– laundry daydreams

Laundry Daydreams
by Susan Pogorzelski

On the sweltering summer days, while my neighbor friends screeched as they chased each other through sprinklers and raced to be the first in line as the tinkling bells of the ice cream truck preluded its rounding the corner, I hid in a fort made of fluttering white sheets and denim jeans and Sunday dresses. Four rows of fabric sheltered me as I lay on my back in the thick grass and watched as the sheets billowed, and I imagined them to be passing clouds or the sails of ships or my wedding veil for when I wed Connor Bartlett from across the street. Occasionally, a strong burst of wind would draw a stretch of damp cloth across my cheek, and I would wait patiently for the next to come as a brief reprieve from the heat.

Inside the house, I could hear my mother baking pies for the carnival that was to be held on the football field of our high school tomorrow; her wooden rolling pin pounded against the island counter as she kneaded the dough.

“Audrey, where is your sister?” I could hear her voice through the open windows, faint and faraway. Already, the tart scent of baking apples was wafting closer, and I wondered if I could steal a nibble if I helped out. But I was stuck there, mesmerized by the nonsensical patterns of crisscrossing fabric that the breeze whipped up.

I heard my older sister mutter a response, probably as she bit into an apple slice or a strawberry or whatever fruit was going into the pie my mother was currently molding.

“Well, go see if you can find her, please.” My mother’s voice sounded tired, and I wondered how long she had been up, worried that if she found me, she would make me come in and peel the skin off of the apples.

I hated that job.

The screen door slammed and I heard my sister’s sneakers slap down the concrete steps to our backyard. In a second, two perfectly clean white Keds appeared in my peripheral view. Audrey hated dirty shoes, and the minute they got so much as a scuff on the soles, she would toss them to me as hand-me-downs. Those suckers would be mine in a month, I guaranteed it. I couldn’t wait to get grass stains and tread marks on them; maybe they would even take a dip in the creek where my best friend Ava and I liked to pretend to pan for gold. Give me a day, I smirked. I’d show her what shoes should look like.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

Audrey’s head peaked around a pillowcase; I squeezed my eyes tight to block her out.

“What are you doing?”

“I said nothing!”

“You’re such a weirdo.”

“Go away. I’m taking a nap.”

“Mom wants you in the house.”

“I’m busy.”

“No you’re not.” I could hear the mocking song in her voice, “You’re daydreaming about Connor Bartlett…”

“Shut up, I am not!”

“Anna!” I opened my eyes and turned to peer through the tiny sliver of space between earth and cotton. Mom was standing at the window over the sink, distorted by the pattern of the screen; her eyebrows were raised, and I just knew that her arms would be folded impatiently.

“Damnit!” I muttered as I rolled over and brushed stray pieces of grass from my jeans. “Why can’t you be a sister for once?”

“Why can’t you be normal?”

I stuck my tongue out at her and raced into the house.

“Peel the apples, please.” Mom handed me a peeler, ignoring my crinkled up nose. “I have one more apple to make,” she muttered as she surveyed the surface space. “That should be enough, I think.”

I stared at the metal instrument in my hand. “But Ava and I are going down to the creek.”

“You can go later, Annie. I need your help now.”

I looked around. “Well, what about Audrey, where’d she go?”

“She’s been helping me all morning; I told her she could go out.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Damnit, Anna, someday you’re going to look back at this day and be grateful, believe me.”

I lowered the apple I had been examining and turned my scrutiny towards my mom. Her hands expertly sprinkled flour on the plastic baking mat, and she scooped up the remaining dough from the mixing bowl and slammed it down on the counter. I pulled over the garbage can and settled onto a stool, beginning to peel the skin from the apple in short, awkward strokes.

“How’s Grandma?”

Mom sighed, the heels of her hands digging into the lump of dough. “Not now, Annie.”

“I was just wondering.”

“She’s fine.” She reached for the rolling pin and began to rock it back and forth, methodically. I eyed the dough as it spread across the mat, becoming thinner and wider. I turned back to my own job and grabbed another apple, noting the red peels that dominated the bottom of the garbage.

“She’s singing songs to the other patients.”

“What kind of songs.”

“Nursery rhymes, mostly. They tell me that it’s the best stage for her to be in. At least she’s happy. Start cutting those now, will you? Small slices.”

I whirled around on the stool to face the counter and grabbed a knife, pulling the cutting board closer to me.

“I’m sorry I didn’t go with you to see her, Mom.”

My mom paused mid-roll to look at me.

“You don’t have to be sorry.”

I applied pressure to the apple and slid the edge through it easily, sawing back and forth. Juice and tiny bits of apple clung to the blade, and I pushed them off with my forefinger before cutting the pieces into smaller sections.

“So, does she remember any of us?”

“She has her moments of clarity.” My mother lifted the dough and placed it gently in a tin pie pan, cutting the excess off in one fluid circle. I pushed the apples I had sliced towards her and wiped my sticky hands on the thighs of my shorts.

“Go on,” she said as she placed the apples in the fold of the dough, like they were delicate, like they were pieces of a puzzle. “Go ahead and play; I’ll call you in for dinner.”

I nodded and began to turn away from the counter when a burst of white fluttered past the window. A gust of wind tossed a sheet into view, and now it slowly fell back into its resting place. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to hide in my cloth fort.

“Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“It can’t be so bad, if all you remember are songs, can it?”

“No. No, I guess not.”

The forced smile slid away from her face as she turned back to the pie, blanketing the apples with a thick cover. Her lips were tense with concentration, but her lowered eyes just looked tired.

The screen door banged shut behind me as I stepped back outside into the summer heat. I lowered myself to the step and placed my chin in my hands as I stared at the fabric draped across the lines. I wanted to climb back underneath and wait for the damp cloth to rub across my cheek as I imagined my wedding with Connor Bartlett, drowning out the humidity and shrieks of my neighborhood friends, but I couldn’t.

As another breeze pushed through, lifting the material, I noticed the hole in my jeans, the stain on Audrey’s favorite blouse, the tear in the edge of the sheet. As I sat there, listening to the faucet run in the kitchen as my mother rinsed off the baking utensils, the world in front of me transformed. There would be no gold in the creek anymore, and the laundry on the line were just forgotten clothes left out to dry.

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