Outdoor bathtub by Jason. Tabarias at flickr.com
First published in Geist #30 and now in the 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition.
Today is my last dip for the season in my lovely outdoor bathtub. I lie against the cream-coloured porcelain, a blue foamy scalloped pillow supporting my head and shoulders, in a sheltered and very private corner of my deck. Through the trees I can see the long empty floats jutting out from the rocky shore of the adjoining property, an American yacht club outpost. In summer the floats are crammed with luxury vessels, but now only one lone sailboat is tied up at the farthest float. Beyond, I can barely make out the small boats and green-roofed boathouses at the floats of my other neighbours.
The sun is creeping over the trees in a sky of particular early-morning heavenly blue. Beyond the railings of my deck I am partially encircled by a green wall of the handsome tall firs and junipers that make this North Pacific coast one of the most beautiful places on earth. A pair of eagles fly back and forth on the firs’ highest branches. Far below me, at the end of my small dock, just visible from my recumbent position, a blue heron stands first on one, then the other, of his incredibly long legs.
I snuggle down into the hot water to warm up my shoulders. Steam rises in a cloud around my head, and I lift my chin to the brisk autumn air above it. Could anything be better?
“I have always dreamed of having a bathtub outside, on the deck right under my bedroom window,” I said one day to my friend Frank. “One of those big old cast-iron tubs that hold in the heat and sit on legs, with plenty of room inside.” It was a wistful, innocent remark.
Not long after, Frank’s son drove up in a huge six-wheeled blue monster of a dump truck, and I found a big old cast-iron tub had been deposited in centre spot on my nice neat deck. Four beat-up iron legs rattled around at the bottom of its scarred and scratched interior. I said, “What in the world will I do with that?”
And Frank said, “But you told me that you had always dreamed of having a bathtub on this deck.”
“Well, I did,” I said, avoiding even a second glance at the wretched object. “I guess I didn’t mean it. Where did you get it?”
“Someone caretaking a logging camp saw it, and offered to bring it down to me.”
I love my deck; it is full of flowering bushes and plants: an arrangement of psychedelic-coloured tuberous begonias at the entrance, then tubs of red, pink, white and orange rose bushes, white and pink geraniums and fuchsias in hanging pots, planters of mixed petunias, pansies, snapdragons and other bright flowers, and a long box of herbs at waist height that I don’t have to bend to harvest. That tub stood out, a disreputable sore thumb right in the middle of the deck. It must have spent years outside in the bush up-coast; it was full of yellowed spots and black bruises, inside and out, and it leaned to one side on its dismembered ovoid base, presenting a painful view of the four chipped and rusty black legs inside. It was an embarrassment, but I felt paralyzed. I certainly couldn’t ask Frank to get rid of it when he had gone to so much trouble to get it.
It sat there until my two favourite contractors, Don and Rex, came to build a new room. They are somewhat proprietary about my deck because they rebuilt it, adding a few fancy touches, like the raised planters, on their own. “What’s that thing doing here?” they asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” I said. “Maybe you can move it into a corner where nobody can see it.” The phone rang, and I went in the house to answer. When I came out, the tub was sitting in a secluded corner, on its legs. It looked a little better.
Along came my friend Lois, to paint the new room. “What’s that thing doing here?” she said.
“It was an idea I had, just an idea, and the next thing I knew, Frank put this old wreck on my deck,” I said. “I’d get rid of it, but I can’t. It would hurt his feelings.”
“A little paint would help,” Lois said. “Why don’t you let me see what I can do?”
The next day she was back with a colour chart. I had three choices in Epoxy enamel: white, grey and cream. We agreed that the cream colour just matched my outside window frames.
“I’ve got a little gold-leaf paint left over from another job,” Lois said. “Would you mind if I used it on the legs?” She walked around the tub, her paintbrush at her lips, looking thoughtful. “What about a cream-coloured porcelain interior, and regular blue paint with flecks of green and turquoise on the outside?” she said.
“My goodness!” I exclaimed. “Can you do all that?”
Frank arrived, with a set of chrome taps. “I had a hard time locating faucets to fit. It’s a very old tub,” he said. “Now I’m going to connect the tub to your hot water tank, so you’d better tell me exactly where you want it to stand. I think this corner under your window is just the place for it. Get in.”
So I climbed in with my clothes on and sat down. We aren’t exactly spring chickens, although we think we are, so I was a bit concerned when Frank picked up the front end of the tub, a bit too casually for a man who had just celebrated his eightieth birthday. He moved it around from left to right, and right to left, until I had the perfect view, looking out over the deck rail to the open water, and far beyond, to the alligator-shaped misty black mass of Texada Island.
Frank departed for the basement. I heard a lot of clanking and hammering, and some swearing. He returned, sweaty and covered with dust, beaming. “Turn on the faucets,” he said.
I stepped over to the tub and looked at him. He nodded. “Go ahead!” he said.
I turned both taps halfway on, and a little cloud of steam rose up. The water was toasty warm. “I can’t believe it,” I said.
“Well, what did you think would happen?” Frank asked.
“I thought I would have to fill it with hot water from my tea kettle,” I said.
I took a trip back East, and when I returned, there was my beautiful tub, smooth creamy gleaming porcelain interior, speckled ocean-blue body, standing on its elegant gold legs. There was only one tiny Haw: chrome faucets on a gold-legged bathtub. After Lois presented me with a brass tray that bridged the front end of the tub, to hold soap, washrags, books and a cup of tea, those taps were even more of a misfit.
Frank and I went to town, faucets in hand, and visited a brass-plating company. We explained the problem to the man at the front desk: the taps had to match the legs. He smiled. “I really think you should consider gold-plating,” he said. “It wears better than brass and won’t discolour. It’s only fifty dollars more.”
I turned to Frank. The tub is his favourite resting place too, although he prefers bathing under the stars. “Go for it!” he said. So I did.
That was seven months ago, and I spent the summer soaking and reading in my perfect tub in its perfect corner paradise. In the spring I had had a nasty fall that left me with a bruised back. Elegance, warm water, and what my children call The Correct Karma cured it.
It’s time now to gather up all the green plants surrounding my glorious tub and bring them indoors. Time to wrap a soft bag covering around the gold faucets, and put the bright blue tarp over the tub to protect it from the board cut to fit over the top. And time to say farewell, just for the winter, to bathing in splendour.
When the tulip and daffodil bulbs begin to show their green shoots in my planters, I will go out on the deck every morning in my nightie to see if the weather is warm enough to turn on the outdoor taps again and jump in.
I’m thinking: perhaps I should make a solarium around my perfect bathtub. It’s a long time until spring.