Dirty Laundry

Submitted into Contest #31 in response to: Write a short story about someone doing laundry.... view prompt

2 comments

General

DIRTY LAUNDRY



I hate doing laundry.

One time is okay, takes like ten minutes. But then in two days, it starts all over. It’ll be that way unto death. I wonder how many laundry baskets I’ll vanquish before then…

I can’t go on like this. I have better things to do. A concerto to write, children to raise. Oh that’s right, my children are all gone…

I hate silence. It’s always so silent when folding laundry. I’d rather die than fold another sock.

I need help. Honestly, my whole life has become as predictable and dull as folding laundry. Maybe if I can find joy in the simplest of tasks, I can begin to find happiness in my life.

But where do I start?

Why, the Interweb, of course. Where else?

I need a hairband. Okay, here we go. Oh gawd, is that my reflection? Those bags under my eyes are huge. So are my cheeks, but for some reason, that doesn’t make me happy. Okay, focus.

What do I search… how about “finding joy in mundane tasks.”

Nothing, nothing.

The Interweb doesn’t like the word ‘mundane’.

What about… “pleasure in clothing.” Enter. Wait no. No! Mistake! She isn’t even wearing clothing. Sure looks full of pleasure though, like an ice cream cake. Delete cache, delete cookies.

Well, that was a failure.

Where else could I learn? Old people do boring things. Nana is always smiling while rocking in her chair, staring at that old creepy painting of hers, the clown.

The clown. That’s right! She sent me a card with that same clown picture in the envelope. I still haven’t read it. Might as well.

Found it. Urethra. I mean, Eureka. Whatever. Yes, the clown is still creepy. Colorful and smiley as far as clowns go, but is it playing the violin with a handsaw? While throwing gang signs with his other hand, no less. And is he shooting confetti out a kazoo? I don’t get it.

Okay, so what does Nana have to say?

‘Dear Marie… Hope life is good… yada yada… should remarry.’

Yeah, no thank you. John would kill me.

Shoot, nothing new.

The clown is still staring at me with those snake eyes. He’s actually looking away, yet still I feel watched. It was the same from her painting when I was a child.

I remember that day vividly. One of my first adolescent memories.

I remember what she said. That’s it! Maybe I don’t need to hear anything new from her. Maybe it was something old.

She had come up from the basement, catching me trembling before the picture. She pulled me away with tea to cheer me up. Then she told me about wood and water. “Did you know they hold memories? All things do. Even your shirt, sweetie. It’s made of cotton, isn’t it?”

I remember nodding, having no clue what cotton was.

“All things made from other living things still carry life and memories, even personality. The Japanese knew it. Our Americans doubt it, like everything else. But I believe. Do you believe, Marie?”

“Yes, Nana,” I had said.

I wonder if I lied to her. Might as well make it true now.

Okay, so all my clothes are made from threads of cotton, which all came from living plants. So my clothes should hold life and memories, yes? Let’s give this a shot.

Dump it on the bed. Agh, dog hair in my mouth. They must be sleeping on my quilt again. They miss the scent of John, too.

Okay, let’s start with this shirt. This one shirt. Plain white, or used to be. Cotton. Vee-necked.

Close my eyes. Breathe deep. Focus.

It’s just a shirt.

Okay, I know. But I have to pretend.

Shoot, I’ve already folded it. Here’s the pile, let’s try it with jeans. The knees still have slight stains. Perfect. I knew that fishing date was a bad idea. Still, it was our first, four years ago. I can almost smell the lake.

Wait, I’m there. I can smell it. I can see it! Briny, fishy. It was windy that day. John was a friend of a friend. He picked me up in his small red truck, which I liked. He wasn’t trying to compensate for anything.

Whoa. When did I close my eyes? Am I crying?

I was crying that afternoon. I pushed a barbed hook through my finger, frustrated with the slimy, tortured worms. John calmed me down and pulled it out painlessly, after clipping its barbed end. It was magic, really.

This is magic. I can feel his hand in mine. Rough but gentle. Soft but experienced.

No, that’s just the jeans. I see them now, holes in them. Maybe time for retirement, but I can’t let them go.

And I don’t have to. I will not.

That memory was so vivid. It was probably my dream last night.

Let’s try another piece of clothing. Panties, no. I don’t fold those anymore. Silly, really. What is there to fold with lace?

That hoodie. Yes, John gave me that in the hospital, right after I had the twins. He brought me a soda as well. I used to tell the twins they cost only 99-cents total, the cost of one soda. Baby delivery is free in the military. Lots of perks there, including cheap, beautiful caskets.

The sweater was from the Red Rock Amphitheater, where we saw Led Zeppelin play live. Of course, it was a cover band. But good enough.

‘Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.’

“Is somebody there?”

Holy shit, the radio isn’t on. Yes good dogs, all three of you. Come here, protect Mama. She’s all you got.

It still echoes in here, like it did in that Red Rock Amphitheater. What is going on…

Could it really be…

Okay, let’s do this then. Focus.

These jeans are made from the products of living things. Dyed even with flowers. Probably manufactured inks, but close enough. Each thread woven, a memory of my life. Wow, I haven’t written poetry in years, only notes for violins and cellos. The only lyrics I’ve ever loved were Led Zeppelin. I want to see John there again.

Yes, there it is. Full moon rising over the distant city. Countless conversations buzzing about, all there but quiet. Up top are stands of beer, ice cream, and paraphernalia. Where John bought this hoodie when he left for the bathroom. Still don’t know where he hid it.

In his backpack. He always had his black military bag with a water pouch. We had wine in it that night. I can see it perfectly now, as if I were the hoodie peering out at myself. It was in there, bundled and warm. I know it, yes. It was still in there when we returned to our condo and made love, creating the twins.

He held onto that hoodie for nine months. It was in darkness, hearing only mumbled conversations from our bedroom closet. then, close to the birth of the twins, light beamed in on its threads. John grabbed it and smiled. He was crying.

I see him now. I am the hoodie. He looks joyful. He brings me to his face, breathing me in, the living cotton. He… wiped his nose on me? What the… Yes, regret in his eyes. He wipes me clean, then has an idea, pressing me under his arm as he runs out the door.

He pulls into the lot and carries the hoodie close to his chest. He stops outside the hospital, and just stares at the mountains over the building.

What is he doing? I could be having the twins right now!

He’s squeezing the sweater. I can feel his quick heartbeat.

“Our lives will never be the same,” he says. I can hear it. I know he said it, even back then. No way… Is it really absorbed in the clothing?

“I’m scared, Marie.”

I was scared too, honey.

“Life is a crazy, terrifying, beautiful thing. I just hope they are better than their parents.”

The sharp-peaked mountains were as gorgeous as always. I don’t think he ever told me he was so scared. I love that man.

Then he dropped the hoodie in the chair near my bed, rushing over to my screaming, bloody body. Yeah, not a memory I need to relive.

But yes, that one. Holding the twins for the first time. Kristine and Kole. My beloved children forever, if even stuck as two-year-olds forever.

When did I get on my knees? I still haven’t folded the hoodie. Okay, folded and done. Wow, all that crying will dehydrate a woman. Maybe silence isn’t so bad. No, I don’t mean that. These memories are treasures.

Eyes dry, or at least drier. Let’s try another. Pink shirt, the night he proposed to me. Yellow tights, the second day of our honeymoon in Guam, revisiting one of his favorite Air Force bases. Warm nights, walking on the beach, collecting blue starfish and cowrie shells.

That man… he brought so much color into my life. And now, all I see is gray. And crimson.

I thought I made him happy. I didn’t know…

Done with those. Let’s try another. What’s this one? It looks old. Some sort of knitted sweater. Once I flip it right-side out, I can…

Where am I? What is this room? All white, shining. Ringing.

Two people, one knelt over, weak. Gray hair. Nana.

The other, a dark figure, but it takes shape. The same shape as Nana’s favorite painting. The same as the image I see on the front of the knitted sweater she was wearing. The clown.

“I will give your kin the power, as long as you swear your life to me.”

The clown glares at her, smiling with its snake eyes.

“What do you require of me, milord?”

“Yes, that is good. You have the proper respect. All I require is that you keep that respect, along with pray to my image, every day. Little at first, then forever until your death.”

“And I will then have the power to see through objects?”

“All humans can do that already. But I will give you the power to dive into them, relive them. Perhaps even change them.”

Nana is bowing to this terrifying creature? How can she look away from him?

“I will do what you ask.”

I’m back in myself, no longer the sweater. My balance, it’s gone. This wall, cold on my back. Sliding to the ground, my shirt rises to my neck. I’m sitting on some old clothes, the clothes of the twins. Wait, no. I…

I can see through their nighttime overalls. I am Kole’s overalls. From that night. Oh no. Oh gawd no. Why did I keep their blood-stained clothes? Why couldn’t I let them go?

They are just standing in their opposite cribs, clothes still clean, waiting for Daddy to kiss them good night.

And there’s the door, creaking open. I remember hearing it from the other room. I am the white overalls, while my past self sits oblivious in the next room, working. John isn’t smiling like he normally is. This smile holds a secret, a stranger. His hands are behind his back, the weapon he used. I can’t see this. I can’t. I…

The knife is revealed, shining. I never saw it until the morning after. John steps up to Kole. He looks so sure, no questions. He is smiling wide. Gawd, I could murder that man. I have to look in his eyes, to see his final thoughts. But those aren’t his eyes. They are snake eyes, like the clown. I see them through my own eyes, buttons on the overalls. He’s saying something to our twins before he murders them. What could he be saying?

“Nana hasn’t been praying to our god. There must be sacrifice. Time… or blood.”

I can’t watch this. I have to do something! I…

I feel the knife sliding through the overalls as if it were my own chest. The blood of Kole spills onto the pure white, spreading and dripping. The blood is still there. I smell it, feel it. Warm, growing colder. Our blood. Cursed.

The knife is ripped out. Kristine is still oblivious. Oh no, sweet Kristine. I must stop this. I have to! Leave them alone, you bastard! I must change the past. I…

A tether reaches from my center. I feel it connect to myself, though somehow distant. John looms over Kristine. All I see is her little feet. My vision is red, from the blood-stained overall of Kole, as well as fury. This man. My love. How could he. How...

A glass bowl shatters over John’s head. I don’t remember that happening. I look from the overalls. My tether reaches out and connects with my younger-self. We are connected through time.

John is on the ground. My younger-self is standing above him, trembling with fear. I grab my babies, securing the wound of Kole. I don’t know how my hands became so steady.

Wait, yes I do. I feel my calm. guided by something else, a spirit, counteracting the dark one that just fled from John’s mouth like a wisp, before his black eyes returned to soothing green, then rolled into his head.

I have to take my boy to the hospital. “Hang on, Kole. Mommy’s got you.”

“Mommy, what is Daddy doing?” Kristine says, worried but not crying.

“Let’s go honey.”

---

I’m back in the present. I’m wailing on the ground. I miss them so much. I wish I’d been able to do what I did in my stupid laundry vision. I wish…

I hear crying other than my own. I’m silent. The dogs are running to the twins room, just like they used to.

The whining continues, like the sound of three-year-olds. I’m climbing on the ground, burning my exposed flesh. It can’t be, but I have to see. I have to…

The dogs come running out, followed by Kristine. She turns to me. “Mommy!”

She falls on my chest. I can’t touch her. This isn’t real.

Kole appears from the door, throwing on his flannel. I can see a pink scar on his ribs.

“Mommy?” Kole runs to me too. After a minute, I allow my hands to fall on them. They are there. I feel both their flannels.

And then, a flood. Memories pour as fluid into my mind. My children, surviving the possession of their father. John imprisoned, pleading for his innocence. He doesn’t remember any of it, but he conceded to prison time, to protect his family from himself. The doctor rules it as PTSD, but John swears there was something more. The last thing he remembered was folding laundry, and a clown.

I didn’t believe him at first in this alternate reality, but after a few visits, I grew more and more convinced. And now I know, for a surety as my two realities collide into the one where I still have my family.

“My babies,” I manage to say, sobbing into their flannels. They say nothing, now terrified.

“Mommy, is it time to see Daddy yet?”

“Oh yes, honey,” I say automatically. “But first I must pray.” My eyes flick up, an action they’ve performed countless times. They flick up to a painting at the end of the hall. The clown with snake eyes.

March 06, 2020 21:00

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Myriam Bastian
21:55 Mar 11, 2020

Wow! So dense and intense, touching and creepy! I hate doing laundry as much as I hate clowns, now even more. Thank you for this bloodchiller!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Vaibhav Sharma
12:00 Mar 12, 2020

Wonderful perspective about something like laundry! hair-raising and heart-wrenching in equal measures.

Reply

Show 0 replies