Catherine Davis

Dirty Laundry

All night long the crack of light under their bed­room door nev­er went out.  First in the kitchen, then on the oth­er side of the wall adjoin­ing their par­en­t’s room — noises.

There’s a small slant­ed hole through the edge of the door, and anoth­er in the frame. Anna push­es the door closed to check. The holes match up. She pulls her par­ents’ room door open again and touch­es the hole on the inside edge, where fur­ry lit­tle splin­ters poke out all around, soft and prick­ly at once.

Things like: bump­ing, heavy stuff drag­ging around, her father’s voice, then that bang­ing tremor.  Beside her in their nar­row bed, Rosie had breathed slow and deep, eyes closed, so Anna had known it was stuff you could be pret­ty sure was­n’t real.

It was about the dirty clothes,” Rosie says out of nowhere, appear­ing right behind her. Anna jerks her hand from the door, steps back.  She’s inside their par­en­t’s room now, and feels a chill.
“There,” Rosie points, “in the box.”  The large card­board box is between their moth­er’s dress­er and the desk. It’s piled high with laun­dry that isn’t done yet; one cor­ner is split­ting where the clothes are push­ing it apart. On the oth­er side of the clut­tered desk, the win­dow is all the way open, and the screen is miss­ing. Two of the cur­tain hooks are off the rod, the cur­tain droops down at the top, sucks in and out of the gap­ing win­dow with the breeze. Anna looks back at Rosie, sees that she is watch­ing it too.

Anna had watched her own cur­tains turn blaz­ing gold in the sun­rise this morn­ing. Then she’d tugged Rosie’s rag-bear away and laid it over her eyes. Same as all night, she had­n’t been real­ly sure whether she were asleep or awake.

That’s how he got out,” says Rosie, star­tling Anna all over again. “He told Mama to stand there,” she points at the wall across the room, “and watch the clothes.”
Her lit­tle sis­ter says this exact­ly the same way as when fill­ing Anna in on a car­toon that that she’d missed part of.  Rosie had lis­tened, all right. “There’s his ham­mer.” On their moth­er’s dress­er, the ham­mer lays cross­wise on the smooth mar­ble, stick­ing over the edge, pre­car­i­ous. Rosie’s eyes look like those train tun­nels — that once you go in, it’s so black that you’re sure you’re nev­er going to come out again. It makes Anna cave, right in her middle.

This door had been shut tight when Anna got up. Usually this door won’t close for any­thing, because of the warp. It’s a crap­py con­struc­tion. So Anna had crept on by down the hall. But when she reached the kitchen, her father had been sit­ting right there, beside a full ash­tray, his head rest­ing back on the wall, and star­ing at the ceil­ing above the sink. The over­head light was on — light that made the olive walls look grim in the day. She’d just turned to sneak back to her room when he got up, scrap­ing his chair, and went out the back door. The screen slapped shut as Rosie came in, jam­ming her knuck­les into her eye sock­ets just like their moth­er told them nev­er to do.

Mama’s fix­ing us some Nestlé’s Quick.” Rosie turns and heads out of the room. “She said to get you.” Anna grabs for Rosie’s night­gown to pull her back in and shake her, like their moth­er does when she’s get­ting them to tell the truth. Shake her or worse: Rosie deserves it, because sure­ly a dev­il is in her. But Anna has missed. She’s alone again in the dark stuffy room, not a nice place to stay. On the way out, she feels the slant­ed hole on the mold­ing and the match­ing one on the edge of the door.  Easy to see now.
Nailed it shut, that’s how he made the door stay closed.


•          •          •
The holes stayed. Nearly every day, Anna found some excuse to pinch Rosie in hid­den places ‘til she bruised, or some­times she’d just slap her so hard that her cheek shone. She threat­ened Rosie that if she told, Anna would nail her into their par­ents’ bed­room, where it would be just like a cof­fin. Rosie glared with her black eyes, but she kept qui­et until the year that she got big­ger than Anna and punched her in the face. They both lost inter­est around the time Rosie chipped Anna’s tooth.
After five years, their moth­er got sick with can­cer. When she died and their father sold the house, those door holes were still there.

The new peo­ple prob­a­bly patched them up.


Catherine Davis is a some­time set dec­o­ra­tor in the film busi­ness, with cred­its rang­ing from We Own the Night and Brokeback Mountain to Blue Velvet. Her writ­ing may be seen at 52/250 A Year of Flashkaffe in kat­man­duBlue Print Review, Short Fast and Deadly and Clutching at Straws, and has received the Joan Johnson Award in Fiction. She com­mutes between Columbia, South Carolina and Manhattan.