Spin Cycle

by Tracy López

White, white, white. Dark, dark, dark.

She sorts the clothes into separate piles. His white wife-beaters, how she hates that name. He's never beat me, she says to herself. He's yelled and broken things, yes, but never anything more. Macho, that's what he is, but sweet as black plantains when he wants to be.

Blue jeans go into the dark pile, one leg inside out. Who cares, it will get washed all the same. Black thong, comfortable gray t-shirt, into the darks. White sock after white sock, not so white anymore, into the whites.

A vibrant green shirt, the color of wild parrots, shows her figure just right, she throws into a pile by itself, coloreds - picks it up again, reconsiders. A separate pile for “coloreds” - seems somehow even more racist than the piles of whites and darks... the whole process seems somehow wrong. She smiles at her inability to complete an ordinary household task without over-thinking it - collects the darks into her arms and drops them in a broken laundry basket. The corner of it duct-taped but still sharp. Cuts her arm every time.

In the laundry room she opens the washing machine, drops a capful of detergent inside, spilling some of the syrupy blue on her hand.

“How easy you have it,” her mother-in-law says in Spanish from the kitchen, where she prepares her morning coffee, shaking hands dropping the brown crystals onto the floor.

She sighs. The old woman has lived with them for a year now. It's like cleaning up after children, the children who had flown the nest not long ago. Always cleaning up after others, if not the children, now her mother-in-law, her husband, the dog - damn dog. 2,000 square feet of wood floors and he goes to the one carpeted area to urinate.

The mother-in-law clanks a shiny silver spoon around inside a ceramic  mug. Her mug, the one that says #1 Mom. She tries not to care, knows it's petty. Knows the old woman can't even read English, that she isn't doing it to get her goat.

She sighs, dumps the basket of laundry into the washing machine.  
“How do I have it easy, Suegra?”

The old woman grins, “As a young wife, how hard I worked,” she says, taking a sip, nodding to herself, looking off into the distance beyond this suburban kitchen in the United States.

“I would take the laundry down to the river Lempa, scrub it clean on the rocks. We hung it to dry and it dried quickly - not like here - In El Salvador the sun is hotter. It doesn't hide itself like here.” She scowls at the foggy November morning outside the window.

The washing machine clangs closed. She presses “start”.

“Our clothing smelled like sunshine, not like chemicals,” her mother-in-law continues. “So you see, you have it easy with these modern conveniences.”

The mother-in-law sets the jar of instant coffee back in the cabinet and then shuffles off to the living room to watch Spanish language soap operas on the flat screen television, takes her cell phone with her, in case one of her friends has some gossip - The kind of gossip they used to share down at the river while washing clothes.