Dave Broom shivered as the first splash of cold water cascaded over his head and into the sink. He tried to breathe without gasping. Three days ago the hot water heater had sprung a leak and damaged the floor and ceiling of their home. Repairs couldn’t begin until Tuesday. They’d been boiling water in pots to give some illusion of warmth to the sponge baths they’d been taking. There was nothing quite like coming home from four softball games and sponging off with lukecool water. Dave was pretty sure lukecool wasn’t a word that would be accepted in a game of “Words with Friends” but it made perfect sense in context.
Del’s fingers massaged shampoo into his scalp. Dave realized that no one washes your hair quite like you do. Her fingers felt different, her nails were longer, she was brisk and thorough and efficient with the distribution of suds. Maybe a little too brisk.
“Ow, not so rough,” Dave muttered.
Del scoffed. “Oh please. You’re just like the children. You’re doing it too hard, you got it in my ear, whatever! It’s 6:30 in the morning. You’re lucky I’m doing this for you at all. Now hold still and quit squirming.”
As she rinsed the suds out of his hair, Dave’s mind filled with images he’d accumulated over the years of people standing around rusty and broken spigots, children soaking up muddy water from roadside puddles with filthy rags, some white bearded old TV actor pleading for just a dollar a day that would bring clean, cold water to areas devastated by drought or war or inefficient and corrupt governments. He thought of dried up wells and a fouled oasis, rain barrels and Tom Hanks sipping from a leaf on his island paradise. Dave and his parents used to play non-traditional board games designed by hippies like “Madison Avenue” (beware the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit!) or “Wilderness Survival” where the goal was to walk out alive without dying from lack of food or water. The little cardboard hiker avatar could go 7-10 days without food. Without water you would die in 5 days.
Dave knew he took many things for granted. Loose shoes. A warm place to shit. Hot clean water from the faucet. He should be grateful instead of carping about having his hair washed in the sink with cold water. A wave of First World guilt washed over him, more chilling than the occasional trickle that slid across his neck and down his back.
“All done,” Del said. “That wasn’t so bad was it? Hey… what’s up? Are you crying? What in the world is wrong with you?”
“There are people without clean water or shampoo or Xbox or Pop Tarts in the world,” he sniffled.
Del nodded. “Yeah? That’s true. Three of those things they don’t miss. And Pop Tarts isn’t one them. Deal with it.”