He lay in the bath tub, toes gently splashing along the water line in an absent minded way. He liked his tub. Its hot water comforted him, as it had since he was a boy.
He reflected on the evening prior.
"Your coat, sir?" An afternoon at the club, as most days, had been a quiet affair. The exclusivity of Marshall, Carter and Dark Ltd. did not lend itself to idle talk. A leather chair to sit in and a small beverage to keep him company as he passed away a bit of time with a book from the club's library. Reliable solitude in the company of peers, the unspoken social rule of the club; You do not impose yourself with useless chit chat.
"Care to tell?" An innocuous little thing of a question, to be sure. A thing answered and forgotten with ease.
"How are you feeling today?" An odd question to have been asked by an old regular of the club. He had seen the gentlemen about, at various functions. They each worked within separate industries, so little reason to interact had ever arisen. The question had been out of place. Useless. Marshall, Carter and Dark Ltd. was many things, but a sanctuary for uselessness it was not. The gentlemen accepted a short, curt, reply and that had been that. He returned to his book, glancing up from the page once to ensure the man did not return.
"Anything new?" Another question from another member. Another thing out of place. A grunted response turned the fellow away.
His tub, as with his membership, had been inherited. He used his toe now to turn on the hot water. He thought back to all the times through all the years that he had turned the hot water on with his toe. The steady stream of the tap keeping the tub a comfortable temperature had become a lifelong routine. Forty years prior he had lain in the same spot watching the same water crest to the same over flow drain, listening to the familiar gargle of the water being drunk back down. It was a simple memory of a common practice of his. One he had taken for granted, much like the membership.
"Pleasant weather of late, hmm?" Sitting in the high backed chair, gooseflesh crept along his spine before making its home in the nape of his neck. An odd inquiry might have been an anomaly. The numerous questions he received throughout the evening were a pattern. A message. Talk occurred at the club, most certainly. Business was frequently discussed and associates shared jokes with one another. Privacy was seldom intruded for the sake of friendly banter, however. It was trivial. There were other places than the club for things of that sort.
Places he frequented. On occasion.
"Care to tell? What does goes on in there?" An insignificant little thing of a question, he had thought at the time. An opportunity to brag, perhaps. He was prideful. Had always been prideful. Of his family's history. Of his great wealth. Of his memberships. All things which preceded his entry into the world. All things he had not himself earned but was privileged enough to enjoy. Perhaps if he had earned it himself he would have understood the gravity of its responsibility. A lot of his time was spent reflecting on this, as of late. He now understood that places outside of the club are rarely outside of the reach of the club. The two concepts were mutually exclusive from each other. That he now understood. Very well, indeed.
He thought of the note he had written as way of apology, sitting on his desk in the study. He suspected it would not still be there come morning.
"Your bill, sir?" The hostess, too, came to him with a question not often heard. Membership, of course, carried obligations, monetary and otherwise. There were fundraisers, investments, tips for the staff. Members gave freely of themselves, in return the club gave freely of itself. Charges for drinks, like a common pub? Hardly. Guests paid their way, not full members. She had placed the small leather bound pad on the arm of his chair. It had taken him a moment to register the action, so off guard was he. Opening it revealed a single slip of paper, with a hand written bill for his drink. Everyone had been looking at him. It had become very quiet, but he would not realize this just yet.
"I'm sorry?" he had asked, with great effort through the lump in his throat. The waitress had smiled in response. That is to say her lips turned up, but there was no warmth in the action. The imitation of a smile, more like, by someone who had only been told of one in rough description. It too was a message.
On the rim of the tub lay a small folded white towel, atop which lay his grandfather's razor. It had a beautiful pearl handle, one he had admired many times while watching his father shave and many more times while he himself had shaved with it. A vivid memory of him sitting upon the toilet while watching his father shave came to him. His feet swung freely, not quite long enough to reach the floor. His father wiped the blade off on a towel draped over his shoulder before returning the edge to his throat. With closed eyes he heard the memory of sound, the memory of his father starting. Nothing serious, only a spot of blood. He opened his eyes and looked over to the same blade, now atop a towel. He reached out to it, a trembling finger brushing against the handle. The touch of it made him start and he pulled away, returning his hand to his submerged lap.
"No reason to be sorry, sir," she had said to him, leaning in close. "You'll do the right thing, I'm sure." She had left him then, to attend to her other duties perhaps. Around him, business deals resumed, gentlemen began reading their books and papers again. A woman ordered another beverage. He became what his mother used to described as 'very, very aware' at how quiet it had gotten. It was only until the muted routine of the club resumed that he understood what had happened. What it meant. The hostess' statement was as much an answer as he was likely to get. You do not chit chat. Membership carried obligations. Broken obligations carried penalties. Marshall, Carter and Dark's penalties were rather … severe.
He would do the right thing. If he was lucky, he would only have to do it the once. If he was very, very lucky, the earth would not be salted out of spite. He made himself look over at the towel again and to the razor upon which it lay. He reached over and took hold, unfolding the blade with the side of his thumb.
"Marshall, Carter and Dark, you say? Care to tell? What does goes on in there?" An inconsequential little thing of a question, no longer. For him, it turned out to have become the most important question in his life.
He felt cold, no longer comforted by the hot embrace of his bath. He raised his foot and, much as he had in years prior, turned the trickle of hot water off. He thought of all the times since his childhood that he had lain in this very tub, turning the water on and off with his toe. He thought of all the times that he would not get to do it.
For a solitary, blissful moment, not a thought passed through his mind. His eyes unfocused as he stared intently at nothing and he drifted softly in a sea of peaceful nothingness. The moment passed silently. He was sorry to see it go.
Taking in a breath, he lay back into the tub submerging himself. In his hand, below the surface, was still the razor. Holding it gave him a strange sort of comfort all at once. Things could always be worse.
He did the right thing.