The bathtub and the mirror

Bath tub and the mirror

A work in progress…

The old west was a dusty place. People of the day were tied to the land. They spent their days guiding their cattle or scratching in the earth and carefully placing a seed in the ground. And as you can imagine, the crust of the earth or the perfume of the animals would stick. By the end of the day, if you could wash your face in a basin with a little water and dry it with a clean towel, that would be something of a luxury. You could be a hermit your whole life, but as occasion dictates, even the best hermit would have a need to interact with civilization. As often is the case, when there is a need, there is always someone willing to fill that need.

In the town there was a perfect need filler, of the cleanliness variety, in the shape of a bath house. Now, when I say house, I don’t as much mean house, but rather, a collection of draped off areas, metal tubs, buckets, brushes, and soap. This collection sort of surrounded a rather large boiling pot on top of a blazing wood pile. Even though this was not formally a house, suffice it to say that it did house the collection well enough, and did execute the function of “bath” nicely. The boiling pot in the center would provide clean, warm water to the surrounding bath tubs. And customers could take their leisure soaking away the grime. The sign at the top simply said “Bath House,” who was staffed by a single person, both worker and proprietor.

The proprietor looked to be ordinary. By his features you wouldn’t think anything about him. He was average height and build, with short brown hair and a beard that was trimmed close. He had brown eyes that were deep, but unappealing. The shape of his nose was like any other nose in the town. He dressed in a white shirt with rugged pants. His cloths were clean, of course. His boots were dark leather, and forgetful. In short there was nothing to distinguish him from any other man in the town. He was average, but in this particular bath house there were two articles that were not average; A large bronze bath tub, and and a beautiful mirror with an ornately carved frame.

The tub, with a high back, stood on a little wooden platform. For that day, in fact for any day, a bronze tub was unusual. A wooden horse trough was common enough. Or maybe even a large wash basin that you might do your laundry in, but a bronze tub? And yet, here it stood, gleaming, and reflecting the afternoon sunlight it’s intricate casted design. It had legs like a Queen Ann table, which were bent like the legs of a muscular man. They were short and stocky, but very capable of holding the weight of such a magnificent tub. In it you could get a good soaking. You needed a good soaking to loosen all of the dirt and grime, not to mention how good it felt to untwist yourself when you were all knotted up. The steam from a hot bath that mixed with the cool outdoor air would rise around your face and enter your lungs. Lean back, breathe, exhale, inhale the vapor, let the tension of your body mix with the hot water. Melt your toes, soften your legs, drain your worries. A hot bath was capable of softening your soul.

The mirror–an absolutely beautiful and perfect mirror–stood near the center of the house. This mirror was surrounded by a highly ornate carved wooden frame that highlighted the perfection of the glass. Now the thing about mirrors is this. In order to get a good grasp of your appearance the mirror must not contain any imperfections. The glass must be perfectly transparent and flat. Obviously, any imperfection would distort the image, but this one was perfect. And when I say perfect, I mean that is was absolutely flawless. It was not only was the most beautiful mirror you could see, but it was absolute in it reflecting characteristics. By looking into this mirror you would see the absolute truth about your appearance; every dimple, every pore, and every nuance of color in your eyes. And here it was, a mirror that should be in a museum, or used by kings in a palace, but instead it was in an ordinary bath house.

A bucket stood on a table next to a pump well. The handle went up and down, up and down and the water flowed from the little pump into a tin bucket. Another bucket was put in its place and the same procedure was repeated. Up and down, up and down. When two buckets were full of water, two strong arms picked up their little handles and lugged them over to the standing pot above the flames. Both buckets were dutifully emptied and the same procedure was executed over and over again until the pot was nearly full. You didn’t have water heaters back then so all of the water was heated in a pot over an open fire, just like it have been done for a thousand years. The smoke from the fire curled around the pot and rose in a column of hot air that drifted off into the sky. The proprietor sat down in a small wooden chair and waited for a while and watched the smoke. Filling a pot this large with water was hard work and there was more work to be completed before a bath was ready for a customer. He needed to fill a bathtub perhaps one half full of cold water. You didn’t want to put a customer in a pot of boiling water, unless you wanted corned beef, so you added the hot water to the cold water which warmed it to the right temperature. By the time that he had filled the bathtubs with cold water the hot water was ready–a nice rolling boil.

And it would so happen, and not to describe too much detail, so as to make a short story a long story, that two gentlemen who were bath-in-need arrived at the entrance. In short words, they were filthy. Not only were they filthy, they were smelly and filthy. The proprietor, seeing two customers, scurried over quickly. “Welcome to the bath house gentlemen,” he said with a dignified voice. “I see that you are in need of my services.”

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