Paley-olothic


In the morning

In the morning, it snowed. Rosie woke up early. The first thing she saw was the window. The window, frosted like a donut, morning light sparking off it. She put her finger out and touched the inside of the window. For a moment, her finger stuck on the pane and then melted. She wrote her name, Rose, or really, just R and O. The room was too cold for S and E.

She got out of bed eventually. Had too. The bathroom’s down the hall. They share it. Rose,  Antonia, Vernon, Eli and also Jonathon, the only one of them who does not have children. He has it best of all, they agree when they meet in the laundry room in the basement. The only room in the building that is not cold in December. Rosie, Vernon, and Antonia see each other once, twice, three times every week when the kids are little. Less when there’s no money for the washing machines. Sometimes they wash the endless stream of diapers and sheets at home, in the bathroom, in the kitchen sink, and hang them outside, where they get stiff with cold and may never dry ever.

The kids have colds every year, without fail. Three to four months of congestion, wheezing, worry and then what? They think about other possibilities.

“I tell you what, Rosie,” says Antonia one day.

“What?” Rosie says, distracted, with a baby who won’t stop crying and a toddler whose nose has been running for 18 months, give or take. The room is full of the smell of almost dry sheets and starch, the spray irons are wheezing, asthmatic iron aunties. The sheets come out flat and stiff; the children too.

“I am looking up an old friend,” Antonia says. Rosie looks up, safety pins in her mouth, one eyebrow lifted to signify go ahead, I’m listening.

“An old friend,” she says again. She folds a sheet in half, letting part of it drag on the floor. The iron steams on the covered board. She picks it up and rests it on the trivet that keeps it from catching the ironing board on fire. The trivet is cast iron, heavy, fire proof.

That afternoon, Antonio catches a bus and then walks through the snow in a neighborhood she’s never seen, even though she could have walked there instead of taking the bus. This is something she did not know.

 Walking along the street, encountering no neighbor, she found herself pleased and soothed by the novelty of being somewhere new. She hummed a little up and down tune, she almost forgot about time. The snow reminded her, reminded her that a busy woman with a husband and kids could only continue to jostle time so long before the neighbors, with their spying eyes and their letters to the government, would notice and report her with the help of their paranoid, reconnoitering brains. The first time the government talked back to her, in the form of a small grey man with a thin tie and no expression, she said “I know more flowers than countries,” to him. Meaning, in her own mind, that how could she be a spy? She’s just a lady with a steaming iron, a husband who works the graveyard shift, and a baby who’s teething.  A lady who hopes that ironing might bring out the best, the starchiest her, and that’s what she’s waiting for.

(writing group exercise – 8 people chose 8 sentences from the collected works of grace paley, wrote them on a piece of paper and exchanged with another member of the group. using the sentence received as a prompt, write for 15 minutes.)

 

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