Not that I was vain, you understand. I scraped my knees along with the boys, cut my own fringe and let my mother buy clothes for me, usually two sizes too big so that I could grow into them. I did occasionally long to have red hair and freckles, in the belief that might make me as strong as Pippi Longstocking, but I didn’t lose too much sleep over it. I seldom looked in the mirror and even resorted to the age-old trick of wetting the soap to simulate handwashing rituals I had no intention of observing.
So, no, it wasn’t vanity driving me into the bathroom. The reason I disappeared ever more frequently in there was that this was where the washing machine was busy at work. And at some point during the tenth or eleventh year of my life, I discovered the pleasure of sitting on the washing machine during its spin cycle. Its rumbling vibrations brought unexpected pleasures. I would cling on for dear life, unsure of the exact position to adopt, simply trying to avoid the sharp corners.
I must have felt there was something slightly reprehensible about this sudden passion for doing the laundry, as I used to lock the door. I could almost slice through my mother’s rising dough of disapproval. We were a family used to seeing each other naked. No shame culture in our house! But I instinctively knew that these pleasing thrills were best kept to myself. And the bathroom door was the only one with a lock in our house.
It took me a few more months – or maybe years (I was not a precocious child in this respect)- to realise that these delicious sensations could be replicated without the baritone growl of the washing-machine, or a cramp-inducing climb. I made sure I made up for any lost opportunities. Seasons came, seasons went, and so did family, friends and lovers. For a while, I went astray and betrayed the washing-machine with a succession of dry-cleaners.
The next washing-machine, the one in my marital home, was no longer all sharp, masculine corners. The modern forms were softened, rounded, pure femininity, a collusion in my oppression. Its location now moved to the kitchen, where there never was any privacy, it now became subject to tantrums and food-throwing, and witness to my staggering up and down the stairs with overfilled laundry baskets, in search of the perennially lost sock.
I had no tender feelings for the washing machine. Its noisy yammering reminded me too much of a petulant toddler. Its mouth too wide and hungry, never quite satiated, never quite done.
I wish I could talk of redemption, of how the washing machine, in whichever of its incarnations, inspired me to or reconciled me with or taught me about something. But that would be untruthful. Real life does not offer neat, circular solutions. Instead we stagger off into endless linear distances, petering out in our own boredom.
So the truth is this: despite my best care and Calgon, the washing machine developed clogged arteries and flooded messily at random intervals. I couldn’t really use it much, so it became a repository for magnets and a jar of change. Postcards from places with names that still had the power to provoke the dreaming: Samarkand, Seychelles, Salvador de Bahia.
Now that I seldom use it, I miss it. Its virile force, its clueless humming, the daily bustle. I watch it in its idleness and I wonder where it all went wrong.