Le Petit Bain

Christie Munson Muller

“Stéphane, how come there’s no shower curtain in your parent’s bathroom”? I asked while he handed me a neatly folded bath towel.

“A what?” he asked, while turning to leave the small but tidy salle de bain.

“You know, the plastic thing that hangs down and keeps water from coming out of the bathtub,” I said slightly annoyed.

“Oh, we don’t really use those here. Enjoy your shower,” he said and shut the bathroom door behind him. So how I am supposed to wash my hair with that telephone handle thingy while standing in the tub? This is going to be interesting.

After two long flights and a several train rides from Paris to the South of France, I was in desperate need of a shower. It was the second day into my trip for some quality time with Stéphane, my bilingual French boyfriend. He and I had met months before when I was on a trip to Paris with a girlfriend.

My copain had followed through on his promise and called me every day since I had returned home to Phoenix, AZ. For four months, we managed a long-distance relationship. Then he popped one of the pivotal questions of a new relationship: will you come visit me and meet my family? I said, yes, of course.

Stéphane’s family lived in Toulon, a military port town in the French Riviera or Côte d’Azur that sits between Marseille and St. Tropez. Stéphane’s brother, Lionel, had invited us to stay as his Haussmann-style apartment, which was built some time during the mid-to-late 1800s.

After my arrival, I’d come to learn the shower in Lionel’s bathroom was not safe to use.  After he had moved in, Lionel was told by his landlord there had been too many years of water leaks that had weakened the floor underneath. When Stéphane explained the shower status to me, I envisioned myself whistling away while washing my hair one minute, then falling through the downstairs neighbor’s bathroom ceiling the next.

In the meantime, Lionel was using his parents’ shower and we would need to do the same. Stéphane showed me to his parent’s pristine and serene bathroom. I could see the tub in the reflection of the small mirror above the pedestal sink. To the immediate right of the sink, a shelf stacked with pastel-colored towels beckoned.

I turned around to face the focal point of the room: a long, rectangular tub that almost touched the back wall of the space. Along with the shower curtain, I noticed the toilet was missing. In typical Euro-style, the toilet or “W.C.” is most often located in another part of the apartment.

Now staring at the white porcelain tub, I determined a shower with no plastic barrier would be a better experience than falling through the floor of an ancient bathroom. Or maybe not?

I strategized and set my oversized plastic bag of toiletries on the floor. Then I stepped into the tub. Okay, just stay in the center and keep the water close to you. Oh crap, I forgot to lock the bathroom door.

As I prayed for privacy, I picked up the silver poignée de douche (aka shower handle) with one hand. I reached down with my other hand and turned the knob to start the flow of water. The poignée came alive in my hands with the buildup of water pressure, I envisioned the intense spray of water drenching his parents’ lovely stack of towels.

In a split second, I grabbed the handle with both hands to control the flow of the water but overcorrected. Water sprayed down my leg and splashed the side of the tub. A stream of water trickled down to the floor. Oh shit! I feel like a frickin bird in a bird bath flicking water everywhere!

I bent over and pulled the multi-colored, crocheted bath rug closer to the tub and sopped up the water that started to pool on the white tile floor. At that point, I decided to shorten my shower time and take the rest of my bathtub shower experience in prayer position. The water would be closer to the tub that way.

It took some adjusting of both metal knobs to find the perfect temperature. I held the handle over my head. The warm water calmed my nerves and pooled around my knees. For a moment, I lost myself in flashes of the previous night’s tryst. On this trip Stéphane and I had crossed the threshold into “official” status.

My travel-sized body wash and coconut milk shampoo and conditioner washed away the grime from my travels and I started to feel like myself again. Laughter coming from the kitchen jarred me out of my trance. I’d just finished washing my hair when the bathroom door flung open, and I found Stéphane standing there.

“What are you doing in here right now? Shut the door!” I barked and then shifted to a forced whisper I pushed through my teeth. “I’m naked!”

“I brought you another towel to dry your hair,” Stéphane said, wide eyed. “Wasn’t sure if there were any extras on the shelf in here.”

“Thank you. There’s a bunch of towels right over there, so I’m good.”

“Why are you on your knees…and why is there water all over the floor?” Stéphane chuckled.

Apparently, I’m getting water all over your parent’s bathroom. What do French people have against shower curtains anyway?” I asked as I turned off the water. “Can you please hand me a towel now?”

“We just don’t use the plastic curtain things. We know how to take a shower without getting water everywhere. Use the extra towel to clean up the floor. It’s our little secret. I’ve already seen you naked, remember?” He gave me a playful, side smile and shut the bathroom door behind him.

BIO: Christie Munson Muller is working on a travel memoir about meeting her French husband in Paris. Her essays have appeared in Dreamers Creative Writing and elsewhere.

Featured photo by: Aaron Huber on Unsplash

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