Steam

PHILIP HAD SPENT THE MORNING before the wedding stewing in the bathtub. He told Ben before he closed the door that taking a bath before a major event was a Taggart family tradition, but really he just needed an excuse to be alone for a while. A curtain of steam was the perfect device to hide him from distraction. He took his time undressing and slipping into the water, his mind buoyed with worries of the day ahead. He imagined the scowls on the faces of certain relatives when they saw him with Ben later that day.

The Taggarts were a passionate lot, his father especially. Joseph Taggart presided as the town’s mayor and had worked very hard to get there. Philip’s early childhood memories consisted almost exclusively of his father standing yards away at a podium, the fiery words he spoke matching his blaze of red hair. Growing up, Philip and his family attended all of Joseph’s functions: they canvassed the town as a family, they manned the polling stations as a family, they even bumped heads kissing the babies of the town. The Taggart name was synonymous with Michigan politics. Philip had known since he was 14 that some of his views clashed with his father’s, but it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he actually challenged the platitudes he heard at the dinner table. His mother and brothers took his audacity silently, while his father grew taller in the dining room chair. Philip would have been intimidated, but their hold on him had long since loosened. Philip believed his father had many fine qualities, but he was self-righteous to a fault so the conversation leveled off into Philip offering his views on the environment and his father listing off the reasons Philip was wrong. It was true that his Aunt Leslie and her partner had tempered some of the Taggarts’ views—even his father tamped down his fervor slightly while his little sister was in the room, but flip comments could still be heard, especially about Aunt Leslie. They mostly talked about Uncle Jimmy not speaking a word to Leslie since she told the family she was gay. After Philip came out himself, he noticed the topic was never broached. He doubted they had ceased talking about it; it was just no longer mentioned in his company. 

Philip didn’t notice the steam dissipating from the small room. When Ben tapped lightly on the bathroom door, the imaginary verbal smackdown Philip was rehearsing in his mind clicked off and he was jolted back into the bathtubnaked, sitting in chilly water with only a thin line of bubbles clinging to the edges of the ceramic.

“Did you fall asleep in there?” Ben said, opening the door.

“No, just deep in thought.” Philip caught a glimpse in the blurred mirror of the red that was his own hair.

Ben dipped his fingers into the water. “Yikes. Get outta there, baby, unless you’re training for the Polar Bear Plunge. I’ll grab a towel…what were you thinking about?”

“Nothing specific. Just stuff.” 

For other stories with these characters, read Periphery or Procession.

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10 thoughts on “Steam

  1. Who hasn’t stewed over an encounter, having an entire conversation (or argument) inside their own head…so “sure” of what the other would say?? Reading this brought me right into the moment with him. And I really liked the subtle tip to his Dad in noticing his own red hair…perhaps they have more in common than just that when it comes to fiery discourse. A good read. Thanks for sharing.

  2. That “imaginary verbal smackdown” ,,, I concoct those all the time. How satisfying would it be to have a real verbal smackdown and to come out unscathed and unscarred!

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