The rain tapped against the bathroom window as Abby showered before getting ready for work. She was soaping her legs when she noticed a dark mark, like a swipe from a brown magic marker, on the tile wall. That's weird, she thought, how could that get there? She leaned in through the steam to get a closer look.
"Oh crap," she said to herself with a start. "There's a baby slug in my shower."
At first she was grossed out, and for some reason having the slug in her shower while she was naked made her feel vulnerable, as if somehow it could get her because she was without her clothes. As if clothes could protect me from a slug, she thought, and then stopped herself.
"What am I thinking? God, I'm afraid of a slug."
It was tiny, the size of a matchstick. She assumed it was a baby because she was only used to seeing the big ones on sidewalks but for all she knew it could be full-grown. She hadn't thought much about slugs and didn't know they came in all sorts of sizes. In fact, she knew very little about slugs. It had tiny antennae that searched the air in front of it as it climbed the tiles to get clear of the spray from the showerhead. Now that she was no longer startled, she wouldn't say they were cute, but the way they moved was intriguing. Where did the slug come from? Maybe the recent days of downpours had driven it inside, or maybe it had come up from the shower drain? Ugh, she thought, I'm being invaded by slugs through my drain.
She started to worry the shower spray would wash it clear of the wall and it would swirl down the drain to drown. She didn't wish drowning on anything, even a gooey slug in her shower that had caught her naked. She had a fear of drowning, that and house fires, and just thinking of them gave her chills. Maybe she'd been accused of being a witch in a past life and had failed the water and burn test. But what was she going to do with it? She didn't want to touch it, and even if she did, she wasn't going to give the fat man who lived behind her a show by running outside naked to find it a new home. So she did nothing. She directed the showerhead to minimize the spray in the slug's direction, then finished her shower and stepped out of the stall to towel off. She left the shower curtain pulled to the side, thinking the stall would dry out and the slug would go in search of a damper climate. But she didn't know what it liked or what it would do so she put it out of her mind and got ready for work.
* * *
The next morning when she showered before work she didn't see the slug and figured leaving the curtain open for the stall to dry out had worked, but the following few mornings it was back and then one morning it was much higher up the wall, about eye level with her. There was no way she could shower without the spray hitting it so she decided to move it, but when she touched it with her fingertip to flick it into her palm, it was much more strongly attached to the wall than she had expected and she decided to leave it alone and went about her bathing. When she glanced at it again, it was gone. She checked by her feet, but it was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh," she said sadly, realizing she'd grown accustomed to the slug. "It's gone down the drain. Shoot."
She tried not to picture it drowning, but it really bothered her and she couldn't. Wanting to be free of the water and her thoughts, she quickly finished her shower and got out, but throughout the day, the slug kept popping into her mind. In the middle of making a series of client callbacks on the phone, she started wondering where slugs went when they died. Was there a slug heaven for slugs that had been good? What about a slug hell? Could slugs even be good or bad? She was lost in her moral dilemma over slugs and it carried her thoughts to her own mortality, wondering where she would go when she died. Would it be the same place as slugs? Did Jesus have a position on slugs in Heaven?
She'd read that people lived forever and only their bodies died and then they got a new one and were back at work again. She liked that idea until she considered where she'd be when she was between bodies. Would she get a loaner until her new one was ready? No one took care of loaners cars and they smelled of other people's bad habits. Or would she float around bodiless without her boobs and pretty smile? She felt her smile was her best feature, which was why she smiled a lot, that and she had noticed it was contagious and she would much rather deal with a smiling person than a grinch. Maybe her next body would have a nice smile, too.
Her work desk was in a maze of cubicles, and as she was thinking this, Nathan, a coworker she found exceedingly annoying, started down her aisle interrupting everyone to show them a printout of his wife's ultrasound. Then it struck her how precarious this theory about getting a new body could be. With a squeamishness that went all the way down to her toes she realized if she died today she could come back as Nathan's kid.
When Nathan arrived at her cubicle, announcing what he had to show her, she forced a smile as she took the offered picture and asked, "When's it due?"
"It is not an it. It is a he."
"He's due on the sixth of January."
"Boy, you know the exact date."
"It's called science, Abby."
She handed back the picture.
"But we might induce labor early so we can claim him on this year's tax return. I'm going to love having a dependent."
He moved on to the next aisle over, and she said aloud to herself, "I can do that."
"What can you do?" It was Anne, with whom she shared her cubicle, returning with their coffees.
"Stay alive until January seventh so I don't get reborn as Nathan's kid."
"Oh, God, can you imagine?"
"That's my problem, I can."
"Ooo, ga-ga," Anne cooed like a baby. "I wuv you, Daddy."
* * *
The next morning in the shower her slug was back. "Hi, Mr. Slug," she said. All slugs were male to her. "I thought you were dead."
And then, as if purposefully, the slug let go of the wall, fell to the floor and swirled down the drain before she could even react.
"Shit," she said. "Goodbye again, Mr. Slug."
If he'd been a good slug, maybe he'd move up a few notches and come back as Nathan's kid. Or he might crawl up out of the drain and be back tomorrow, trying to be as good a slug as he can so when he dies he won't come back as Nathan's kid, she thought with a smile, her best feature.
Raud Kennedy is a writer and dog trainer in Portland, Oregon. To learn about his most recent work, Portland, a collection of short stories, please visit www.raudkennedy.com