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The washing machine

by Catherine Graham 

She dislikes the sound of the washing machine
so I sing as it starts to spin, willing it to stop
before she calls for me from the bathroom.

She used to love hanging the washing out,
proud to peg ‘the whitest sheets in the street’
and watch them as they billowed on the line.

Sometimes, they’d be bone dry but she’d
leave them out, on show to Mrs. Ridley.
I remember how Mrs. Ridley and my mother

would stand, arms folded, like bookends
in headscarves and slippers exchanging the latest
chinwag. I remember the pleasure Mam took

in folding the bedclothes with me, how
she’d do that little dance towards me until
our fingers met; her fingers gentle and plump.

‘Where are you?’ she shouts from the bathroom,
‘I’ve sat here two hours!’ It’s been two minutes.
I hurry along the passage, still singing ‘our’ song.

Keeping her face to the wall, Mam joins in:
‘My my my, Delilah! Why why why, Delilah?’
We sing our hearts out, each of us as lonely as the other.

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