‘The Bath’

Karen Tei Yamashita’s Sansei and Sensibility channels Jane Austen through a contemporary lens.

karen tei yamashita, sansei and sensibility
Karen Tei Yamashita

From Sansei and Sensibility: Stories

In their house, they often say that Mother has a special fascination for the bath. Father pointed this out many years ago. Perhaps it was only in answer to Mother’s suggestion that Father might bathe more frequently than once a week on Saturday nights. Father bragged of his weekly bath but only in relation to Mother’s nightly affair. Over the years, it seems Mother has taken to early morning baths as well, so Father’s comments on Mother and the bath continue with an added flourish. He seems to believe certain habits of Mother’s have come together to conspire against him by beginning all at once in the morning.

Mother isn’t one to deny such things. She laughs at herself in an embarrassed manner, pressing her lips together and looking at the floor. Father’s banter is an old and recurring one, and Mother is not without her usual reply. She defends herself on two accounts, saying that a hot bath is the most relaxing thing. Her other retort is a more defensive stance on the necessity of cleanliness. “You perspire, and isn’t it nice to have a clean body? You feel so much better.” “After all,” she’ll finally say, “the bath is my only luxury.”

These are statements typical of Mother. They suggest perhaps a certain simplicity. This isn’t to say Mother is simpleminded. Not at all. Rather, it is to suggest a sensibility that respects necessities for what they are, a practical sense that finds contentment, sometimes even luxury, in the simple duties of necessity. Mother is simple in that she doesn’t carry around anything in excess, be it pretension, desire, or fashionable decoration. As Father says, “She is what she is.” Mother’s simplicity is, finally, honest. It is clean and naked in a hot bathtub.

It has been suggested that the bath is a return to the womb, to a fetal state. Mother freely admits this must be a part of its pleasure. Nakedness is not something Mother is shy about. Birth and bodies, it’s all very natural and beautiful. However, they’ve had some difficulty extracting from Mother explanations as to processes, actions, causes in the matter of birth and naked bodies. It’s all very much a mystery. Mother’s standard answer in these cases is, “What do you have that others haven’t got?” That has somehow had to suffice for everything, that which is natural and that, mysterious.

Excerpted from Sansei and Sensibility: Stories, by Karen Tei Yamashita, with permission of the publisher, Coffee House Press.

Coffee House Press

Sansei and Sensibility: Stories, by Karen Tei Yamashita

Coffee House Press Bookshop.org
Karen Tei Yamashita is the author of eight books, including I Hotel, a finalist for the National Book Award.
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