanted to soak instead of stand. There was a toilet, of course. And a one-sink vanity, though where a second sink would be, Margo filled in with a white marble countertop. She loved the feeling of snowy vastness when she prepared for work in the morning.

But the shower!

Walk-in, the length of the room. Showerheads with multiple settings on all three sides and three rainforest heads in a row up above. Pulsating adjustable jets tucked in the tiled walls. A bench ran the length of the longest wall, and it could be moved to the center, should Margo want to stretch out, in homage to the table shower at the spa. Heated tile on the floor. Piped-in music through waterproof speakers, a wide-screen television mounted on the wall opposite the steam-free glass shower doors. Margo could pace, she could sit, she could lie down, she could stretch, she could lean, and she could watch TV. Whatever she wanted, she could do, and no matter what, she wouldn't be out of the wet. Because of all the jets, she was miraculously clean every single time she stepped out. And she stepped out at least twice a day. First thing in the morning, last thing at night. Sometimes after work too.

Glorious.

And she never had to wait for someone else to finish. Nobody ever waited for her. The hot water was an everlasting fountain. Every drip a new drop. Each one unique. Each one untouched before it touched her. And then they all slid down the drain, never to touch another.

Lots of jets, lots of water, lots of options. But while she was in the shower, the rest of the rooms in her house stood empty.

There was only Margo. And sometimes, that was lonely.

And so on the train, she would shower while surrounded. Like in a hotel, yes, but different. More integrated. In hotels, you stayed in your own little space. On a train, Margo imagined, you met people. You talked to them at mealtimes. You said hello and laughed as you bounced between cars. For a short period of time, you were part of an extended family, all heading in the same direction.

Margo hadn't been part of an extended family for years.

She knew what it was like to have a house be totally, utterly hers. But she also knew what it was like to have to share. She'd experienced one bathroom and six girls, counting her mother. Margo was the third in line, tucked in the exact middle of her sisters. The water in the shower, when it was her turn as number three, was lukewarm at best, and her time there was limited. No more than eight minutes, in order to still leave some warmth for the two youngest girls, numbers four and five. Her mother always showered after everyone left. She told Margo she sat down at a cleared kitchen table, drank a leisurely cup of coffee, and waited for the hot water heater to recover. Then she took her shower, and with no one in the house, there was no pounding at the door, no demands to hurry up.

Margo wanted that. As a child, she thought it must be the most wonderful thing.

Her father, the sole man, surrendered the shower and instead stopped at the Y on his way to work. The Y was down the street just a few blocks.

By the time Margo was fifteen, she followed her father's example, because at the Y, she could stand behind the shower curtain in her own little stall for as long as she liked and the hot water didn't run out and she wasn't told to hurry up. Women and girls came and went, so she wasn't alone. But she wasn't crowded either. She wasn't in the way and no one got in her way. She loved her sisters. She loved her mother. But they just took too much space.

At first, as Margo made her way out the door on her father's heels, her older sisters called, "Margo! Wait! Does this sweater go with this skirt?" and her younger sisters cried, "Margo! Wait! You need to put our hair into ponytails!" Her mother waved her hand at the nutritious breakfasts she always made her girls, expertly timed so that each one had pancakes or scrambled eggs or oatmeal piping hot as they came out of their showers. But Margo grabbed a banana and said she would eat it on the way to school. Her mother watched sadly as she left.

As her father and mother discovered before her, both in their separate ways, one leaving, one waiting for everyone else to leave, there was nothing like an unhurried, unharried shower. A place to get clean but also a place to think, to dream, to listen to the sound of the handcrafted rain, to watch as everything went down the drain and out of your life.

If only everything could be like a good hot shower.

Margo hadn't seen her family in years. Her father had died a while ago; her mother was in a senior apartment complex. Each of her sisters had married and settled out of state, and when they did, Margo provided all the flowers for the ceremonies. But she didn't attend, even though one sister or another always volunteered a guest bedroom in their homes. "Margo, come do my hair," the engaged sister would say. "Margo, come tell me what you think of my dress." But Margo was always able to come up with an excuse. With her own business, it was easy.

But truly, Margo just didn't want to stay in their homes. It would likely mean sharing a bathroom. Sharing a hot water heater. If she chose to stay in a hotel, her sisters would find that ruder than not coming at all.

But now ... the train.

The first thing Margo did after settling into her bedroom (which was even smaller than she expected) was check out the shower. She was pleased to see a small dressing area, just big enough to turn around in, and the shower compartment was separate.

The shower compartment itself wasn't so pleasing.

A dingy beige, it reminded her of the flimsy metal showers her friends' fathers installed in basements during her high school years. Just like the one she had begged her father to install. He refused, saying it was too expensive, and the hot water heater wasn't capable of handling two people showering at once, so there really was no advantage. At that time, she would have given anything for a flimsy beige shower. But not now.

She could turn in this stall, but she would bang her elbows. There was a seat in the corner. It was so small, Margo knew that half of her fanny would hang over. But the showerhead was the biggest disappointment. It was a handheld and it was small, and from the water dripping slowly from it, it wasn't any too new or reliable.

Margo wondered how she would ever get clean with that. She wondered if she could get clean because the shower itself seemed dirty.

As she returned to the living space, Margo reminded herself that you couldn't judge a shower until you were actually in it. The showers she took at the Y in high school were definitely not high luxury. The walls were beige there too, and the showerheads often leaked. The curtains sometimes hung by only a few hooks. But still, they were wonderful! They were private and the heat was never-ending. The pastor's simple shower was wonderful too. So she would wait, and she would see.

Margo made herself at home and watched out the window as the train moved away from the station. She planned her first shower for later that night. There would be a good dinner first. Maybe some nice conversation. A glass of wine. Then some time here, looking out at the view until it became too dark to see, and then a little reading. Turn-down service was offered, so she would tell the concierge (is that what he was called?) to turn down her bed while she took her shower. And then she would come back to clean sheets, a warm blanket, a perfectly placed reading light, and the rock-a-bye cradle of the train.

About an hour after getting on board, Margo made her way to the dining car. The walk between cars was jarring and awkward, but the dining car was worth it. The tables, bolted to the floor, of course, had elegant cloth tablecloths and napkins. The silverware and plates were fine. Margo ordered a steak and it was delicious, and the wine, while not top notch, was good too. She was seated across from a young couple from Spain who were going to Glacier National Park. Margo excavated her way through the wife's broken Spanish. The husband didn't speak English at all, but he smiled handsomely throughout the meal.

As Margo staggered back to her bedroom, she passed through two coach cars and another sleeper car. She smiled at the people in coach and waved at a baby who waved at her. The train rocked hard and Margo fell sideways, but her arm was caught by a young man in his seat. He steadied her, asked with warmth if she was okay, and then advised her to hold on to the seat backs. In the sleeper car, Margo passed open glass doorways and heard snippets of conversations, muted laughter, and from one, the unmistakable smack of a kiss.

This was what she wanted. She was surrounded by life. But her shower would be her own.

Margo did exactly as she planned. From her couch in her bedroom, she watched the view go from sunset-hued to evening blue to black. Then she read for about an hour, her book propped on the table in front of her, a Styrofoam cup of coffee brought to her by the concierge, a night-time snack of a banana nut muffin set on a napkin. The ride was rougher than she expected and a few of the bumps and bounces made her gasp, made her coffee slosh over the side of the cup until she drank it down to about halfway, but she figured that had to be the exception. Even though it happened quite often. Maybe it was the region; they were preparing to chug over mountains, after all.

At just before ten o'clock Central Time, Margo gathered her shower things in the special covered basket she had purchased just for this trip. Her travel-size shampoo, conditioner, body soap, loofah, and after-shower spray all fit cunningly into their own compartments. Margo closed the glass door of her bedroom and pulled the curtain. Trying to move with the rhythm of the train, which had no rhythm at all, she undressed and pulled on her floor-length robe. In the process, she banged her elbows several times, whacked her right knee once, and bounced her head off the door when the train suddenly rocked her forward. The closed curtain didn't provide much of a cushion. Margo cursed quietly and then opened the curtain and the door before pushing the button that summoned the concierge. He'd told her that ten was the absolute latest he could turn down her bed, as the Amtrak employees went off duty about then, except for the conductor and a few other essential positions. Ten o'clock was early for Margo's taste, but she figured she had to make do.

She told him to leave the upper bunk up, that she intended to use the lower bed. And then she swayed like a drunk tree into the shower compartment. Carrying her basket didn't make it easy to hold herself up, and neither did clutching her robe to make sure it stayed closed, but she did the best she could.

The light came on surgical-bright. Margo looked for a dimmer but couldn't find one. Turning the light off made it horribly dark, as there was no window. But the lock gave a satisfying click, and Margo tried to relax in the familiarity of being alone. On the other side of the door, the concierge was giving her the luxury of a specially prepared bed. In other rooms, people were moving (staggering) around as well, having their night-time snacks, having their beds turned down, talking quietly to each other, maybe even showering. But no one would knock on her door. She could stay in the shower as long as she pleased.

Margo disrobed and carefully hung it on the hook on the back of the door. Before she stepped into the shower, she set up her things, putting the shampoo, conditioner, and body soap in a time-proven order so she could reach them even with her eyes closed and tell them apart. She slung her loofah over the lever that controlled the temperature. She checked to make sure the towels were fresh and at the ready; they were. So she reached in and turned on the water.

It spat.

Forced to wait, she tried to tap a bare foot, but the constantly shifting floor prevented her from doing so. The water pressure worked its way up to a trickle, and then a half-hearted flow. That seemed to be as good as it got, and so she focused on the temperature. By the time it was warm enough, goosebumps were standing on her skin and she vowed that the next time, she would keep her robe on until the shower was ready.

Once under the water and after soaking her hair, Margo pulled the handheld showerhead off the top of its aluminum stem. There seemed to be no way to get wet all over, to have the heat all around, but she tried. As she directed the spray to various places, the train bumped and rolled and she ended up shooting the water against the walls, against the curtain, and, as the curtain swayed, through it as well. Her body moved with and against the train, and she smacked into the walls as she fought for her balance. Over one particularly brutal bump, Margo's feet skidded out from under her and she bounced off the bench. She ended up in a bunch on the floor, with the showerhead braced on her knees and pulsing water directly into her face.

It made it hard to get up.

Margo did her best to clean herself, but between the bumps and the bounces, the lackluster unenthusiastic showerhead, and her own expectations, well, it just wasn't easy.

When she finally finished, her robe was soaked from the escaping shower spray. Her bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body soap had fallen to the floor and were lost somewhere beneath the bubbles that were taking forever to go down the very slow drain. Her cunning basket had overturned and her extra supplies skittered like rodents around the dressing area floor. Margo couldn't bring herself to put on the wet robe so she stepped naked out of the dressing room. The concierge was gone, as expected, but he'd neglected to close her curtain or her glass door. And of course, a family--a mother, a father, and a boy and a girl--were just passing by.

Margo cried herself to sleep that night, surrounded by others who tried to sleep through the rolls, the tilts, and the bangs. She doubted that any of the others were crying. But she did.

This continued for two and a half days.

Margo arrived in Seattle bruised and exhausted. She also felt filthy, as she gave up on the shower midway through the second day, deciding instead to wait until she checked in to her hotel room. She also gave up on friendly conversation with strangers at dinner and looking at anyone as she traveled between the cars. She knew if she looked up once, if she said one word to anyone other than the concierge, she would find herself face to face with the mother, the father, the girl, or the boy.

At the hotel, it took a shower upon arrival, a shower before dinner, and a shower at bedtime for Margo to feel clean again. She had her robe laundered by the hotel service and when she stepped out of that final shower, it was waiting for her, fluffy and still warm from the dryer. Wrapped in it, sitting on her nonmoving, stolid queen-size bed with her back supported by pillows, a ceramic mug of coffee and a banana nut muffin warmly buttered on a doilied plate on the bedside table, Margo began to feel like a human again. There was a vase of fresh flowers on her dresser. The hotel was a client; the flowers came from her own flower shops. They were beautiful. They would never survive on a train.

Margo knew there were people in rooms around her, and on other floors above and below. But she also knew there would likely be little to no interaction with them. She thought of the Spanish couple she'd spoken with in the dining car, the man who grabbed her elbow and steadied her in coach, the baby she'd waved at. And the horrible rocking. The worse shower.

She thought of her lovely home, well-appointed, comfortable, and in the bathroom, lavish. But empty.

It all felt so sad.

Margo grabbed the notepad and pencil stamped with the hotel's logo. Carefully, not very accurately, but well enough, she began to sketch out her floor plan at home. The living room, the kitchen. The guest room. Across from the guest room, the powder room.

Using the pencil's eraser multiple times, Margo eventually ended up wiping out the pantry in her kitchen. She had abundant cabinets and she only shopped for herself. She could move her staples. The eraser took down the wall between the pantry and the powder room, and then she sketched in a new wall, sealing the space off from the kitchen.

It could work. She could add a shower and maybe even a tub to the powder room.

Giving her a guest bathroom. She would add a second water heater, one just for that space.

She thought of her sisters. They could shop. "What do you think of this sweater, Margo?" they'd say. "Does it go with this skirt?" In the morning, as one sister or another sat sleepy-eyed at the kitchen table, Margo could brush that sister's hair, pull it into a ponytail, and they could laugh at how none of them wore ponytails anymore.

After some days--not too many, not too few--each sister, or several sisters, would go home.

Maybe even her mother would come. They could have morning coffee together after her mother made Margo's favorite, pancakes with boysenberry syrup, expertly timed to be piping hot when Margo came out of her shower. After Margo left for work, her mother could have just one more solitary cup of coffee and then take a shower herself in the quiet expanse of Margo's own house. In the guest bathroom. Margo's own shower would remain untouched.

Margo could share. To an extent. She wouldn't have to wait, and no one would wait for her. There would be no end to the hot water.

There would also be no bouncing, rolling, banging, no talking to strangers, no waving to babies that had no place in her memory after that one finger-flexing moment.

And her house, from time to time, would have someone in another room while she took a shower. That person could be taking a shower too. Or maybe making pancakes or choosing what to wear for the day ahead.

Margo set aside the notepad. Then she opened her laptop, canceled her train home, and reserved a seat on a flight. She thought of her bucket list, of taking a shower on a plane, and smiled. That would wait until later. There was construction to pay for first.

Picking up her cell phone, she debated between five numbers. But then she chose her mother. As her phone purred its rhythm in her ear, a rhythm that had a rhythm, steady, consistent, reliable, Margo closed her eyes. She still felt the motion of the train beneath her. But that, she figured, would go away soon enough.
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Author:Giorgio, Kathie
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Short story
Date:Jun 22, 2016
Words:4827
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