She poured the laundry out of the basket onto the bed. She hadn’t folded the last load so she had twice as much to do as usual. She knew that she should probably be folding on a higher surface, to be more ergonomic, or whatever that word was, but it just seemed like too much trouble.
When she was a girl, she would sit on her mother’s bed and crawl around in the clean laundry pulling out the socks to match up. Her mother’s laundry always seemed to include both socks, but that didn’t often happen for Sheila, she always seemed to have odd socks lying around for ages before their partners would wander back into the clean clothes so they could reunite.
She folded everything the way her mother did. Once you learn these household routines, it’s hard to change them without a lot of work. She put the tin can lids inside the can before recycling them, she rinsed her kettle before boiling it and she dusted her tables with an old sock, the way her mother did. Her mother’s clean laundry always had a sort of precision to it, almost the way things were folded in a store. Her mother didn’t use a piece of plastic to keep the clothes folded the same size but they were remarkably uniform all the same. The shirts would sit in a tidy pile, the pants stacked nicely, the socks formed the same size lumps.
Sheila had resented it as a teenager, when she was too old old to do the sock crawl and instead had to stand beside her mother and fold. She only wanted it finished, she only saw the end result, she didn’t care about the evenness of the piles. She couldn’t see her mother’s pleasure in the tidiness of the clean laundry.
She could feel it now though, there was a pleasure in creating order in the things that you could control, in tidying things up, in making things even. It had taken her until her thirties to start to understand. Now she had some of her own ways of making things right but mostly she feel back on what she had been taught.
Her internal chaos was no longer reflected in her lack of housekeeping, instead, she created calm by tidying up. Her bubbling mind could be soothed by folding laundry, by doing dishes, by putting things away. It was meditative in its way, focusing on the details and letting the big things fade away while you worked.
She smoothed the wrinkles out of her mother’s sweater and moved that pile into the drawer. The nighties and her mother’s new housecoat – washed and dried to take that new stiffness out of it- went into the small suitcase on the chair. Once she threw in a tooth brush and some hand cream it would be all packed and then she could go. Her mother would be getting out of surgery soon and Sheila wanted to be there when she woke up.