by Brianna Woolsey
The day after you left I crawled into the dryer. All I could think about was the big pile of dirty clothes you left behind and how, when you came back for them, they should at least be clean. So I sat on the edge of our bed, a bed too big for two people, a bed I thought I would drown in when I tried to sleep in it alone, and I sorted your clothes.
I separated yours from mine, and then I created neat little piles of lights and darks. I thought about folding the clothes but reasoned that they would go tumbling into the washing machine in a few minutes, so there would be no point to that. After this, I felt that my bed wanted to swallow me whole again, so I stood up and stared at your empty clothes. I tried to picture you inside them but a sock is just a weird tubular piece of fabric until you put a foot in it, and jeans are silly little strips of denim, and don't even get me started on the shirts.
I worried that you'd come back before I could finish, so I put your clothes in first. There were more darks than lights, so I threw them into the hungry mouth of our old machine and poured in soap and that weird powder you always said makes darks stay darker than they do with regular soap. I closed the lid, and when I heard the water filling the machine I climbed on top.
I tucked my knees under my chin and balanced on the slippery lid. You used to call it the 'clothes machine,' and this thought made me smile. I stared straight ahead at the bulletin board we tucked away in the laundry room, where old receipts went to die.
I stuck my thumbnail in my mouth and scraped one edge, and then the other, until I had filed the nail into a straight point. The laundry by now spun around and around, water draining, taking with it all of your fragments of skin and hair, every piece of you that you had left behind. I found it difficult to balance with my legs up and the machine rocking from side to side, but I still left them up under my chin.
If I opened my jaw slightly, I could feel my teeth knocking together with the force of the spin cycle. This went on for a while until I realized that I could chip a tooth, and I hated thinking about a tiny fragment of tooth lost somewhere in the ugly red and orange and yellow rug we bought for the one room in the house where no one would ever see it. The dentist might want that piece of tooth, and I'd have to get on my hands and knees to find it among the other bits of debris, pieces of you and me nestled in the fibres of the rug.
The spin cycle ended with the abrupt and terrible sound of metal against metal. I hopped off the lid, and when I did, it popped back out with a thud, like the lid on a previously opened jar of pickles.
At first I threw everything into the dryer, but then I remembered that some of your shirts were 'delicates,' and that the dryer would somehow damage the integrity of the fabric and make the shirts unwearable. I separated these items from the others, and went to the kitchen to hang them over the chairs to dry. I thought back to the time when you wore your best shirts to work, and I'd get up as early as you did so I could iron them for you. Once I had them crisp and flat I'd go back to bed, and you would go to work in your best shirts and a tie, so you would look your best for all the Important People at work that you hoped to impress.
I remembered the day when you came home and told me that you would be an Important Person. I laughed and said that it must have been the crisp, ironed collars of your fancy shirts. I remembered laughing as you carried me up the stairs, and then later, unbuttoning the buttons I had so carefully ironed around every morning, and you whispered to me to be careful, because you'd need to wear this shirt again.
I stood holding your damp shirts with that memory of us until the dryer buzzed. All of the clothes I'd forgotten about had dried, and they would need to be folded into neat rectangles and packed away in the suitcases and duffel bags you left behind.
I dropped the damp shirts on the kitchen table and went back to the laundry room. I scooped the warm clothes from inside the dryer and buried my face in them. The smell of the fabric softener was so familiar to me, but the clothes had been robbed of the unique scent of you.
I dropped them on our couch and started to fold them. I was in the middle of sorting the socks when the grief wound its way down my throat and clutched at my heart and my stomach and my lungs and then shook them for good measure. I collapsed forward into the clothes but worried that my running makeup would undo all my hard work, so I leaped up and made my way on unsteady feet back to the laundry room. I felt suddenly very cold.
I hadn't intended to crawl inside the dryer. I could feel the warmth coming from inside it, so comforting against my legs. It had cooled down since I had taken the clothes out, so I stuck my hand inside to test it, and found the metal sides safe to touch. As I crawled inside, I told myself that I wouldn't close the door; I'd leave a hand out so the door couldn't close. When I made it inside, I felt somewhat ridiculous, a grown woman acting like a toddler playing hide-and-seek. The drum provided enough space for a comfortable fit, and as I closed my eyes, all I could think about was how much it reminded me of a hug.