on ne passe pas


I went to this public bath not far from here. It was crowded with customers. And it was extraordinarily hot.


After just a couple of minutes in the bath, I felt my skin go prickly, as it does when you sweat inside hot water.


After a minute more, I felt my face go red. Sweat began to stream down my nose.


My legs began to go red. Then my arms went red. My hands and my feet went red. And then my whole body went red.


I glanced at the other customers in the bath. They were all bright red. Everybody was sweating bullets. Everybody was panting and hanging their heads in the heat.


I called to the lady who runs the bath. "Hey, could you turn down the heat?"


But, "Sorry, sir," she said, "the temperature of our baths is fixed. That's how the facilities here work."


And then she walked back to the entrance. Or should I say, scuttled back.


I hadn't noticed when I got to the bath, but the lady who ran the place had an odd walk. And she had an odd look. Her arms were long and heavy, and the great baggy mittens she wore made her hands look almost like bifurcated claws. Her eyes were small and beady, and what I had initially taken as a sort of old-lady-mustache was in fact two long antennae that swayed and searched the air ceaselessly. Her kimono was bunched in the middle in a way that suggested nothing so much as short crooked limbs concealed inside. And her skin, now that I looked closely, was red and taut, and almost had the look of a shell about it.


A customer comes in and lobs her a coin, and she lobs him a bath towel and a pad of butter. This reminds me: I put the pad of butter she'd earlier given me on my head and wait for it to melt.