Friday, October 23 A Drying Day -

A Drying Day

It’s Monday. I strip the bed. Off with the white linen embellished with faux-suede dots in shades of blue. On with my favourite; thick, crinkly antique cream cotton with raised embroidered lines. He says it reminds him of a Victorian christening dress. He doesn’t like it. I think it is very modern. The washing machine hums to a smooth finish. I take the basket out to the garden. I have a rotary washing line. When we moved here last year I was determined to have a decent washing line. I had to share a line-and-pulley one with upstairs in our last place. That caused a few awkward moments. Here, upstairs have their own garden and their own line. We have our own garden but there was no line when we moved in. I chose a big, sturdy four-section rotary and he concreted it into the middle of the little lawn. Nice and straight, too. I start with the pillowcases. I peg them by their closed ends on the inner lines of the sections, two to each section. Two cream, for our foot pillows. Four blue, two for each head. Finally, two white ones with faux-suede dots in shades of blue, one for each head. I peg out a white bath towel and a blue hand towel each on two opposing sections. I am picking up the blue, fitted sheet to peg on the third section when I notice someone watching. Through a wide gap in the panel fencing nailed to the garden wall my neighbour peers intently. She is perhaps a few years older than me. Her grey, flyaway hair is lifting in the light breeze, but her eyes are unmoving. I carry on pegging even though she knows I have seen her. ‘Eight pillowcases?’ she says. ‘Oh, hello.’ I say. ‘How comes you need eight?’ ‘Nice day, it should all dry lovely.’ I smile a bit and spin the line to the last section. I pick up the white duvet cover with faux- suede dots in shades of blue. I have to pick it up in a certain way so I can peg it for optimum drying. First the top end. This gets pegged towards the back of the line embellished side down so the dots dry quicker. I should mention at this point that the duvet cover is inside out. This does stop the dots from fading in strong sunlight but the main reason is to make it easier to put on the duvet. I’ll explain that another time. ‘You know you’ve got that inside out?’ ‘Yes.’ I say. It’s not the first time I’ve seen her, of course. Last week she was looking at the bean frame I put up. I saw her from my dining room window. She went indoors and came back out a few minutes later with her husband. Then they both looked at it. He shook his head. He has the same unyielding eyes as his wife. I have the bottom end of the duvet cover folded concertina-like in my left hand. Now I unfold it, right to left, pegging the corners one at each end of the outermost line. Two pegs to a corner. Then I take up the inner unbuttoned side and peg it with one peg to the line behind. I use one more peg on the outer side securing it to the middle of the outer line. ‘Never seen anyone do it like that before.’ ‘Works for me.’ I smile again and bend to put my candy-striped waterproof peg-bag in the empty plastic basket. When I stand up I see that her husband has appeared behind her. He takes a pipe from his mouth and waves it a bit. ‘You won’t dry all that today. Wasting your time. Going to thunder. A real downpour.’ There is a dark cloud-bank very low on the horizon. The air is not that heavy yet. It won’t come in until tea-time. By then my washing will be dried, picked in, aired, folded and put away. I don’t iron linen She turns to him. ‘Eight pillowcases!’ ‘Oh yes, why’s that then?’ ‘Won’t tell me.’ He looks at me. His chin is jutting out a bit now. He stabs the air with the end of his pipe. ‘Why won’t you tell her?’ She has a triumphant look in her eyes. First time I’ve seen any expression in them. ‘Excuse me?’ I don’t smile at him. ‘Tell her why you got eight pillowcases.’ His face has gone a bit red now and his lower lip is sticking out. I pretend to think about it. ‘No.’ I say. ‘You got a cheek, so you have! You tell her now, or, or..’ He is thrusting his shoulder past his wife and waving his pipe a lot. . I pick up my basket and walk smartly up my path. I can hear them arguing with each other as I shut the kitchen door behind me. I make coffee, take two digestive biscuits from the airtight box, put them on a plate and go into the sitting room. My phone is on the low table, flashing. Four missed calls from my sister. As I put it down it rings again. ‘Hiya.’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘I’m home.’ ‘I’ve been ringing you.’ ‘I was pegging out the sheets.’ ‘You could put your phone in your pocket. It is mobile.’ I take a bite of digestive biscuit. ‘Good weekend?’ ‘Not bad. We booked our holiday. Vegas again, but this time we’ve got tickets for Celine. I’m so excited. Have you decided on yours yet? Or are you just going for your usual little trip to the Scillies?’ I sip my coffee. ‘You know she’s having twins in November?’ ‘You’re joking.’ ‘Unless you’re going very soon, don’t be expecting to see her this year.’ ‘Oh my God. I’ll have to get this sorted. Ring you later.’ ‘Bye.’ I wash up my plate and mug and get out my polishing cloths. Before I start I dock the iPod and set it to play one Dead Weather and two White Stripes albums. Not too loud. By the time they have finished the flat is sparkling clean and it is lunchtime. The Costcutter shop on the next street is very good but today it is out of tomatoes so I have to re-think tonight’s dinner. No, I can make a Caesar salad to go with the salmon. That’s alright then. He won’t mind croutons for once. I pick up a newspaper and take it to the check- out. The woman looks at the front page as she passes it through the scanner. ‘Four-one.’ She shakes her head. ‘Four-one – what was the matter with them?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘I said to you last week, I said they weren’t looking themselves, remember?’ ‘I remember.’ She takes my money. She’s not wearing her England tee-shirt today. ‘That bloody manager wants his arse kicked all the way back to Italy.’ It is my neighbour. He is behind me, waving his Daily Mail. His face is red again. There is a pause while he glares at me. It is very hot in the shop. I smile at them both, take my newspaper and leave. Upstairs is in her garden. She has an assortment of clothing pegged neatly to her line-and- pulley. Just the one row today. ‘I think it will dry alright today?’ She looks a bit anxious. ‘Should do.’ I look to the north-west. ‘It won’t come in until tea-time.’ She smiles, gently. I can hear my neighbour behind me, huffing down the road. I give upstairs a wave and go indoors. I spend the afternoon at the dining table, sewing. I am making a wall hanging in silk and satin. It is an abstract design mostly in shades of blue. I put ‘La Mer’ on quietly in the background, followed by ‘Fingal’s Cave’ and then some Satie to wind down. When ‘Gymnopedies’ ends, I put my sewing away. The neighbours are out in their garden again. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but the sounds are tense and heavy, blending with the hot air coming in through the open window as I prepare the salmon parcels for our dinner. I pick up the washing basket and go into the garden. The cloud-bank is boiling up rapidly. It will be overhead soon. I fold the linen carefully as I take it off the line, stacking it neatly in the basket. Towels first, then the duvet cover, sheet, and finally the eight pillowcases. I tuck the basket under one arm and walk up my path. Now the temperature is dropping and I can hear thunder not far to the north-west. There is no sign of the neighbours. I put away the linen. I won’t start the salmon until I hear him close the gate. There is nothing more disappointing than overcooked salmon, especially if you have been looking forward to it all day. This gives me time to tidy a bookshelf. I have finished arranging his Journal of Marine Science by date and am starting on Journal of Plankton Research when I hear an ambulance siren. I go to my dining-room window. The ambulance pulls up next door. The paramedics wheel him out, strapped in a sitting position. The left side of his face has fallen like a hillside after heavy rain. His body seems a lot smaller under the layers of red blanket. Behind them, coat and bag in hand, his wife hurries to lock their front door. She looks very tired now. There is a red, square-shaped welt swelling on her right cheek. A long rumble of thunder rolls overhead. The first fat drops of rain hit the window. I hear the front gate squeal. Time to put the salmon in.

© Vivienne McCulloch