A History in Laundry
(From the archives)
“We went through a lot of workout clothes this week,” I say. Raymond is making coffee and I’m folding clothes in front
of the drying rack that clutters our kitchen whenever we do laundry. Sometimes it clutters our kitchen all week long until I finally get around to folding the clean clothes and putting them away. However this week I don’t get to them until the weekend.
“We’ve had extra workouts this week,” he says as we both listen to the satisfying gurgle of the mocha maker sitting on the cooker.
“Both your gees are clean and ironed, all ready for Saturday.” I nod to the pristine karate uniforms hanging over the kitchen door. He teaches a karate class on Saturdays in Sutton and goes into London for a workout in the morning as well.
“Thanks.” He says, getting out the coffee cups. Raymond doesn’t iron, but he makes kick-ass coffee and a mean bowl of oatmeal. “Are you going in with me to walk?”
“I plan to.” I just happen to be folding the breathable Eddie Bauer shirt I wore last week when I took a long walk on the Downs, and I smile at the memory. I don’t smile at the memory of the ratty tank top I wear whenever I do the roots of my hair between visits to the hairdresser – always something I put off until I start getting skunk strip down the centre of my part. I fold it hastily and put it in the basket. Interesting that I take care in folding the clothes that I have fond memories of wearing recently, and not so much with the ones I don’t.
Raymond hands me the coffee just in time as I turn my attention to the frustrating task of folding his myriad black socks. The thing is, he has a gazillion pairs and they’re all look almost but not quite exactly a like. They’re just different enough to make matching them a real nightmare. Some have different coloured toes, some are ribbed differently and there are at least three kinds that are identical except for the ribbing on the cuffs which varies in width by millimeters. I hate folding men’s black socks. This morning he has mercy on me and takes the task off my hands so I can return to the pleasure of folding the history of our week told in laundry.
“You’ve got a rip there on the sleeve,” I say, holding up a blue shirt. “And the collar’s getting tatty. I think we should retire this one.”
He studies it for a moment and nods his agreement. “I caught it on the corner of the filing cabinet in the printer room. Something needs to be done about that.”
“You know, every week we can detail the past week’s history in our clean laundry,” I say. In our dirty laundry too, I think, but I’d rather not think about that so much reminded of the ripe load of workout clothes I put in with extra detergent on long cycle.
He gives me The Look – the one he always does when he thinks possibly meds might be requires. Then he nods to my coffee cup, because clearly I haven’t had enough caffeine yet this morning.
“No, seriously. Look” I pull a pair of his blue workout shorts off the rack. “Remember kettle bells last week?”
“That was a killer,” he says with a smile that says he likes kettle bells class best when it’s a killer.
“And look, those walking trousers — I wore those in to try on new boots at the North face shop, but they didn’t have my size. Then I got ‘em muddy on the walk to Newland’s corner the day after.
“And that long-sleeve t-shirt there,” I nodded to a faded red V-neck. “I wore that last Wednesday when the house was like a deep freeze and I was working on my blog. I wore that blue hoodie too and spilled tea on it in the process, and then I got toothpaste on it that evening when I brushed my teeth before bed.”
“I guess you’re right,” he says, looking around at our partially folded history lesson. “I never thought of it that way.
Neither had I, but there have to be a thousand stories in people’s laundry – dirty or clean. My laundry mostly tells the story of someone who writes and works from home, someone who walks a lot and works out a lot. Raymond’s tells the story of a man working in management, seeing clients, catching up on never-ending reports. They tell the story of a man who loves martial arts and loves being active. Sometimes there are travel stories, like the stain from some exotic sauce acquired while entertaining clients in a seafood restaurant in Alexandria. Sometimes there are anatomy stories, like the way his socks wear on the heels while mine wear out on the bottoms. We both threw away a couple pairs of socks after we’d finished the Coast to Coast walk a few years ago. I wear high socks when the weather’s cold and I’m sitting on my arse spending long hours in with my characters. I wear short light socks in the gym.
The point is that the stories of our lives and the fodder for the stories of lives I make up can unfold – or fold, in this case – in unexpected ways. Perhaps Raymond was actually using his martial arts skills to fight off spies who infiltrated the copy room to steal company secrets. Perhaps that’s how he ripped his shirt. Perhaps I woke up this morning and found myself folding the laundry of some stranger, none of it mine, none of it familiar. Perhaps the mud on my walking
trousers was actually from my night haunts of staking vampires in old churchyards.
Mind you, most of the time, the folding and putting away of laundry is cause for little more than a sigh of relief that it’s done for this week and I can take down the racks and unclutter the kitchen. But sometimes, even folding the laundry can be more than it actually appears to be, and at the end of the day, everything tells a story – even men’s mismatched black socks.