I’ve convinced myself that if I do even one more load of laundry I’ll wither away, that my insides will dry up and turn to powder, that my skin will have the soft tackiness of dryer sheets, that I’ll shrink and flatten and smell like pancakes. Really. I know this will happen. I feel it in my gut. I dream it. I know it. So the hamper overflows, clothing carpets the floors, layers of towels drape over the shower rod and I’m lying on the couch crying my eyes out because I don’t have any clean underwear left.
My mom calls, “I’ve been doing dozens of loads of laundry every week for over thirty years and I’m still here. You stop feeling sorry for yourself, get off the couch, and separate your lights from darks.”
“Well, I can do that much,” I say. “I just can’t stick them in the machine and start it.”
“Do you want me to come over there and do the laundry?”
I don’t say anything.
A couple of hours later she’s shoving towels into my washing machine. “You know this is disgusting, right?” she asks me as I hand her several gray wash cloths. They used to be white.
“And you know your fear is just in your head?”
“Where else would it be?”
“Don’t get smart with me.”
“Don’t treat me like a baby. I’m crazy, not dumb.”
She dumps a scoop of detergent in the wash and slams the lid shut. “You’re not crazy, you’re just — you’re just looking at the small things.” She smiles. “You’re overthinking the monotony of daily living. Washing dishes, brushing your teeth, taking out the laundry — ”
“Taking a crap.”
“Ugh. Don’t say that.”
“It’s only the laundry,” I say. “Everything else, it doesn’t bother me.”
She giggles, which is odd because my mother isn’t a giggler. But then she does it again.
“What?” I say.
“I just feel like I’m being tickled. My skin feels all prickly.” She laughs now, squinting; a single happy tear leaks from the outer corner of her left eye. And then it happens. She turns white and her skin becomes chapped and before I know it my mother is a little mound of white powder on the floor. But the air smells like lavender soap, not pancakes.
I start to cry because it’s my mother. No one wants to see their mother transformed into dust, but there’s nothing I can do it about. How do I undo what’s been done? Oh God, I think, I’ll have to tell my father. And I know he won’t believe me, not until he comes over and sees it for himself, and when he does finally believe it he’ll blame me — Jesus Christ!
And then I have an even more horrible and selfish thought: it’s too bad she disintegrated so fast because I can’t really say, “I told you so,” can I?
I wipe away my tears, unplug the washing machine and the dryer. I sweep up what remains of my mother and pour her into a wine glass because it’s classier than a juice glass and if you know my mom, you know she’s classy. So I pour her into a wine glass which I set on the windowsill — this way she can see the sunset or at least feel the sunset or something. I get myself a bowl of dry cereal and eat it slowly, waiting for my father to call. I’ll have to figure out what to do about clothes and what to do without a mother.
I’m pouring myself another bowl of cereal when I hear my mother’s voice. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but it’s all around me and inside me and the vibration of her words gives me goosebumps. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she says. “Get out there, go do something. Be something. At least pour some milk on your Cocoa Puffs for Pete’s sake.”
I’m smiling now. I’m thrilled. “I told you so, Mom,” I say as I get up to get some milk. “I told you so!”
Maria Deira lives in Oregon. Her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, A cappella Zoo, Word Riot, and is forthcoming in GigaNotoSaurus.