Soap by Kevin Sampsell

My body was decaying, stretched and pasty from all the years inside of it. Blood turning to dust mites. Humid in all the folds, the slacking. The problem was I kept forgetting to buy soap.

And I once thought 55 was bad. Sixty-five is a sick witch. Even my grandkids shriek and shrivel at my touch. They’re yet to know what pity means in their brains, but their bodies know instinctively when to feel sorry and repulsed by something. If they sit next to me or—God forbid—on my lap, their bones calcify with pity.

My own children, grown up and fit, have taken to wearing surgical masks. I don’t know if they do this every minute of the day, but there they are, rubber bands fresh over their ears whenever I appear.

I’m told I must go to a specialty store for soap. At my age, I need something stronger than Zest or Ivory. Or maybe it’s weaker. I need weaker soap. Who knows? I’m not even sure what soap is made of. Are there animal parts in it? Hooves, eyeballs, anuses. Maybe oyster parts. Old oysters too ancient to eat.

I find one called Salty Pomegranate. It is a comforting red, streaked with bumpy white nubs. I buy it at a store that also sells condoms that claim to be produced at a local hot spring. I buy a condom too and slip both items into my inside jacket pocket and venture toward home.

It starts to rain.

I enjoy the change of weather for a moment, but then it comes down heavier. It’s lukewarm and pelting, aggressive like a swarm of bees. I think about how good my skin will feel once I’m home and I can fill the tub. Sloshing and private, like I like it.

My heart feels eager and full, anticipating the leisure. I walk faster, feeling a sense of expansion and thrill. It’s as if a spirit is escaping me. My body less stifled.

Soon enough, I can see bubbles rising from my chest, armpits, and shoulders. They pop against my nose. The soap inside my jacket activated and working like magic. Super powered. It is as if my body is surrounded by artificial blisters. They make sounds. Bubble sounds.

A woman calls from a nearby porch, “Come here for refuge!”

I brush away the mysterious froth and stumble toward her steps.

“You must be careful in this climate,” she says, when I reach her. “My name is Key.”

I tell her that my name is Bo, but we have a hard time shaking hands because I can’t tell where my body ends and the bubbles begin. Key touches my neck as if taking my pulse and puts her fingers in her mouth. “Salty pomegranate,” she says. “You must be careful.”

“How did you know?” I ask her.

“My grandmother founded Majestic Soap Company in 1960. My mother has run it since 2005. Soap is in my blood.”

For a moment, I wonder if she’s speaking literally. I ask her what to do.

“There is only one thing,” she says. Her hand slides all around my torso and chest like an octopus tentacle. She locates the bar of soap in my jacket pocket and pulls it out. “Should I wrap it in plastic or place it in a wooden box?” she asks.

“Plastic,” I say.

As she makes a move into the house, I see the bar foaming madly in her tender grip.

I wait on the porch as the bubbles around my body seem to multiply, even as I brush them away or pop them.

“Hurry,” I say.

She returns a minute later and she too is covered in suds. “It’s too late,” she says.

I look for the soap in her hand and see it, still pulsing there, sending bubbles up her arm. “What should we do?” I say.

She leads me, slippery hand on slippery arm, into the streets, back into the rain. “I could call my mom,” she says. “Or we could just do whatever.”

It’s hard to read her expression through the bubbles. She drops the soap and it lands between us, a volcano of cool white lava. We’re both covered in it.

“Maybe this is what I needed for my skin,” I say. “You may not be able to tell, but I’m old and withered. My elbows are like tree stumps with many rings. My cheeks are drooping glops. My stomach is a wrinkled gray cloak. My body is merely a sausage.”

She puts her smooth hands up to where she guesses my face is. I choke a little on the soap bubbles going up my nose and into my throat. She proceeds to stroke my shape through the froth. It feels electric and life-changing, as if she is peeling away my skin and finding new skin under it. My hand reaches up and I find something smooth and soft on her. A shoulder, maybe. A breast. A thigh. We let the rain wash over us until we’re clean.


Kevin Sampsell is the publisher of Future Tense Books, a micropress in Portland, Oregon. His writing has appeared in Salon, Hobart, Sink Review, Ohio Edit, Black Candies, Everyday Genius, Best Sex Writing 2010, Best American Essays 2013, and elsewhere. His memoir, A Common Pornography, was published in 2010 by Harper Perennial. His novel, This Is Between Us, was published by Tin House Books.
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