It was a Sunday, before the sun peaked out from behind the horizon. She spent the first hours of the day picking bits and pieces of her life off the floor of her small apartment and throwing them into the cracked wicker basket she had stolen from the laundry room of her mother’s house. She could feel the splinters lodging themselves into their new home in the palms of her hands, but she ignored them; the basket would long outlive her. She was barefoot, finding comfort and solace in the coolness of the hardwood as she traveled through the modest space collecting her detritus. Underwear, a leftover relic from Friday’s blind date, had slipped behind the dented space heater. Coffee-stained jeans, ripped off immediately after a particularly long shift, were strewn across the thrift store chair with the questionable stain she chose to permanently ignore. There was a fancy blouse shoved under the couch; it didn’t look like it would belong in her closet, but she kept it for when she needed to see those who didn’t belong in her life. It had been there a long time and even though she was alone, her neck flushed with a sense of shame when she caught a glimpse of the pink satin. It was at times like these, when trying to compete with the unapproachable perfection of her mother, that she felt the sharp stabbing pain of words unsaid and relationships strained beyond reconciliation. Still, as much as she wanted to be the person with the sterile closet, photographed for the interior design catalogs her mother loved and she despised, she secretly relished how messy, imperfect, and truly chaotic her apartment became every week. Every Sunday she felt a sense of loss when she reached the other side of the room and stared at the empty floorboards. Sometimes, she had to resist the urge to put each piece of clothing back on the furniture it had previously occupied. She hated how empty, cold, unlived-in, and unloved her flat looked when she cleared it of some of the most important tokens of her existence. She stood still for a moment more before stripping the bed naked of its soft cotton sheets and stained vintage linen throw, another treasure stolen from her childhood home. She always put the bedding in the washing machine first and then carefully sorted through each piece of clothing, turning them right side out and treating every stain with a battered bottle of stain remover. She always had a talent for marring her clothes with mystery stains that she had no recollection of getting. Jeans were her least favorite to sort through. One leg was always inside-out, usually with a single dirty sock clinging to it, and she had to remember to check the pockets to avoid disaster. Her mother never forgot a jean pocket; she had kept a little basket next to the organic laundry detergent where she would place all the lost pieces of childhood. Marbles, rocks, and bits of broken glass bottles that she had picked off the street when no one was looking. Now, her pockets were filled with the burdens of adulthood: loose change, broken earrings, unfulfilled dreams, and crumpled wristbands.
It was Sunday, around noon, and everything went into a slightly broken washing machine. It used to be white but now it was closer to an ugly beige and there was an old piece of painter’s tape across the broken dial keeping it in place. It shook violently when the cycle began and then the shaking turned into a quiet humming that punctuated the beginning of a very dull hour. She usually spent about five minutes scrutinizing the apartment with crossed arms before she settled on cleaning out her purse. Despite the countless number of Sundays spent doing this exact thing, the purse had never actually been cleaned out. She would pick out a large wad of empty gum wrappers and crumpled receipts from stores that no longer existed. A stray cigarette, usually from last night, would fall out of the mix. The receipts, gum wrappers, and Saltine crumbs went right back into the purse. She kept a lighter on the ashtray that rested precariously on the railing of her balcony, and she grabbed them both as she draped herself on the old wrought iron chair whose pretty filigree designs were warped beyond recognition. She smoked because she loved the way it made her look. For a few brief minutes, she could pretend she was glamorous, French, perfect. So, she sat there each Sunday, soaking up the sun and romanticizing blackened lungs, a feeling that only lasted as long as the cigarette. When she washed her hands, her nose wrinkled as she scrubbed the bitter, sickening smell of nicotine off her fingers, and she realized how un-extraordinary she really was. There were twenty other girls within the next five city blocks smoking on their balconies, doing their laundry, and prancing around in the same goddamn Levi’s cutoffs from the overpriced vintage store down the street, all suffering from conditional maternal love. The loud buzz of the washing machine interrupted her self-deprecating musings, and she picked up the wicker basket once more, sighing but reminding herself that the ritual was nearly done. She piled the wet clothes back into the basket, taking care not to snag them on the jagged edges. She never used the dryer, it was as white and pristine as the day that she moved in. Her mother had always scoffed at the idea of dryers. The sun rose every morning capable of bleaching the linens of all their imperfections and giving them a glorious starchy glow. So she retrieved the items from the washing machine, placing them on the battered drying rack outside.
It was Sunday, about five in the afternoon, when she woke up from her nap and the sun was low in the sky, signaling it was time to bring everything inside. Back into the wicker basket they all went and were promptly dumped onto the couch for folding. For the thousandth time, she put a jazz record on while she folded. She hated jazz, but her mother always listened to it when she folded the laundry. Now, the familiarity of it was tethered to her so deeply that she couldn’t bring herself to start folding unless the saxophone filled the loud silence of the evening. As she folded, she couldn’t help but reflect on how religiously and desperately she followed the routine of Sunday laundry in an effort to feel validation within herself. But the validation never arrived. No, she was trapped in a prison of déjà vu, drowning in the matrix, wasting precious hours, a slave to routine. And when the last item was folded, she stared at the neat pile of clothes and linens, taking comfort in knowing that by the week’s end, they would be strewn across her apartment once more. ▲