Washing Dishes by Suzy Jacobson Cherry

*Winner for nonfiction in the 2nd Annual Arizona Writer’s Conference. 

I’m standing against the sink, hands elbow-deep in suds and floating spinach. Picking up a plate to sponge it clean, I notice a small chip in the side. Sighing, I place it edge-up in the drainer. “That’s one of the plates Betsy gave me for my birthday,” I think. It seems like I’ve lost at least a quarter of those dishes already, most of them before I pulled the crappy dishwasher from under the tiny stainless-steel Ikea sink I’m standing at now. I got rid of the dishwasher for good. It was old when I got it cheap at the Goodwill store that always smells of grape drink and cleaning fluids. Usually, the dishes came out of that thing dirtier than they had been when they went in, but at least they were sanitized. I hated that thing. I don’t even want to replace it, because when I use it I can see the electricity usage increase on the meter I check each day, because I purchase my electricity on a pre-paid basis. Better for the pocket-book; better for the environment. I’d get rid of the window air conditioners too, if we didn’t live in this godforsaken desert where an early June day means 110 degrees and the possible loss of fingers just by touching the steering wheel of my little Suzuki Forenza. 

Leaning in a moment, I can feel the water soaking the front of my nightgown; an expected event that I never fail to encounter. I hear footsteps behind me and the voice of my young adult daughter as she talks to me about her weekend and pulls the chicken she’s roasting for tomorrow’s lunch out of the oven. When she’s done, I’ve placed the last plate that will fit into the drainer, figuring that before my other daughter gets home from her boyfriend’s house, I’ll have put away that load and washed up the last of the dishes now stacked neatly on the little stainless steel Ikea counter next to the sink. My son is in the family room listening to a movie while he reads the next installment of the fantasy series he’s into right now. The dogs begin to bark, a flustering cacophony of head-blistering noise, and my son adds to the din, hollering at the dogs to shut up.  He doesn’t like the noise, like most Asperger Syndrome kids, he’s neuro-sensitive. He doesn’t realize that his noise won’t stop their noise; he doesn’t make the connection that it just makes it worse. I toss the dogs each a treat – that will shut them up for a moment.

***

Betsy comes to me and tells me goodnight. I put my arm around her and tell her I love her. I can remember so clearly when it was just the two of us. I am reaching up, my arm across her shoulder, and we begin to walk into the family room. We step through the door, and I can hear my Enya CD – Watermark, I think – playing softly. The quiet is like a blanket upon us, and I walk to the stereo and turn the music up, just a touch.  Turning slightly, I look down at my 2½ year old and swat her bottom playfully. “Scoot up on the couch, my little Jasmine-Flower, and I’ll read our chapter now.” Betsy scurries to the couch and clambers up, ready for the nightly installment of Little House on the Prairie. The tea kettle is whistling, and I pour the boiling water over my green tea and her chamomile. I take mine naked, nothing added. For Betsy, I add a bit of sugar and some milk.  This tasty concoction is a favorite part of the bedtime ritual. Teacups in hand, I walk back into the living room, where I find Betsy looking lovingly at the poster of Stevie Nicks in her red dress. “When I grow up, Mommy, I want to have a dress like that.” I laugh and say, “Honey, when I grow up, I want to look like that!”  We giggle together, two girls understanding one another completely. Sipping our tea, we settle into the story. I read to her softly, putting on voices for the characters, and whenever Pa calls Laura “half-pint,” I throw in some weird country accent in a booming, deep voice.  Betsy laughs and, finishing her tea, snuggles closer to me. I continue the story until we reach the end of a chapter. Betsy’s eyes are closed, the corners of her mouth turned up in a small smile. Setting aside the book, I walk to the stereo and change the CD to ocean sounds. Taking my baby up into my arms, I carry her to bed. I tuck her in, praying silently that tonight she won’t have one of those night-terrors she’s been having lately. They are so terrifying – I can’t help but wonder if she really sees something behind me that I cannot see, when she stands before me open eyed, screaming, staring beyond my shoulder. Hopefully not tonight, I think, and kiss her on the forehead. “Goodnight, my little babushka,” I say, “sweet dreams!” and she smiles, whispering, “Sweet dreams when you go to bed, Mommy.”

***

I stop a moment, my hand on the doorknob. Looking back at my grown daughter, I tell her good night one more time before closing the door. I think that it’s only a short while now before she’s no longer in this room. After all, she just graduated from college and is preparing for graduate school. I look around the room, at Betsy’s collection of pirate regalia, mystical candles and incense, the drawing of David Bowie in Labyrinththat she drew on the wall this past year. On the bottom shelf of her bookcase, I see the entire collection ofLittle House books, next to the Anne Rice and J.R.R. Tolkien. Lying on the floor is the art pad she ordered so she could illustrate her own poetry. On a hanger on the side of her bookcase is a gossamer “hippie” skirt. I smile, and glance back at this beautiful young woman who has clothing like Stevie’s and writes poetry so much better than mine. Getting ready to crawl into bed for the night, Betsy is setting up her sleeping music. As I close the door, I hear Stevie Nicks’ voice….”….you are the poet in my heart…”  “Sweet dreams, Betsy,” I say. She is in bed now. “Sweet dreams when you go to bed, Mommy.”

Closing the door, I enter the family room misty-eyed, and kiss my 13 year old son on the head. He tries to avoid it, grunting “your mom,” and I say, “I love you, Ian.”  “I love you, mom,” he says. Aspie kids don’t like much affection. I do it anyway. He needs it. He’s at the computer now, but I can tell he’ll be tired soon. I hope. That insomnia of his is becoming problematic. It’s still not too late, so I brew a nice cup of tea, and sit down at my computer. Forget the dishes. There’s still time to write a story before Heidi gets home.

Suzy Jacobson Cherry is an administrator and Spiritual Care provider by day and a writer by…well, night and day. She writes four separate blogs and keeps a running commentary on life through haiku and senryu on Instagram and Facebook. Suzy has work published in The Tower Journal, Elephant Journal, and the Gold Canyon Ledger, as well as a number of print newspapers and webzines. Her memoir of her time in an abusive relationship, Phoenix from the Ashes, and a handful of other self published books are available in print or Kindle editions.

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