Nancy keeps the bath in a room by itself, separate from the shower and the toilet and the vanity. It’s a heavy and well-built bath. Durable. After Harper left she had to drag it in by herself, deep scores left in the chessboard linoleum. On the opposite side of the room is a full-length sheet mirror, not mounted but leaning against the wall. The only other thing in the room is the fridge. It’s a commercial one with a glass front because it’s easier to label the different milks that way. She can just print out a label and stick it on the glass in front of the rows. Sometimes she uses masking tape and a Sharpie to save time.
The milk in the tub is the same shiny off-white as the enamel, so its still surface makes it seem like the bottom is only a few inches from the top. She dips her finger in before the rest of her, nice and slow. The bath is just right for one, but some still splashes over the edge and spills onto the floor. She is big enough that she fills the width of the bath, suction-cupping into place. This is good milk. It has warmed to body temperature quickly, as has the bathtub, so it feels like sitting in nothing or in amniotic fluid.
Today is cow’s milk. Pedestrian, but a classic. Full fat. There’s no point messing around with skim. The unhomogenised cream collects on the surface, ringing where her skin rises pink above the milk. Her nipples are white with it. It’s ever-so-slightly viscous, and takes a while to fully drip off if she lifts her hands above the surface. She sinks her head under, lets it swirl into her ears, wet her hair.
When she is saturated she stands, milk sloshing down around the soft folds of her breasts and stomach, the knob of fat over her ribs. She drip dries for a while, calf deep in the bath. She has learnt not to let milk spoil on her towels. Stepping out and over to the mirror, she holds there, staring at her own damp body. Turning this way and that, pushing the thick flesh around like a butcher.
‘I’m not sitting in that.’
Harper finishes dripping in the lavender oil and sprinkles a few tiny violets on the surface. There’s steam coming off the bath, slightly, and Nancy watches as it beads on Harper’s upper lip, curls up her baby hairs. She wants to lick it off. The smell is cocooning, reminds her of perfume her mother wore. She can’t help wrinkling her nose.
‘It seems like a recipe for disaster. I don’t want to disrupt the delicate balance of my vaginal flora.’
Harper snorts, ‘I’ve done it with people loads of times and I’m fine—’
‘—and it feels so good against your skin. Kind of turns me on.’ Great, smells like her dead mum and sex.
‘You’re paying for my thrush medication.’
‘Deal. Get in.’
She pulls her pyjamas off over her head, really just a XXXL Star Wars: The Force Awakens T-shirt from the big men’s section at Target. It covers everything except her legs, which she actually likes. She watches Harper slip out of the singlet she’s wearing, slow, so much more comfortable being bare. When they have sex she likes to tease.
‘I promise you’ll like it.’ Harper smiles over her shoulder. Her even little teeth poke out from under her lip, just a bit. She sits on the edge of the tub, then folds herself down into the milk. Nancy clambers in after, settles between her legs, back to her chest. Some milk splashes over the side and drips onto the chessboard lino. Harper laughs, and it shakes Nancy too.
She folds her slim arms around Nancy so they’re pressed together: skin, to skin, to skin. It’s hard for Nancy to get used to. There were only men before this. Only men bigger than her to make sure she felt small enough to be a woman. She’s still adjusting to the touch of someone so tiny.
‘I think this would be better if the milk wasn’t so hot. I feel a bit like I’m being poached.’
Harper ignores her, starts humming what sounds like Moon River. The vibrations run through both of them. Harper digs her fingers into Nancy’s scalp, and she shivers into the humming.
She buys her cow’s milk from a health food shop on Brunswick Street. She’s tried goat, but it’s a bit thin, same with sheep’s milk. The lambs don’t have to grow as big as the calves do. The premium is donkey milk, but it’s hard to come by in a country that doesn’t capitalise on donkey labour. Cleopatra used the milk of seven hundred donkeys every time she bathed. Nancy assumes Cleopatra’s bath was bigger.
She tried plant-based milks for a while. Coconut makes her gag. The almond was okay. She got some low-fat, no-added-sugar, organic soy which seemed like it worked really well. The yeast infection lasted two weeks. She had to stack all the empty bottles of Ocean Spray, red remnants stuck in the indents, next to the bins outside in the parking lot, so all the neighbours knew as well. It seemed to clean everything out, so now she drinks a glass every morning with breakfast, after the lemon water and black coffee. Her tongue will never be the same.
She would really like to try human milk. She can’t say that to anyone. It would be the most compatible and beneficial. People eat all sorts of body stuff; she saw an article the other day with the headline ‘I Felt Like A Million Bucks After Consuming My Placenta’. She tried to ask her brother’s girlfriend for some after she gave birth. She thought she could dilute it in water to make it go far enough, because you can’t get enough milk for a proper bath out of one woman. The girlfriend was rude about it, said that she needed it for Zachary so his bones could develop properly. He’s an ugly baby, so Nancy thought that was fair enough. She didn’t ask about the placenta.
The club plays shit music but Nancy looks good under the lights, shadows playing like a Caravaggio. It is hot and dark, and someone sticks his hand down her shirt. She’s wearing shapewear under her clothes, a lace and powermesh monster. It has many tiny hooks that run from crotch to just under her breasts, leaving them hanging free, heavy. Vulnerable in his palm. She is caught there, his body at her back and his arm around her, like a breathing cage.
‘I could just lap you up.’ Expensive, woody cologne. Harper smelt like that. Does he drink it?
‘Buy me dinner first.’
She orders a White Russian. He flashes his credit card. The bartender eyes the mass behind Nancy, the solid bunch of his muscles all the way down to his hand in her shirt. She raises her eyebrows at Nancy in a silent question, a hint of concern in her eyes. Nancy winks back, or tries to, and downs half her drink in one swallow.
He doesn’t say much. He’s taken his hand off her, now just hangs there at her back: huge, warm, interested. She excuses herself to the toilets and adjusts in the scratched mirror, lifting her breasts higher so her nipples, visible through the material, point the right way. Her eyes are half closed and sleepy from the alcohol, mouth red with spit. She looks fucked out already.
He keeps the light off, but the curtains are open to the night. The moon filters in, Nancy blue and reflective under it.
He unwraps her like a piece of meat: peels off her cling film dress, rips away the bone of the corset. He has trouble getting his big fingers to undo the tiny hooks. There are indents left in the flesh of her stomach, red dints in her pale, damp skin. She spills over the black lace a little more as each hook gives way, flesh slack against the bed by the time it’s all the way off.
He hikes her body up the bed, arranges her limbs to his liking, pulling her legs wider apart with his big hands. Nancy doesn’t ask about a condom. She’s starting to bruise already.
Harper gives her a massage after the bath. She smooths the oil into every millimetre of Nancy’s skin, not stopping until all of her is pink and shiny. She leaves a pool of oil in Nancy’s belly button, draws lines out from it, rubs it into stretch marks and scars.
Harper’s short hair is sticking up in tufts when she pulls the towel off. Nancy smooths it down, tries to finger-comb out the tangles. Harper bats her hands away and curls big spoon around Nancy. They slip against each other easily with the residual oil.
‘Your turn?’ Nancy assumed this was foreplay.
‘It’s okay. We’re bonding. Like mothers do with their babies, while they’re still covered in blood and shit. It’s very important.’
‘Please don’t try and breastfeed me.’
Harper heaves herself up and flings herself on top of Nancy, chest in her face.
‘Ow.’ Muffled. Nancy teethes the underside of a breast.