It might be when Mark’s gone to sleep, or perhaps I’m home alone, but I only really feel safe when I’ve tidied the house, washed and dried the dishes, popped the laundry on, locked both locks on the front door and closed the kitchen one, with me inside. I’ll have the big light on and sit with my back to the wall, knees bent and the washing machine to my left. I like watching it go round, and I think the people who make washing machine’s understand this because they always come with a window, don’t they? So I can’t be alone, there must be more people like me. I like it because it’s the only window in the house that no one can look at you through.
My favourite part is when the clothes have been through the first cycle, where they get all soapy, and it fills with clean water and the dirt comes out. How simple it all is! No knuckles rubbed raw like our grandmothers’ – no heaving buckets of water from the fire. You just sit there and the bad things are washed away behind that solid glass screen. It never leaks. You wait for your clean clothes and the potential they represent: another day they can be worn.
People often tell me I’m intimidating but that makes me laugh. I don’t know why my heart beats faster, sometimes, and that dark unease washes through me like a cold wave of sexual pleasure. I don’t know why I jump at the doorbell or why my eyes fill with tears when the phone rings and I don’t know who’s calling; why I panic and worry and obsess over the smallest of problems. When I think of all the things I have dealt with – and there’s been so much – I tell myself, you know, you really should be stronger. The truth though is that I just don’t think I can cope with any more devastation… yet it lurks around every corner. I listen out for it, sometimes, the sound of guns, or sirens, maybe, shouting and screaming, buildings crashing down. Because there’ll be noise, won’t there, when the world crumbles? When the washing machine’s on, though, all I hear is that whirr, that sea-like slosh.
Sometimes I’m inside the washing machine, tossed around as floral scented water fills my lungs.
I always worry when I’m in public. Perhaps someone will shout, “You’re not a woman, who do you think you are?” like they have before. It hasn’t happened for a while but the fear that it will again, that I’ll be humiliated, do you suppose that ever goes away? So I feel safer at home, yes – but even then there are threats. What if the gas leaks and I have to go outside? What if there’s a fire and nowhere to return? What if people knock on the door, what if they want something and say, Quick, come on, come outside because it’s not safe here anymore? Maybe they’ll come and do that, one day, throw my mattress out the window and me after it. It’s not safe to put your trust in houses. They get blown down.
But if someone knocks on the door while the washing machine’s on you can say, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting anyone. I’m just waiting for the washing machine to finish before I go to bed,” and everything’s all right then. You can’t leave before the cycle ends, can you? You’re not a man or a woman either: you’re just someone who’s waiting for the washing machine to finish. You’re a legitimate person. It’s allowed.
People don’t usually knock on the door late at night, on Sunday, while you’re sitting on the kitchen floor watching the washing machine go round. Sometimes, when I see the water drain, I reach up to a button at the top that says “Extra rinse” and a light comes on to let me know I’ve pressed it properly. They’re good, those little lights.