Johanna Mason stood before the bathroom in her living quarters in the tunnel city of 13. She had seen shower stalls that were larger, but it was fully functional. She looked again at the memo in her hands, warning that she could be put on reprimand if she continued to neglect her personal bathing habits.
"I can do this," she said. "I can do this."
She used the toilet first. It folded down from the wall. That was no problem. When she pulled the flush lever, the toilet simply shut and folded up with a "shunk" sound. Then she went to the sink. She pulled it out like a drawer, and started the faucet. An economical trickle came out. That wasn't bad. She didn't flinch. She stretched out her hands, almost to the water, and then jerked them back. "I can do this."
She plugged the drain, and let the basin fill. She stopped the water, waited a moment for the last ripples to calm, and immersed her hands. The sink was just big enough. The water was warm, that helped. She applied soap, and repeated, removing a substantial layer of grime. She dried her hands quickly, with the towel rather than the dryer that was supposed to be better, quickly rubbing out any stray droplets that ran down her skin. She smiled. "There. That's not so bad. That's progress." She looked up at the shower head.
She crouched beside the bathroom door with her towel wrapped around her and a piece of soap hanging around her neck, listening to water patter. The sound did not bother her. That was progress. She opened the door just a little, and shut off the water with an old broom handle. Then she stepped inside, and plunged a sponge on the other end of said broom handle into the now-full bucket that covered the drain. She started to lather and scrub. As the water ran down her skin, she shivered as if it were icy cold, but she didn't perceive even a hint of electricity running through. When she was done, she stepped out of the stall and upended the bucket down the drain.
"There," she said as she retrieved the bucket. "That wasn't so bad. That's progress..."
She unfolded the toilet before she threw up. That was progress, too.
Johanna gave a wry smile as she brought out her trusty old bucket. She filled it, and then poured it into a shallow tub. She filled the bucket again, and then about half, and poured in the soap. Then she added a giggling baby girl, just old enough to say, "Mama. Bat."
"That's right," she said as she scrubbed. "Bathtime." Her baby giggled, and splashed with her hands and feet. Johanna stifled a shriek as cold water splashed in her face and down her front.
The baby crowed with laughter. "Mama wet," she said with relish.
Johanna glowered with an expression that a bystander could have taken as hilarious, if he did not take note of the knotting of her shoulders, the heaving of her chest or the flush of purple to her face. For the better part of a minute, she stared, and the baby put a finger in her mouth, as if pondering whether her jest might have gone a step too far. Slowly, her muscles relaxed, and her breathing subsided. That was when she pulled a dropped sponge out of the water.
"Baby," she said as she raised the sponge. Then she wrung out the sponge, pouring a generous flow of water down on the baby's head. "Wetter." Her daughter responded by laughing even louder than before.
The baby let out another happy gurgle as Johanna set the still-dripping sponge on the top of her head. Johanna gave a wistful look at her daughter, and then smiled herself. "Now this," she said, "is progress."