The Baby in the Bathwater

Below is an original short story inspired by a writing prompt from the Amazing Story Generator. The prompt reads: After a failed bank heist, the drummer for a punk rock band, refuses to leave the bathtub. Enjoy!

Even from under water, Zed knew the peculiar jingle of Ava’s keys. The sounds of the apartment door’s locks sliding open were harder for him to make out but the distinct creak of the opening door and slam that followed weren’t. Ava never slammed the door. Either her arms were full of groceries or she was pissed. Zed prayed for groceries.

“Zed!”

Ava’s voice cut through two walls, the bathroom door, the chilly bathwater, and found Zed’s ears like a thirsty mosquito with sonar. He could hear the edges around his name in her angry voice and the exclamation mark at the end of it. He weighed confronting a pissed-off girlfriend with drowning himself. Death by bathwater wouldn’t be the epic, guns-blazing, drug-fueled spectacle he’d always envisioned his death would be, but it would be in fashion with other Rock musicians.  Zed figured he’d be saving money by dying in his own bathtub instead of a hotel’s.

Zed heard the tapping of Ava’s heels on the hardwood floor grow louder then fade as she stormed passed the bathroom and into their bedroom. He heard her yank open the window by the fire escape. Hiding from her on there would have been a rookie mistake. She sounded mad enough to shove him right over the railing. Their apartment was on the second floor overlooking a back alley. Zed and Ava spent many summer nights on the fire escape debating whether or not Zed could survive the two-story fall into the full dumpster below their window. Although Zed was confident that the mounds of trash would break his fall, he wasn’t out there. He had screwed up too badly for a quick cigarette on the fire escape to alleviate his nerves.

Zed heard the tapping of Ava’s heels grow louder again then suddenly stop. The bathroom doorknob rattled. Zed flinched as Ava’s fist pounded on the door.

“Zed! I know you’re in there.” Ava yelled. Her voice shook the crooked tiles on the bathroom walls.

Zed let his eyes and nose break the surface of the bathwater. After being in the tub for two hours the water was frigid. The cold reminded Zed of the ballad he wrote about bathtubs that he proposed to the other member in his punk rock band. Maybe it was the fact that the song was about bathtubs or that he wrote it while taking a bath but the two guitarists and lead singer rejected their drummer’s proposal. It took Zed a whole month to get over it. Ava soothed his ego and told him to work on his own music. Zed remembered the calm in her voice as she sided with him and agreed that baths (and bathtubs) were awesome. Zed wished Ava was on his side right now.

“Cole told me what happened, Zed!” Anger drenched Ava’s words. “You guys tried to rob a bank?!”

The doorknob rattled again. Zed knew the flimsy lock could do nothing against Ava’s lock-picking skills. She may be a classy, ivy-league graduate but Ava’s rough-neighborhood upbringing instilled her with a back-alley skill set. She was book-smart and street-smart. Zed was out of his league when they met. But Ava liked tattooed musicians who knew all of the words from Fight Club so they clicked–like a lock and a hairpin.

Zed heard Ava’s hairpin working overtime as it pinged around in the bathroom knob. She’d be in the bathroom in 30 seconds and have her hands around his throat three seconds after that. Zed decided to spend the last 33 seconds of his life where he felt best: underwater. He took a deep breath and sank back into the tub. He shut his eyes and tried to block out the muddled sounds of Ava’s profanities.

Too soon, Zed heard the fatal ping of the surrendering lock and felt the disturbance in the water as the bathroom door flew inward sending a gust across the surface. A sharp, tight pain ceased Zed’s scalp as Ava entwined her fingers in his shaggy hair and yanked his head out of the water.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Zed yelped grabbing at Ava’s hand in his hair, but her grip was like a vice.

“Tell me you did not rob a bank this morning!” Ava said.

“We didn’t!” Zed coughed. He hadn’t used his voice since that morning when he yelled at Cole to drive, with bank security right on their tail. He could feel Ava’s eyes boring into him but couldn’t bring his eyes to meet hers as he continued. “…but we tried.”

The pain in Zed’s scalp returned as his head was plunged back into the bath water. Zed panicked and flailed his arms as he fought to unlock Ava’s deadly hands from his head. Suddenly, death-by-drowning seemed terrifying. He gasped as he was wrenched from the water again.

“What were you thinking!?” Ava roared. As scared as Zed was of dying by the hands of his lover he wiped the water from his eyes and looked at her. Ava’s tangled, curly hair was a brown lion’s mane around her round face. Fury set her dark eyes alight but behind it Zed saw concern, maybe even worry. Angry Ava terrified Zed, but Worried Ava broke his heart. Zed decided that telling the truth, not taking a bath, would help him come clean.

“It was Ryan’s idea,” he admitted.

“What? The lead singer?” Ava asked.

“He’s also our songwriter. But lately he hasn’t been ‘feeling the music’” Zed framed with air quotes just like Ryan had when he tried to explain his writer’s block to the band. “He’s an adrenaline junkie, so every once in a while he needs a fix. And since Darla broke up with him, he’s got no one to do crazy stuff with.”

“Is that why you guys went skydiving last month? What does this have to do with the bank?” Ava asked. Zed felt her fingers in his hair tighten.

Zed winced “Yeah, but that wasn’t enough. Ryan’s been teetering on the edge since the break up. Last weekend he picked a fight with this huge dude at the bar after our show. The dude broke Ryan’s nose! But then next rehearsal Ryan shows up with a new song; a really good song.”

“And Ryan thinks getting the crap beat out of him is his source of inspiration?” Ava asked. Zed could hear the eye roll in her voice.

“Yeah,” he shrugged.

“That still doesn’t explain your profound stupidity this morning.”

“Alright, so last night we were in the studio and Ryan turns to us and says he needs our help with his next fix. But not any fix, the fix. The fix that would quench his ‘inspirational thirst’” Zed used air quotes again to show Ava that he was quoting Ryan’s words and not being dramatic. “He told us about the bank on Main Street. Apparently he’d been casing the place for a few days and assured us we didn’t have to actually steal any money, just trying to would be enough of a jolt for him to get through this great material he’s working on for us. Nobody wanted to do it, but Ryan said he needed us; that if he did it by himself he’d get busted.”

Zed felt Ava’s fingers loosen and free his hair. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with her manicured thumb and index finger. Zed thought it best to let Ava process what he’d just told her. He looked down into the bath water and watched the fabric of his boxers cling and uncling to his thighs.

“Was anyone hurt?”

Ava had a way of cutting through all the B.S. in a situation and finding what matters; it was one of the things Zed loved about her. “No. The security officer busted his ass chasing our car as we peeled outta there but that’s it.” Zed saw worry crinkle Ava’s brow. “I promise, Ava no one was hurt. The second the plan went to hell we got out. No one’s gonna find us.”

Ava sighed. “The next time Ryan needs ‘a fix’ or whatever, send him to me,” Ava said. Zed recognized the bite in her voice and nodded.  Then Ava gripped the back of Zed’s neck. Zed braced himself for another plunge into the bathwater but instead felt her pull him into her warm chest. Zed wrapped his arms around his girlfriend and dug his face into her hair.  As he listened to Ava’s breathing, Zed realized no bathtub felt safer than being in Ava’s arms.

There was a knock at the apartment door.

“That’s probably Darla,” Ava said de-tangling her arms from Zed’s. “She heard what happened with you idiots and she freaked. I told her she could to come by.”

“Freaked like ‘That’s Crazy’ or freaked like ‘I-hope-Ryan-is-okay-‘cause-I-still-love-him?” Zed asked raising his eyebrows.

“The second one,” said Ava with the makings of a smile.

Zed exhaled as he let his head fall back against the tiled wall. If Darla and Ryan got back together in light of this morning’s botched robbery, it would make Zed’s close call with Ava’s fury worth it. With the worst of the day behind him, he closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Ava’s heels as she walked down the hallway.

“Darla?” Ava asked through the door.

Zed heard a deep voice clear its throat, “No ma’am this is the police. We’re here to speak with Zed Whitney.”

Zed’s eyes shot open.

“What is this about?” Ava asked.

“An attempted robbery occurred this morning at the bank on Main Street,” a different deep voice answered. “The security guard who pursued the fleeing vehicle suffered a heart attack and died. “We have reason to believe Mr. Whitney was involved.”

Zed began to panic. Just two minutes ago he was afraid of becoming a murder victim, now he was the cause of one! The panic stirred as thoughts of incarceration whipped through his mind.

Zed heard the distinct creak of the apartment door opening. He figured he had about five seconds before Ava let the cops in and another 15 seconds until she came to get him. Zed decided it was just enough time to wrestle on some pants and find out if he was right about the two-story fall into a dumpster. Covered in all kinds of goose bumps, he leapt from the tub.

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