Denise’s head swayed from side to side in time with the rhythm of the washing machine. The breeze from the window in front of her intertwined with the scent from the clean linens sent her mind reeling even further into the dark room of her memories; a room in which she had never imagined would welcome her so easily. What had brought her there was so unexpected, so natural, so magical. But why did it make her feel so… dirty?
The washing machine chimed, waking her from her daydream and back to reality. She looked around the room and felt her shoulder droop. This wasn’t the honeymoon suite overlooking the ocean. It was her small, rundown laundry room. And the breeze from the window? It wasn’t a breeze of fresh, ocean air. It was from the passing of the tram next to her building, smelling of oil and rusted iron. A wave of disappointment washed over her before taking a deep breath in and looking at her wedding ring. I know George does the best he can, and I love him for that, but that weekend, she sighed, averting her gaze from the ring, was truly unforgettable.
The wet clothes landed in the dryer, causing it to make a horrible scraping sound that made her involuntarily wince. It was a price she was willing to pay to have a new washing machine instead. Hanging the damp clothes out to dry if the dryer didn’t do its job was nothing compared to having to wash everything by hand. She let out a long sigh, started the dryer, and loaded the jeans into the washing machine. Passing by the dryer, she tapped the top of it twice for encouragement saying, “You can do it, old girl. I believe in you,” and made her way to the counter space George had built for her.
She closed her eyes and started to hum, picking up the warm shirts one by one. All of a sudden, she paused. Their clothes had lost their softness over the years, but this one felt brand new. She looked down at the pile of clothes laying on our folding table to see a black, cotton shirt with something embroidered in the corner. The cotton felt soft as it glided across her arms, bringing it to her eye for a closer look at the embroidering. G&M Inc.
Her heart dropped, beating just as quickly as it fell. How did this even get here, she thought. She stepped back, letting go of the shirt. Her breathing became shallow and stochastic as the reality of what damage this simple shirt could cause set in.
She collapsed onto the white, linoleum floor, the black shirt seemingly calling for her. Remember the beach, Denice? A quiet voice echoed in her head, It was magical, wasn’t it? We could go again if you’d like. I promise to make it just as exciting. Let me tear you away from this place and give you the life you truly deserve.
She cradled her head in her hands trying to fight back the memories of the past weekend. “No,” she said loudly, “I will not let you ruin my marriage.” Her gaze shifted from the shirt to the trash bin peeking out from behind the doorframe that divided the kitchen from the laundry room. That’s what I can do, she thought, I’ll just throw it away and it’ll be gone forever. No one has to know.
But you and I will know, Denise, the voice pierced her thoughts again. Her eyes instinctively moved to the unmoving shirt sprawled out on the floor. You can’t get rid of me that easily.
A low growl escaped her mouth as she snatched the shirt in front of her. “You think I can’t get rid of you? We’ll just see about that!” She picked herself up off the floor, catching the scent of the detergent from the clean shirts in front of her. She stood motionless, the scent drowning her thoughts and the soft cotton still brushing against her skin. Her mind flashed back to the suite. The mix of clean linens, the scent of the ocean, and the cologne that covered his shirt and body overwhelmed her senses and ignited a fire the pit of her stomach she hadn’t felt since then. She slowly lifted the shirt to her face and took a deep breath. Even after washing it, it still smelled like him.
Remember the fun we had, Denise? During all the years we’ve known each other, I’ve never heard you laugh so much. It was beautiful. You’re beautiful.
She pressed the shirt against her face and drowned herself in the scent, a surge of guilt pushing back her emotions. It was a mistake, Mason, she thought, and you know it.
She took her right arm and slid it across the counter, clearing a spot to spread out the black shirt. She slowly reached toward the pair of scissors resting on the windowsill above and held the cold blades close to her chest. The scissors made a sharp sound as the blades split apart. Her heart pounded, the blades nearing the fabric she held with her opposite hand and the quiet voice begging her to stop.
“Denise, honey, I’m home.”
The scissors echoed as they hit the floor and she began to panic. Her eyes darted from the shirt to the scissors to the trash bin over and over as she tried to figure out what to do. The washing machine began to rattle, signaling its switch to the spin cycle, and masking the loud noise her husband’s shoes typically made against the hardwood in the living room. She quickly grabbed the folded and unfolded laundry and threw them on top of the black polo just as her husband’s silhouette appeared in the doorway. “Hi, dear,” she panted, “How was work?”
George chuckled and kissed her on the cheek, “Do I still take your breath away that easily?”
She playfully shoved him, “Oh, George. You know how much I daydream when I’m folding laundry. You scared me, that’s all.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek, trying to control her breathing.
George looked over her shoulder at the washing machine, “I need to fix that. I’m sure it annoys you.” He turned his gaze back to her and smiled, “I’ll put it on my chore list for the weekend. Lucky for me I’ll actually be in town this time.” He placed his fingers under her chin and softly kissed her. “I missed this beautiful face.”
She felt herself blush and a ring echo throughout her ears, muffling the sound of George’s footsteps on his way back to the doorway. She wanted to move, but she couldn’t.
“Oh, yeah,” George’s voice rang through the doorway, “I ran into Mason today. He seems to be doing well at his new company. Asked how you were doing. I said fine.” He walked back towards her and rested his left shoulder on the doorframe. “I really wish our old business had gotten off the ground. I’m glad he’s doing well at G&M,” he let out a depressed sigh and motioned to the cracks and water stains on the walls of the laundry room, “but you really deserve better than this. I wish I could give it to you. I wish I could give you everything you want.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she felt her heart shatter. What have I done? She walked over to him and placed her hands on his face. “You are the perfect man, George. I don’t need some fancy dresses or a two-story house with extra bedrooms. I just need you.” She kissed him hard, tears of love and regret flowing down her cheeks. She felt his thumb wipe her tears away. “Now,” she cleared her throat, “you go wash up while I finish folding these and cook dinner.” She felt him give her a peck on the cheek before walking towards their bedroom.
When she heard the bedroom door shut, her attention fell back to the shirt, now hidden like the truth she had kept from her husband. She disgusted herself. She knew she could never make it completely right, but she would do her best. She uncovered the shirt, grabbed the scissors from the floor, and shredded the shirt until it was unrecognizable.
She marched over to the window on the wall adjacent to the washing machine and opened it, the sound of the city streets rushing in. She emptied the large bowl of potpourri she kept on the small shelf next to the window and walked back to the scraps of cloth inhabiting the large countertop, scraping them into the bowl.
Walking back to the window, she heard the faint voice echo through her head again, You can’t get rid of me. I’ll always be with you. You don’t-
“Shut up,” she said, tossing the bowl out onto the fire escape. She lifted the bottom of her yellow dress and climbed through the window. The hot metal burned against her feet, but she ignored the pain. It was the least she deserved after the way she had treated her husband. She grabbed the bowl to her right, stood up, and held it to her face. “You and I are nothing,” she hissed quietly, “and I will not let you or anything we did stand between me and my husband again. Goodbye, Mason.”
She tipped the bowl over and watched the fabric fall into the river below. She knew this wouldn’t change the past, and she knew she was still at fault for what happened, but she felt this was the first step in a new direction.
The shreds of fabric flowed quietly down the river, her memory drifting along with them. Lost in the moment, saddened and relieved, she had almost forgotten the burning sensation flowing from the metal at her feet to her legs. That didn’t matter to her anymore. What mattered was that the only shred of thought she had for Mason in any way different than George’s old business partner was gone.
George’s voice snapped her out of her trance. She quickly turned back to the window and climbed back into the laundry room. She lowered her feet onto the cold linoleum, giving her a small reprieve from the wounds the metal stairwell had caused. “Coming, dear,” she called. She started walking toward her husband’s voice when she suddenly felt a tug at her dress. She tugged at the fabric in haste, pulling harder with each tug, until she finally heard a sharp rip as the fabric finally let go of whatever was trapping it.
George appeared in the doorway and looked at the sizable chunk of fabric missing from the bottom of her dress. “Oh, no! That was your favorite dress too, wasn’t it, hun?” Her shoulders slumped forward, her head slowing lowering to her chest. She heard the sound of George’s feet move across the floor, the scent of his shampoo and clean linen getting stronger with each step. She watched as he took the fabric from the windowsill and closed the window. All she wanted to do was drown herself in the scent of the towel wrapped around his neck and feel him against her. She could be a better wife. She just knew she could.
She suddenly felt George’s arms wrapped around her shoulders as he pulled her into him. “It’s alright, hun. We can fix this.” His warmth comforted her more than she had ever felt before.
He had no idea how much those words meant to her, despite the context being vastly different. She looked up at him and kissed him, “I know we can, George,” and buried her head in his chest before slapping him on the stomach.
“Well,” George said, poking her in the stomach, “let’s get some dinner. It looks to me like you’ve had a heck of a day.” He moved his hand from her shoulder to her waist and began escorting her out of the laundry room. She twisted her head and looked back at the closed window one, last time, before smiling and kissing George on the cheek. Just like the fabric, she hoped her recollection of the weekend, along with Mason, would disappear in time. Until then, what George didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, right?