(Hello all friends of Emma. I plan to read the following “story-let” at the Ballard Public Library’s It’s About Time next Thursday evening, Mar. 13. I’ll be in the open-mike queue and have only 3 minutes show time.
You may find more on Emma in Secret Santa Club. In the coming months, Emma Mulberry’s Whole Story (a Neighbors North novel) will be available as an e-book. Neither Sweater-washing Protocol, nor Secret Santa Club, are part of EMWS. Consider them imbued with a faux-Emma flavor.)
One might think Emma was doing something illegal the morning she sets out to wash her prized red cardigan. Knit by Grandma Wahnknecht, the cardigan passed among several cousins until at last falling into Emma’s hands. Of course Emma also has the Navy blue cardigan, but that is part of her school uniform and hardly prized.
Emma goes about the sweater-washing stealthily and quietly. Mouse-like. She closes the bathroom door and considers the soap question. Dial? Ivory? She reaches boldly for the Head and Shoulders, crossing her fingers it won’t tinge the cardigan blue. The sink fills with sudsy lukewarm water. Emma will aim for rinse water of similar temperature. Mom has fortified her with a modicum of sweater-washing know-how. Proper water temperature is paramount. She is in the dark as to why, but that is typical. She is often told to do something a particular way but far less often told why.
She scrubs under the arms; the cuffs and elbows. She rubs Dial to the spot where spaghetti sauce dropped. She can smell the dirt coming free and a sheepy, meadowy smell.
After washing and rinsing, she scoops the sweater into a ball and presses the ball between her palms. Hard. Water streams between her fingers. She is careful not to twist. Twisting may cause the sleeves to lengthen or the body to become elephant-like. Next she rolls the sweater in a bath towel, and squeezes out remaining water.
Rolling the sweater in a second or even third towel would facilitate drying, but strikes indignation in Emma’s heart. Using more than one towel would be wasteful.
She considers where to lay the sweater to dry. Atop the dryer or washing machine would be ideal, but Mom commandeers those spots.
She considers asking, but then Mom will sigh and there will be guilt for further complicating Mom’s day. Or Mom might discover Emma has done the sweater-washing improperly. Maybe she used soap meant for company. Maybe she rolled the sweater in a towel not meant for that. Maybe she left a puddle of water. Or she wiped up the puddle but used the wrong rag or towel.
She lays her sweater on her bed. She fails to notice the arrow of light piercing the gap between the curtains, striking diagonally down the cardigan’s front.
Hours later, she tiptoes into the room and discovers her sweater streaked with pink.
She crawls into the soggy bed, shedding tears. She rolls about, seeking a dry spot. A voice disturbs her rolling. Jesus’? Mary’s? “Overcome the glum. Crying for cardigan dumb,” the voice whispers.
She wipes her eyes and whispers “thank you,” into the dark.