Shower horror

Remember the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? Plastic curtains, water gushing, the lovely lady standing inside a tub, enjoying the torrent with her eyes closed when — shrieking violins! — a dark shadow appears on the other side of the curtain! Knife! Blood! Death.

Why do I remember this scene so vividly? Because it’s such a brilliant depiction of vulnerability. To be attacked when one is in the shower, naked and helpless, is such a stark violation that we — or, at any rate, I — instantly identify with the victim. Even though most of us will never face the situation (thank goodness), the set-up is such that we feel the desperation of it on our skin, in our teeth.

Not only that but even 40 years since the first and only time I saw the movie, a trace of memory stirs within me when I step into a shower. Not every time. But if it’s a tub and at night and I happen to be alone... like, for instance, tonight. Bins is out for a post-dinner stroll. I decide to go in for a shower. It’s not very late — 10.15 pm maybe? — but the neighbourhood goes real quiet once the shops pull down their shutters.

Before I step into the tub, I stick a finger into the drain-strainer to clear out the hair that gets caught there. As I do this, I think, “Hmm. It feels fuzzy.” Even though I can see that it really is just hair, a ripple of distaste wriggles down my spine. The fuzz reminds me of the small creature that sometimes appears in the house. It’s called a domestic centipede. About an inch long, flat, hairy and TWITCHY. Like a frantic little moustache made of a thousand yellow whiskers. It springs out of nowhere, dashes across the room and vanishes once more. Just like that.

It’s completely harmless and only makes rare appearances. Indeed, I’ve not seen one in over a year. I close the bathroom door, turn on the water in the tub, test for heat, step in and draw the curtains around me. I pull up the knob that redirects water to the shower, enjoy the lovely gush of heat, open my eyes and... SHRIEKY MUSIC!! There on the plastic shower curtain, at eye-level, is the twitching silhouette of a centipede!

Psycho music screams through my mind. I smack the shadow from my side of the curtain. Instantly, it vanishes. But the sanctity of my shower is stabbed through the heart. I cannot believe that I thought of the creature barely moments before it appears. I know it’s not in the tub, but I can feel it running up and down my spine. I finish the bath, towel dry, dress and look around. Yup. I see it on the wall. I whack it again, with my slipper this time.

Horror, murder, death. Bins comes back and asks me why I’m breathing strangely. “Psychosis!” I whisper shakily, not bothering to explain.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on June 28, 2019
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