Water God

By Jon Pearson

There I was, the tugboat captain of the world, bobbing up and down, with the world going on all around me and I’m at the center. The center of the world on a Saturday night in 1956 was in a bathtub on the second floor of my grandparents’ house on High Street in Alameda, California.

I could have been one of those Hindu gods with the universe coming out of my navel or Ganesh—the fat elephant god—with earrings and a trunk. A little boy in nice, hot tub water up to his chest with his grandmother in the kitchen making dinner, knows things only a Hindu god might know. Naked, unborn things only skin and hot water know. Bubble bath fizzing up into see-through mountains everywhere. We never had bubble bath at home. It would have been too playful or silly—a waste of something. But with my grandparents it was different; everything was different.

The tub was white and steady and still. It stood on four little paws against the wall and waited as only a bathtub can. You could fill a bathtub with soup or gold or mud or bumblebees (boys do think these things), but I filled it with hot water out of the spout—a spout that looked like someone’s nose if someone had a long silver nose that bent down at the end. I watched the water fill the tub. The bashing of water on water was jeweled or simple or like two identical people colliding and becoming one person or like one person becoming all people. The water turned into sound—a deepening, dulling, sameness of sound—that made me feel like I had lived many lives, not just this one. I let the tub fill, not wanting to stop it for any reason at all, just let it fill. If I didn’t touch the knobs, the water would fill and fill, and if I really didn’t touch the knobs, the water would flow over the top and flood the entire house and then the whole wide world and we would all float away. I thought of not touching the knobs and felt like God. But then I could save the world by turning the water off and be God that way, too.

The water would almost come up to my neck as I sat on the floor of the tub—the nice, deep, white tub. My grandmother was in the kitchen, and I could hear her now because I shut the water off. My grandfather, for all I could hear, might be a small blue cloud hovering in the living room, and my brother and cousin were probably off somewhere getting in a fight. I pictured my brother—who was a year older and tall and all elbows and knees—as an insect: a giant praying mantis with human skin stretched over his praying mantis body; and my cousin I pictured—I don’t know why—as a moth kissing, with all his might, the hard, white washing machine in the basement.

The water watered all around me in the tub. About the oldest thing there is: water, but new—spanking, slapping new—plapping and plooping and making all the funny noises filling the tub, the gush and wush of water around my legs. I played with my tugboat. I bombed it with a wet, balled-up washcloth while standing up in the tub. I played God again: the god of death, the god of chance, the god of mercy. Then I held my breath under water with my eyes squeezed shut and the sound all gone except for the underwater sounds, the roaring sound of nothing or the whirring sound nothing made before it became sounds, as if water might be a very fat sort of air and air a very thin sort of water, full of the thoughts people had but never, ever said. With my head underwater, I could see the world beyond the tub, beyond the chocolate-colored bathroom door. I could see the hall, the house, the street. I could see Lincoln Park and the pine trees and the baseball field. I could see all the stars in the sky. I wished I could breathe through my skin like a frog. I wished I could drink through my nose like an elephant. I wished my parents would let me eat dinner in my pajamas like my grandparents did. I wished my parents could see, finally see, that I, I, was the “good” son and love me, love me, more than my brother. I wished and wished, but all there was was water.


Jon Pearson is a writer, speaker, artist, and creative thinking consultant. As a kid, he wanted to be President of the United States. So far, he has been a cartoonist for the Oakland Tribune, an extra for the New York Metropolitan Opera, a college professor, a piano mover, and a mailman. He still believes that courage, caring, and creativity will save the world. He writes now for the same reason he played with his food as a boy: to make the world a better place.

His work has been nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize and a 2014 Million Writers Award and has appeared or is forthcoming in Barely South Review, Barnstorm, Carve, The Citron Review, Crack the Spine, Critical Pass Review, Cultural Weekly, Existere, Faultline, Fiction Fix, Lake Effect, OnTheBus, Penmen Review, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Reed Magazine, Shark Reef, Sou’wester, Tower Journal, West Wind Review, and Wild Violet.

Jon lives with his beautiful wife in Los Angeles and  may be reached at: jonstuartpearson@gmail.com

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