She looked at the white-and-gray metal box with the big round porthole. Her arms were crossed and her brow was knitted.
He glanced at her sideways, a small curl of a smile hiding in the corner of his mouth, underneath the full beard she wished he would shave off.
“You know, it isn’t going to explode, love,” he said mildly.
He saw her already straight back straighten even further, like his words had zapped her with electricity. She always stood so tall and regal. Others would say – and, in fact, had said to his face – that she looked like a stiff, severe, humorless and cold. He didn’t mind them. If she was cold – and he doubted that she really was cold underneath the surface – he could warm her up.
Glancing right back at him, she pulled her arms tighter. She didn’t like when he called her that. She didn’t like that furtive smile. She had the awful, sour feeling in her chest that he was making fun of her – had had that feeling ever since they had first met, barely two months ago, and then met again only twice (with her great-aunt and uncle in attendance both times, much to her mortification) before they had suddenly stood together at an altar, facing one another and vowing to go through life together until death would them part, in sickness or in health.
The acquisition of newfangled household machines didn’t rightfully count as a ‘sickness’, she had to admit, but it nevertheless felt like her husband was introducing an alien element to the fragile ecosystem of her home – just like a virus invading a body.
This, she would only ponder in the absolute privacy of her head in the middle of the night when she was awake while her husband snored in the other bed, was not the type of invasion she had anticipated in a marriage. Having been brought up on a farm, she knew all about invasion and penetration… of several different species of mammal, anyway.
“I know that,” she eventually replied with pursed lips and her voice raised just a notch to be heard. “Although it is… disconcertingly loud.”
She machine chose this very moment to give a series of clicks and grunts, then come to a rumbling, shuddering halt, only to start up again, visibly spinning the load of soapy water and clothing into the other direction.
It was said that all households needed one of these now. Anything else was, apparently, unpatriotic.
She did not fear for the nation as much as she did for her and her husband’s clothes. And the electricity and water bill. And the washing room and the rest of the apartment. And possibly the entire block.
“That is normal, for now,” he answered, nodding. “I am sure the developers are already working on a solution for that issue. Give it a couple of years and they will create washing machines that are barely louder than a whisper.”
For now, he thought, this loud monster of a machine would serve well to make their lives easier. For one, it would ingratiate his wife with the neighbors – good patriots, all of them, and wary of the farmer woman from the backlands who didn’t do small talk and always kept the curtains closed. Secondly, it would save his wife’s hands from being scrubbed raw and dried from the lye soap and her back and shoulders from hunching and aching. Thirdly, it would free up some time. Not a lot – their household only consisted of two people for now, and both of them were already frugal with their clothes – but every second won was a victory to him.
She nodded. What else could she do but believe his words? He was the one with the technical knowledge. It was his job and his vocation. If only he would take a little time out of his busy days to touch something other than… connectors and… and valves and cables and suchlike. She cleared her throat that had gone a little tight with the prim thought.
“Until then, rest assured that this little gadget will do its job, without blowing up. After all, I connected it personally for you.” He smiled a full smile at her. The skin around his eyes crinkled. “Do you trust me, love?”
He had asked her that question often. So far, she hadn’t answered with words. He was a patient man.
It was obvious to her that he was not exclusively talking about handling electrical household appliances at this point. That was another one of his habits, just like that hidden smile. He talked about one thing but simultaneously meant another.
And the other thing was usually emotional. Or sexual. Or both. In any case, more important than the original topic, at least to her. It unnerved her. She didn’t know what to say but also knew that giving no answer was also inevitably an answer in its own right.
He huffed a laugh through his nose when she stood like a deer in headlights and didn’t reply, then reached out to touch and gently tug her sleeve-covered elbow. “Come on. I’ll introduce you.”
They stepped across the washing room and toward the rumbling machine that sat snug between the two shelves which held all of her washing powders, starches and fat bars of soap, as well as most other cleaning implements and agents in the apartment. She faintly wondered whether it was dangerous now to keep these chemicals to close to the washing machine, then chided herself. She knew that electricity didn’t work that way – even though her great-aunt insisted it was basically the devil’s magic – and, first and foremost, that her husband wouldn’t leave these things standing there if it was unsafe to do so.
“I have directly connected the machine to the electrical grid, because there isn’t a socket in this room. Can you see the cord, there?” He pointed to the corner of the ceiling. There was a new hole in the drywall.
She nodded and debated whether she should pull her elbow from his hold. His hands were large.
“That’s how the machine gets its juice. If you want to switch it completely off, you will have to do so through the fuse box. I’ll show you how to do that in a minute. Now, the water supply and drain is in the back. We’ll have to open and close the supply there manually each time and check the drain from time to time, so…” He reached down to his belt and produced a silver flashlight, clicking it on and handing it to her. “Have a look.”
She took the torch, surprisingly heavy and solid, and frowned. “Have a look where?”
He bit back a noise when she wrapped in her slender fingers around that flashlight. He flicked his chin and cleared his throat which was suddenly a little tighter than before.
“The back of the machine. Shine the light into the gap at the wall and look down.”
She assessed the situation. The shelves to the right and the left were heavy, solid wood. The one on the left was even screwed to the wall, so there was very little chance of pulling any of them back and approaching from the side.
The only way to look behind the washing machine was to bend over it. Upper body flat across the top. Her rear hanging over the side.
Like being bent over a barrel.
Realizing this, she finally pulled her elbow from his big hand. “Very well,” she said curtly, angry at him for goading her, angry at herself for taking his bait so easily, and even angry at this stupid, loud, expensive machine that had offered him another opportunity to be by himself and play with valves and suchlike for the entire Saturday morning.
Leaning over and lowering herself on top of the washing machine, she felt almost like she had mounted a living beast. One who was heavier and bigger than she. The machine rumbled and bucked rhythmically underneath her, the vibrations tickling in her belly. She tried to ignore it, stood on her tiptoes to come all the way forward and shone the flashlight into the gap. It was generous, almost two hands width of space to accommodate the water hoses leading to a bibcock and down into a funneled draining hole in the floor, and to keep the machine from banging against the wall.
“Okay. I see the water hoses. There are two,” she said. “And there is the-”
She forgot the word when the solid weight of her husband’s body started to push against her.
It was very gentle at first, could almost be construed as an accidental brush against her, then more insistent, like he was maybe trying to steady her as she wobbled a little on her toes, but eventually, it was entirely obvious that it was intentional, and what his intention was. He settled onto her like a blanket, with his legs pressed against the backs of hers and his front covering her lower and middle back, and his groin-
“Can you see the hose connecting the bibcock and the machine?” he asked. His voice was so low.
She could feel the vibration of his voice in the small of her back. When she shied away from the sensation, she ended up pressed harder into the metal top of the washing machine, which was also vibrating, sending bright little shockwaves through her entire body.
Suddenly the cool, windowless washing room felt stiflingly warm to both of them, the feverish heat generated by and emanating from the seam where their bodies met, yet neither of them tried to pull away.
“Ye-..Yes,” she said, answering both the voiced and the unvoiced question.
The machine gave another startling rumble, halted, and the water audibly gurgled out through the other hose even as the machine started up again.
“Good,” he said, again meaning everything at once.
Then the vibration changed its pitch and he moved his body just so, moving her smaller body right along with his, and suddenly she felt as if she was a tuning fork, struck at just the right note. All of her body hair pricked and stood on end as gooseflesh skittered over her skin from crown to the toes, sweat broke out in her armpits, on her chest in the valley between her small breasts, at the small of her back, and between her thighs. There, the excruciatingly pleasant tingling was the strongest, the loudest. Exhaling made it worse, but so did inhaling, and so did holding her breath, which she did until her head spun and stars sparkled behind her eyelids.
There was a giant wave that rose, a yawning, moaning pressure that expanded in her abdomen like she had never felt, and just before she thought she would painfully split open with it, there was a crest and then a free fall so sweet that tears of joy shot into her eyes and a small, tremulous shriek of delight fell from her mouth.
As her whirling mind landed, softly, on the ground again, her forehead sank to the smooth, cool surface of the washing machine’s top part.
He felt her freeze and then tremble and bit his tongue to keep from grunting in satisfaction like some type of Neanderthal. It took an effort to not grab her and disrobe her right here, to not try and crawl into her clothes or underneath her very skin; it was a monumental feat to step back and not reach to flip up her skirt – even as he did, he knew he would imagine himself doing just that, and many other things, for years to come every time he took himself in hand. He had seen her underwear draped across the chair in their bedroom, as well as those wisps of nylon and nothing that she clipped to her garter straps, and he had so many ideas about all of these items, such burning, overwhelming curiosity that it made him retreat.
She felt rather than saw him fleeing the room and was both disappointed and relieved.
His departure left her back body feeling cold and clammy with sweat, but the rest of her was very, very warm indeed.
With his towel over his shoulder and his hair still damp from the shower, he stopped in the doorway to his bedroom and stared.
Normally, his wife was already asleep whenever he came to bed – or she pretended to be anyway.
Normally, she was wrapped in thick nightclothes, a leftover from living on her farm where the chambers were drafty and the mattresses were thin and didn’t hold body warmth well.
Normally, his bed was made, the blanket taut and tucked in.
Tonight, she was awake and sitting in bed in her silky undershirt, reading a magazine of some sort against her drawn-up knees. And his bed--
She set her jaw and kept her eyes glued to the magazine. Minutes past until she realized that she probably should move her eyes if she wanted to convince him she was reading. She let her eyes slide over the letters and words, not taking a single one of them in. She lingered in the upper left corner of the page because he was clearest in her peripheral vision then.
He still stood in the doorway in his sleep shirt and underpants, his hair dripping water onto his forehead, watching her.
"My love," he finally said. "What happened here?"
She took a long second before she looked up and at him, as if her reading was entirely captivating and she could barely pry herself loose from the page. Once she did, he gestured with his hand and nodded his chin at his bed which was placed on the other side of the room with at least three-and-a-half yards between it and hers.
It was completely empty, bare but for the pillow, which was stripped of its pillowcase. There were no sheets on the naked mattress, no duvet, no blankets.
She looked over and at it for several beats like she hadn't noticed this odd state of affairs before.
He pinched the tip of his tongue between his teeth.
"Your bedclothes needed a wash," she replied, then shrugged a shoulder like her heart wasn't racing and her face wasn't heating up like she had a fever. The strap of her shirt slid just an inch toward the edge of her shoulder, but she didn’t slide it back up. "Now that I have such a wondrous gadget like your washing machine at my disposal, it is a small feat."
"And where do you propose I make my bed tonight?" he asked, his eyes darkening even as he felt his very soul brighten. He crossed his arms over his chest and felt the hairs on his upper arms prickle and stand up.
His wife shrugged that shoulder once more – still, the sleep shirt strap clung on to her as if by the most frustrating magic – pressed her lips together like she was keeping words prisoner inside of her mouth, and went back to her non-reading. He noticed her fingers clenching around the paper so hard it crinkled.
He stepped toward her with a smile hidden in his beard and closed the bedroom door behind himself.
Thank you for reading this small and harmless story.
I may have been spending too much time watching washing machines go through their spin cycles.
Life in a low-stimulus environment, man. It produces strange effects…
Leave a comment if you want to be nice to me.
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