I did the washing. The four words you don’t want to hear from your husband. I was only gone one day. Why would he do that? After eight years of zero masculine activity in the laundry, why would my husband suddenly get an urge go pop on a few loads? What happened? Did his football team lose? Was he curious to see if he really could live without me? Did the constant rain force him to our washing basket? Was he trying to impress a visitor?
I thought that was an understanding we have. He mows. I wash. Sure it’s old-fashioned. But it works for us. I know I complain about how much more housework I do, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to do the washing. That’s off limits. The washing is my territory. I’m not being sexist. I’m being jobbist.
I do it better. I like to wash the clothes, not actually ruin them. I separate colours. I hand-wash. I know what can go in the dryer. I put underwear in a bag. I check pockets. Here’s something radical… I read the washing instructions! I know, imagine taking advice and actually implementing it!
I know he’s done the washing because the basket is empty. And I wasn’t the one who emptied it. My heart starts racing. I’m feeling a little nauseous. I’m hoping my mother came for a surprise visit. Perhaps aliens abducted my laundry? But I know that’s not the case. I’m filled with terror. You know that moment when you know all is lost? Shit! My favourite dresses are in there. I run from my bedroom to the laundry. It’s then when I see the telltale signs of an aborted attempt at washing.
The lid is up. Some stuff is in. Some stuff is out. Perhaps he never proceeded? I move in for a closer inspection. Too late. He’s done a long cycle on cold. It looks like everything I’ve ever worn made it in there. There is a wet and mangled mess hiding at the bottom of the tub.
Black jeans encircle white lace knickers, now that creepy grey colour you never see in the ads. The hooks on my bras have found the perfect grooves to tear at my delicates. My summer dress, once falling loose and sensual, able to lift in a sudden breeze, is now a top. Perhaps I can give it to my 8-year-old to use on one of her Barbies.
It’s when I open the dryer that I flip. My favourite red dress. In the dryer. Who would do that? What kind of animal puts crepe in a dryer? I tell myself to breathe. Remind myself that I love him. That he’s trying to help. Nothing is more poorly received than help that was never wanted in the first place. I realise I have to confront him. It’s going to be one of those moments that challenge a marriage. He thinks he’s done something good.
For a moment I think ‘Should have got a labrador’. At least they can’t operate a washing machine. So I say, ‘Did you do the washing?’ It’s accusatory. It’s an unusual tone to ask a question of a man who’s had a crack at the housework. He says ‘Yes’ and then kind of like he knows what went wrong he says, ‘I tried to separate the colours and stuff’. Clearly the man is colour blind. If what I saw in the washing machine was an IQ test he wouldn’t have his doctorate. At least not in washing.
I’m a bitch. I’m angry. So I say, ‘Well, you didn’t do very well’. This is the point when I think maybe our marriage is over. Maybe this is it. Perhaps I’m over-reacting. But I’ve lost half my wardrobe in a man-tastrophe. Maybe this is grounds for a no-fault divorce. ‘Your honour, he didn’t separate the colours, put hand washing in the machine and he put my dress in the dryer.’ I can see the gavel come down hard: ‘Unreconcilable’.
I want to go on about it. And on and on and on. You know when you can’t let go. When something that should be small becomes big and it makes you so angry you become unreasonable and boorish in your need to tell everyone over and over. Well, that’s why I am writing this. I’m still not over it. I know it’s not mature. It’s not meant to be. It’s a tantrum. Poor John.
Then I realise. Perhaps he is a bit like a labrador after all. You know how they chew your shoe when you go to work. I’ve been travelling a lot lately. Maybe doing my washing was his way of saying he misses me: ‘This machine is fully loaded. If I were you, I wouldn’t leave.’