I transfer the load to the drier and put the last batch on to dry before heading upstairs in the pitch black to restock the towels, when I hear him come home from work at the ungodly hour of 11:30.
I finish up swiftly and move on to matching socks as I hear him below go from garage to utility room and back again, several times, many times. After more than 20 minutes he’s still at it, so I nip down to check.
I step over the pile of soggy laundry and peer into the garage, lit by a yellow light. It’s been more than ten days after the event, but I see him watch it now, parked on the cement, in a very large cardboard box, hidden at the back. He looks at it, pensive.
I scurry back inside, skip over the laundry hampers into the kitchen and get busy, very busy, because time is running out. I’m poised and possibly ready, as I’ve been practicing in my head.
I bow over the sink and plunge my hands into the suds as he re-appears from the garage, wrench in one hand, screw-driver in the other.
“Did you know that there’s a big box in the garage?”
“Does it really have a washing machine in it?”
“Yes, it does actually.”
“Do you mean we have a second washing machine sitting outside in the garage in a cardboard box?”
“Um…..what is it doing there?”
“Waiting for what?”
“Well it’s all a bit complicated really.”
“I have time.”
“Well…it happened last week.”
“There was this terrible smell of burning plastic in the utility room, so I rushed over there in case there was a fire and then I realized the washing machine had packed up.”
“Anyway, it was Monday and I’d just changed the sheets on all 6 beds so I had all this linen to wash and it was already full to busting with the second load…”
“You over-filled it?”
“Er… no…I mean…not really…I’m pretty sure…”
“Are you indeed. So you over-loaded the capacity?”
“Anyway, we decided…”
“Tamsin and me.”
“No, no, no, it’s fine, we decided it would be best if she nipped out and found a replacement, whilst I looked after the children and Nonna. So much easier to make a decision with a clear head and no responsibilities or distractions…and it would save you the bother of having to sort it all out at the weekend.”
“You’re saying this was for my benefit?”
“Of course. You have enough to do already, one less chore…anyway, you were at work. I couldn’t wait five days until the weekend.”
“So she bought a new one and brought it home, parked it in the garage and we were going to cart it into the house later.”
“So what happened…later?”
“See that’s the funny thing.”
“Yes, and I know you’re going to laugh at this… in the middle of the afternoon, just as I was making snacks for the children, wouldn’t you just know it, the darned thing sprang to life and went into the spin cycle…isn’t that extraordinary?”
“Back from the dead.”
“And you didn’t return the new one back to the store because?”
“Because…it’s been clanking and groaning for months… it’s going to die any day now, I’m sure of it.”
“You’re quite sure?”
“What’s a pity?”
“That you didn’t buy a drier at the same time.”
“You were right about one thing.”
I watch him lay his tools on the counter, “the drier, it’s terminal.”
I escape from the house in a hurry. Although generally I can find any excuse to avoid shopping, currently it’s a valid excuse for freedom. Now that Target provides groceries and prescription refills, I shall probably never need to shop anywhere else ever again. With luck on my side, I should be able to make a round trip in under an hour, long before Nonna awakens.
It’s a short list of necessaries, essentials, extras and maybe’s. I cast grumpiness aside, or is it fatigue – this must be the true definition of retail therapy; the chance to move about freely in a crowd, anonymous with a big cheesy grin plastered on my face. No questions, no demands, no repeats; it’s just like being in a spa:- a holiday for the mind.
I spend far too much money in far too short a time.
I step out towards the car, the final gallop to the finishing line. Always racing when I’m accosted by a large woman, with a loud voice and a bell – ‘spare some change for the missing children?’ I can feel a scowl cross my brow as I fight with the cart and it’s square wheel. Thwarted. Another interruption. I have no time to stand and stare, a white rabbit with a stop watch lashed to my ankle. My handbag is open in the baby seat shelf, my purse on the top, stuffed with receipts and lists, as I search for suitable lies:-
‘I’ve spent it all already,’ - but of course I used plastic.
‘I’ve already greased the palm of every Tom, Dick and Harry with an open hand this week,’ - but there’s always another one.
‘What do I care about missing children, the starving masses or the global warming?’ - but I can’t lie.
‘I’m too busy, too tired, too harassed to give a rat’s arse about anybody else for the moment,’ - would be the honest to goodness truth.
She is far too physically close, as she examines the contents of the cart – “I’ll take one of those milks instead if you like, or the bananas, a few of those rolls of bathroom tissue? Anything’l help.” I know my face is a sour pudding as I struggle with glasses, keys and life. What the heck. It’s only money. I’ve not had to slave for hours in an air-conditioned, soulless pod. I hand over the readies, into the black slot with the padlock and chain attached to the table leg – as if that’s a deterrent? “Thank you!” she beams with far too much enthusiasm than is warranted for such a bah humbug moment. “Give me some love with that,” she adds as I’m enfolded into her soft body with warm hands. I cannot remember when I was last hugged, properly, by an adult woman, let alone a stranger. I feel the surrender as I remember to breathe; it’s oddly comforting as I lay aside my English, ‘do not touch’ body language. “Now you sure have a Happy Holiday,” she insists as she releases me.
“I shall indeed, you too.”