Melissa Flores Anderson
The most passive-aggressive thing my husband does when he is mad at me is cull my clothes from the wash. Instead of throwing all of the colored clothes in, he takes the time to pull out his t-shirts, his boxer briefs and his button-down shirts that can’t go in the dryer.
When we first met, he lived in a one-bedroom apartment next to a cemetery. I had more in common with his neighbors than he did, with my brown skin and accent. Six months before we met, he left everything he owned with an ex and the low rent afforded him money to rebuild.
The complex had seven units and one communal washer and dryer.
“Just leave my clothes,” he said after I moved in. “I’ll do them myself.”
“I know how to do laundry,” I told him. “One of my many talents.”
“No, seriously,” he said. “It’s just easier. Some things I don’t dry because it makes the clothes fit weird. My long-sleeves always shrink so they are too short for my arms. And my ex turned everything pink once.”
At the beginning whenever we fought, half the time he was still battling with her.
His back went out one rainy Saturday morning and he relented. Laid out on our couch, he watched as I carried a black basket on my hip, careful not to slip on the slick steps of our 1950s era building. Quarters jingled in my pocket.
I placed the coins in the round slots and pushed in the metal handle to hear the familiar crank of laundromat machines. The water rushed into the drum and I waited patiently for it to hit the halfway mark before I poured in the liquid laundry soap. I dropped in his clothes mingled with mine.
An hour later, I walked back down and extricated his green, blue and gray shirts from the pile of wet clothes destined for the dryer. I carried them upstairs and hung them on a foldable rack he kept by the bedside.
When the other clothes came out of the dryer, I dumped them out on the bed and folded his socks the way he did, not balled up with the elastic down, but by lining the socks one on top of the other and folding them in half. I placed everything neatly into piles—boxers, undershirts, t-shirts—and put them in his Ikea dresser.
“Thanks for taking care of me, babe,” he said.
So laundry became one of my regular chores and it seemed a fair trade off since he did the dishes and cleaned the bathroom.
Except when he is mad at me. When he isolates my clothes from his, as though he is punishing me by leaving my shorts, tank tops and underwear behind.
He is mad because I made a joke that wasn’t funny, and as soon as the words slipped out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. I tried to take them back.
He worked late and came to bed with his laptop on. We watched an hour of streaming videos.
“I’m tired,” I finally said. “Can’t you turn that off and cuddle me? Stop being selfish.”
Selfish. I hit a nerve I didn’t mean to touch.
“I’m just kidding. Love you.”
I could feel him awake next to me, seething, tossing, pulling the sheet off of me as he twisted away. Figuring he might as well be selfish. It’s always been a burning spot we try to avoid—that his all-American baby blues, his imposing height and his long-ago Swedish heritage allow him to walk more easily through the world. He thinks I resent him for it. But really I feel guilty for the privilege I receive by being adjacent to him, by bearing his neutral last name.
I am still awake when he gets out of bed and goes downstairs. To watch TV. To get away from me. We don’t live in a one-bedroom apartment anymore. We have a sprawling house with room to escape each other.
He doesn’t come back to bed. I find him in the morning curled under two fuzzy blankets, a pile of throw pillows under his head. He hears me, but doesn’t open his eyes.
He pretends he is still asleep as I make my coffee and go back upstairs to shower. When I come out of the bathroom, I hear him in the laundry room next door where we have Energy Star front-load machines that are so quiet I can’t hear them running from downstairs. The basket of colored clothes is gone, but my things are tossed in a heap on the floor at the end of the bed.
I never say anything, but it feels like he doesn’t want anything with my scent, my shed skin cells, my hair strands, my DNA to be near him. That he wants to wash his hands of me.
It is the perfect guise because how could I ever complain about him doing his own laundry?
Melissa Flores Anderson: “I am a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist. I served as city editor of the Weekend Pinnacle for seven years and have had news and feature articles published in half a dozen publications. My fiction has been featured by Vois Stories, the Placing Poems project, City Lights Theater Company’s The Next Stage and Play on Words San Jose. I have pieces forthcoming in The Ice Colony/Lo-Fed Media spring edition and will read a piece in an upcoming Flash Fiction Forum Show. Follow me on Twitter @melissacuisine or IG @theirishmonths.”