Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

The Washerwoman

Water began to fill in her eyes, but she refused to let a tear drop. That was how much control she had. And she prided herself on keeping her cool.

The washboard was old and splintery on the left side, but it was hers and reliable. Today, though, the rubbing hurt, and she was glad she never wore the ring on wash days.

“It’s probably broken,” she said to herself, looking down at the swollen spot on her left hand. But it was Wednesday and sunny, and she knew she would not be able to rest if the laundry was not done.

She gathered the rinsed sheets and draped them over her forearm, hoping not to upset the throbbing hand, grabbed the washboard firmly with the other, and walked confidently back toward the house. She rounded the porch and tossed the linen onto the chair. Looking up at the sky, she sighed, “The children will be home soon.”

She reached inside the metal bucket and piled a few handfuls of pins into the pockets on her apron. She always took meticulous care when hanging on the line, but today was slow, and her frustration grew the more she thought about the sore hand.

It was becoming harder to repress the tears, but stopping before finishing the hanging was not an option. Everything had to be dry before the evening. She hated the smell of sheets left hanging over night.

She could hear his footsteps advancing from behind her. It had been ten years, and she could always tell his approach by the way his feet dragged lazily in the gravel. He touched her shoulder tenderly, and with the pleadingly apologetic look she had grown accustomed to over the years, he whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” she said with the softness with which she had always addressed him.

She bent down, grabbing the metal bucket of clothes pins with her left hand, and swung up ferociously, slamming the bucket hard into the right side of his face. He swayed backwards, dazed from the unexpected blow, and looked at his wife with new eyes. The look seemed to incite her fury, and with a controlled frenzy, she began to repeatedly and unabashedly beat him about the head and face with the bucket. Clothes pins and blood scattered the yard until the blur from eyes too consumed with tears forced her to stop.

“That will be the last time you put your hands on me,” she spat toward the foggy figure in the yard. “If not, I will  kill you.”

She got down on her knees, feeling around for the pins in the yard, placing all she found back into the bucket. With renewed clarity, she took all the pins from the lines, carefully removed the blood spattered sheets, grabbed the washboard with her right hand, and walked confidently back toward the river.

The rubbing hurt today, but it would never hurt like that again.

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2 thoughts on “The Washerwoman

  1. Thanks, Alice! Sending happy thoughts your way…

  2. Amazing!

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