Written for Story Slam: August 2017: Theme: Cycle

Megan counted out the dark towels and fed them into the washing machine. She set the dial to cold and kicked her weekend off with the first of what she hoped would be two days of wash cycles, rinse cycles, spin cycles, and the warm thud of the dryer going through its cycles.

She glanced at the clock on the wall and took the stairs two at a time. The bathrooms already relieved of the week’s towels and bath mats, she did the circuit of bedrooms – daughter, daughter, son, master – saying good mornings and gathering stray clothes into wicker baskets and plastic baskets and her bare arms, making trips up and down, up and down, to dump growing piles of jeans and sweats and shirts and underpants in the hall outside the laundry room.

When done, Megan stood back to evaluate the situation. There just wasn’t enough to wash. She flicked her eyes back to the clock again. Shit, shit. She needed more.

“Kids! Kids! Strip your beds, please!” She called from the bottom of the stairs. “I need your comforters, too.”

She cocked an ear, listening.

“Guys?” Megan jogged up as far as the landing. “You hear me?”

She bounced foot to foot, then jumped up the rest of the way, unable to wait for two preteens and a 9-year-old to cooperate.

“Mommmm!” The oldest girl groaned. “You just washed mine. Like, last week.”

“And you just played soccer all week.”

“So?

“So you got all sweaty and stinky. I saw you.” Megan dropped a kiss on the complainer’s nose and moved into the next room.

“Up, up, up, ballerina!” She said from the doorway, “Dad will be home soon. I think he’s thinking bike rides or something. And I need your sheets and blankets. Pronto.”

The boy was already up and stripping his mattress, launching pillow cases and random toys over the edge of his loft bed with a serious look on his face. “Mom. Are you going to ride with us today?”

“I’d love to, but the laundry won’t do itself. We’ll go again this week, you and me. And the girls again if they want to. How’s that, my little quarterback?”

He frowned. “How come you never come when it’s dad?”

“You want clean clothes or not?” Megan gathered his bedding into her arms and shook off the weight of his question.

By the time the garage door grumbled to life, marking John’s return, Megan had sorted the dirty laundry into a dozen or so neat piles that marched in color-coded lines down the hallway, divided again by temperature and fabric care.

From the kitchen, across the house, Megan’s ears picked up John’s mutterings as he navigated his way around the waiting sheets, towels and clothing generated by his family.

He lifted an eyebrow at the sight of his wife rinsing dishes in the sink. “Finally got the day started?”

Megan bit her tongue.

“Must be nice to sleep in.” He added, reaching for the orange juice.

“Yes.” Megan said sweetly. She handed him a clean glass. “How was your run?”

“Good.”

He drank.

She waited.

She took the empty glass from him, rinsed it, and placed it in the dishwasher with the rest of the plates and wine glasses from last night’s dinner party. She listened to his plans for the day – yard work, projects around the house, a trip to Home Depot, and that family bike ride – and pretended to be disappointed to be stuck with so much laundry.

“You should come on the bike ride. It would be really good for you,” he said. “And yard work burns calories.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You know, those last ten pounds won’t come off unless you work harder.”

But he was talking to the back of Megan’s head, which she held very still until his footsteps retreated down the hall and up the stairs.

Dishwasher full and warming into its first cycle, Megan checked on the washing machine. It was working the tail-end of its last cycle, spinning the excess moisture out of the dark towels and chasing the last of the water down the drain. She decided to linger in the laundry room, blocking out the rise and fall of family voices above her, and drowning out the screams inside her, until it finished.

She wondered, not for the first time, at the small thrill that shot through her when the washer wound down and signaled its conclusion.

She leapt forward to pull the towels out and move them over to the dryer,

scrape lint from the filter

and float a fabric softener sheet into its cavernous mouth.

She set the dials, turned it on, and scooped up the next pile to wash.

Everything set and rumbling along again, Megan moved each pile down one place in line towards the machines. It was a completely unnecessary task, except she needed evidence that tasks were being done.

Megan had slept in past 7 a.m.

on a Saturday.

Again.

So, it was important to look industrious.

It was important to have something to point to as the day unfolded and everyone badgered her to get outside with them.

It was important to have something to remind John of when he cross-examined her about being lazy – not that he would remember or understand 15 loads of laundry collected, sorted, washed, dried, folded, ironed, and put away. But maybe the kids would.

Not that it would be good enough if he did understand.

“If you did two loads every night, you would have all this spare time on the weekend.” John had mansplained more than once. “I don’t see what’s so hard about that. Why can’t you get it together and plan ahead?”

Spare time. John time. As in, John would fill it up with chores or projects or outings harder to endure than 150 loads of laundry. If she did things his way, Megan would add laundry to her already jam-packed weeknights, only to make room for his to-do lists on the weekend.

She had already given inches, and he had taken miles. He was not getting her spare time.

When the dryer finished its cool down cycle, Megan swapped the laundry from machine to machine and once again dragged each pile one step down the hall.

She bundled the warm towels into her arms and carried them to the family room, where she took her time folding each one like origami and stacked them in color order, and sank into the satisfaction of this one-person chore, and the pleasure of knowing that if she was stuck in this marriage until the kids were grown, at least she’d have the never-ending cycle of laundry to keep her happy.