The was once a man who owned a very prestigious bath house. Dignitaries and statesmen alike would come to his bathhouses for an evening of entertainment and rejuvenation. As this was a men’s facility, no women were allowed to perform and he was known far and wide for his convincing, emotional portrayals of women. His face would be painted solid, eyebrows lips and emotion all painted on delicately. While he excelled at these performances, they wore him thin and were not his passion. His real passion was not in art but it the science of medicines and improved health. Certainly appreciation of art had to do with well being, but performing and representing the bathhouse left him no time for his true passion.
The bathhouse man also had a loving wife and daughter, whom he would study and ask for advice with his performances. He could not understand why society had ever seen women as inferior or unworthy of the stage. He acknowledged the decency in trying to maintain their virtue, but why virtue was defined differently for the sexes he could never understand.
His bathhouse as located at the base of a dried up lake, surrounded by desert save for a few hot springs which his bath house was located upon. Walking the grounds one morning, he discovered a yellow viper in his path. Angry at the interruption to his sunbathing, the viper struck an intimidating pose, long teeth dripping with venom. The silk-skinned serpent stuck out, grazing the Bathman but missing a full bite, turned to retreat instead. Unwilling to let the creature hurt someone else, the Bathman captured and killed the snake. Surprised at his own strength and courage to strike back, the Bathman collected the snake to study. Although the site of the poisonous scratch was indeed inflamed, the poison seemed to flow through his veins and give him a great sense of energy and healing. The minuscule amount had created some vague serum that, as he conducted rigorous tests on other snakes of the species, in small doses thinned the blood and promoted healing within the skin.
His wife, understandably concerned about her husband’s growing collection, could also tell that this work experimenting on the issue of vitality both invigorated and exhausted her poor husband. While experimenting, the dedication to his performance was waning. He insisted there was a larger payoff in store, but the landlords were more concerned with immediate profits than, “the hobbies of a madman.” Her husband was by no means a madman, just particularly focused. As he began missing rehearsals with his wife and daughter, the two women formulated a plan.
“I believe in father’s work, I have not seen him this happy since we constructed the stage for the bathhouse.” Exclaimed the daughter. “But I miss the dancing.” Mother agreed, and when she went to check on Father, found him fast asleep in his dressing room.
Important clients, investors in the industry of salts & serums for health, were coming to visit the bath house tonight and it was important to keep them entertained. Mother made up her mind then that her husband could not be so compromised and exhausted and still be expected to perform. she would dance as her husband this evening, donning his signature blue kimono robe and face paints. She would dance the song of calligraphy, A silent, intense role that required focus and her to paint the stage with controlled movements.
This was a dangerous gamble, if a woman was caught performing at the bathhouse it could mean death for attempted prostitution and indecency. They could lose the bath house or worse. When daughter came in with the tea for the pre-show, mother was nearly complete with her make-up, Father still peacefully resting on the settee. Nearly dropping the tea, she asked, “How can you be so calm? Surely the landlord, a young, fat jawed man with a passion for industry, power, and little else would recognize the face being different from that of her fathers!” Calmly and intently, going over the moves of the dance in her head, Mother continued to apply the face makeup.
“I had thought of that, and it is a risk.” She turned to her daughter, squeezing her hands and wiping away tears. You are a young lady coming of age, I know the landlord is a cruel man, but could you find a way to entertain or distract him away from the show while I perform, and let the investors know that Father will be able to speak with them in the morning? This is too big of a chance to let go, and Father will understand our intentions for this one night.”
Daughter’s heart dropped. Committed to her family and her home, she agreed to provide at the front of house and distract the landlord. His eyes always were wandering to close, his handshakes too firm, and his cold tone made the snakes in the cellar seem compassionate. It was not that he was not a handsome man, but Daughter had begun to grow fond of the young apprentice in the boiler room, and their short interactions made her heart pound so hard, that when he was not around it was as though the world was quieter, life full of less music. To feign interest in someone else and not be heartbroken would be, indeed, the most difficult role of a lifetime.
A lone drum begins its slow, base beat as the light in the bath house is dimmed to a single beam of blinding light onto a central, kneeling figure in the center of the stage. Her black wig falls down around her like a waterfall, untamed. Her arms are extended outward, clutching something in her palms. A string instrument begins to play, and she arches her body side to side. In her hands is black paint, creating an arc of her movements across the floor.
Checking the men’s belongings and collecting their admission to the bath house was part of daughter’s everyday jobs, making conversation much less distracting the very landlord whom they owed their lease too was another together. Her throat was tight, palms slightly sweaty and eyes wide.
The drum adds a secondary beat, and the woman leans back, exposing her black kimono is actually an iridescent blue. The obi is wide, precisely tied on her back. She extends a leg behind her and rises slowly, dragging her hands across the floor to the beat of the music and long wig covering her face.
The landlord arrived just behind the investors, laughing at some poor soul they had denied a loan earlier in the day. “Can you believe the nerve of that man,” guffawed the landlord. “Thinking his business could stay open without a boat? I don’t care if a whale swallowed you whole as long as I get my profits.” His teeth were shiny, almost pointed like a wolves.
A clang of the cymbal, and her hair is tossed behind her head. Her eyes and nose are outlined in a red that fades to white, only to create a stain of red upon her lips making her look fierce and untamed. The black eyebrows are perfectly arched and manic. The music slows to just the twigs of the harp. Her eyes focus just above the heads of each member of the audience, soaking in their individual, murky tubs. Her movements seem mechanical yet illogical- a frightened animal. There is a slight smell of sulfates and bath salts in the air. The sweet smell of their cigarettes creating a slight haze on the ceiling.
“It will please me to take care of your valuables sirs.” She is meek, making only the boldest of eye flashes the the conceited landlord. He hungerly looks over her, sending the worse of shivers down her spine but committing to the roll. A cup of black tea is sitting precariously on her counter. Dutifully she takes the other men’s jackets and provides them with towels and robes. Finally, the landlord comes to sign his name/ credit on file for these men. This is the last chance. Is that the sound of drums marking the beginning of the show or her heart pounding through her ears?
Standing full, her footsteps are now small, balancing on the front of her sandals. There is also ink on the bottom of these, concentric lines inter-turning as the beat returns and quickens again.
A small prayer as she breathes. Think of love for your family- she wants to think but all that pops into her head is the face of the young, kind apprentice. This gives her any courage she lacks and, with haste, reaches out quickly, knocking over the tea, black and tannics inky, onto the landlord’s beautiful brown tweed suit.
A fan appears from her obi, it is long and with each beat she slowly opens it one section at a time. The rhythm seems like that of a ticking clock, her head robotically following the movements of her hands as though they were foreign to her. About halfway through the fan she begins walking forward on the stage, heel drop three four, toe drop three four. Left drop three for, toe drop three four.
Before he could even call her a stupid girl, Daughter was on her knees in front of him begging forgiveness and to personally help clean out the stain with him, if she so wishes. She imagined the apprentices face and her eyes begun to shine with tears. The clear white of her eyes, with the large bowls or brown created quite the alluring, if cow-minded creature- thought the Landlord. “Finally, a woman who knows her place is at a man’s feet” He laughed to the other investors, letting them know he will join them shortly. The evil gleam in his eye was a sign of superior confidence, a man who now was getting exactly what he wanted. Real men close all deals and manage their homes with a firm hand. This pathetic creature might actually respond to him and was so delicate that she flinched at his slightest touch. He pulled her up by the elbow forcefully and wiped the tears out of her eyes. the way her delicate eyelashes framed those sad eyes and her painted skin made his fire more directed at this young woman who obviously needed better training. Yes, she would fix his jacket, and to his precise expectations. Once that was complete, maybe we could see how subservient she was.
The strings became prominent, and the music slowed. The long sleeves of her kimono draped above her head. Her face relaxed, the eyebrows now sad and furrowed together. She bent elegantly to one side, the fan creating a large arc, knees bent precisely. The lighting changed to a near blue. The other side, precision, despair, and hope all displayed in a single movement. You could feel the room becoming more enthralled, side conversations all but disappearing for the art in from of them. Some sank deeper into their tubs, reminded of love and opportunities lost and wishing the water would carry the memories away.