The Word: Wash

Frances stood by the sink in the small, dilapidated bathroom of the Free Child Nursery school co-operative. It was snack time, and the children lined up to have their hands washed. Sink was written on the wall. Toilet. Door. Of all the jobs she did regularly at Free Child, handwashing was her favorite. She endured Trikes and Bikes–it was better than Art Table (two-to-five year olds armed with glue and scissors was no laughing matter). Swings and Slides had too much potential for disaster. Blue Tables was lost puzzle pieces and fights over the brio trains, and she was afraid of the yellowjackets that often hovered, attracted to the spilled juice…

But Handwashing was sweet. She got a chance to talk to every child for a moment, to touch their squishy arms and busy hands. The children lined up and, one by one, they came in and mounted the wooden step before the basin, held out their hands. She put soap on Missy’s paint specked hands and began to wash. On her arm was a small crescent of marks she hadn’t noticed before. Frances didn’t really give it any attention, until it was Gray’s turn, and he too had the small crescent. Her mind immediately went to that bane of every nursery school–ringworm. Pinkeye, head lice, ringworm, the unholy trinity. But ringworm was round, and this was crescent.

She surreptitiously examined the next child, Hillary. There it was again. “What’s that?” she pointed, trying to sound casual.

“Jimmy bit me,” she said, matter of fact.

Giovanni. “Jimmy bit me.”

Terry. Madison. Hector.

Far down the line, Jimmy, a restless redhead, laughed and jostled the children ahead of him.

When he got to the head, Frances washed his grubby hands, and asked, as neutrally as she could, “Jimmy, why are you biting the other kids?”

The scampish smile. The shrug.

“Why do you do it?”

“I like it,” he said.

“But it hurts the other children,” she said.

The shrug again.

She didn’t know what to say. Frances never had been able to know what to say to someone who hurt other people and didn’t care. Who did what they liked without concern for the pain of others. She looked into this happy little freckled face and saw every man who had ever left her, every future hold-up man and deadbeat dad, conman, slipshod contractor, domestic abuser, sarcastic co-worker, snotty hipster. Suddenly, she wanted to turn him over her knee and paddle him until he wept. Maybe then he would feel what other people felt.

But you didn’t paddle at Free Child. What could she say that might stop the future sociopath, the future heartbreaker? “Would you like it if they bit you?”

The shrug.

She wanted to bite him. Every inch of her wanted to sink her teeth into that soft freckled little arm. And it would feel good. She would like it.

But here was the difference between her and Jimmy. She would like him crying even more than the feel of the flesh in her teeth.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: RIB

8 Responses to “Handwashing”

  1. Priscilla Morais Says:

    This story feels real. Maybe because it goes from sweetness to biting. Not sure why but it has the ring of truth to it.

  2. The word: Wash
    By Barbara Lindstrom

    Fighting with the contractor again over problems in rebuilding my sagging deck and all I want to do is “wash that man right out of my hair, and send him on his way…” Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote those South Pacific lyrics for the character, Nellie Forbush, to sing and dance to on a Hawaiian beach during another war, another lifetime ago. Of course the original Broadway show starred Mary Martin, whose son, Larry Hagman of I Dream of Jeannie fame, had a lovely daughter, I just so happened to attend graduate school with. I remember the conversation with my old school chum as if it were only, yesterday….
    “So your grandmother was actually in the original Broadway show of– Peter Pan? On thee Broadway, as in 42nd street and all that, like I mean, your grandmother was, ah…” I get up and tap dance to the song, Gotta Dance. Further risking loss of the friendship, this fawning drivel went on entirely too long and finally, throwing her hands over her head she admitted she was the granddaughter of the real Mary Martin, the original hair-washer-outer of men. But, I digress. Let’s return to the contractor troll, the culprit of this piece.
    He calls himself the ‘deck doctor’ and promises to fix the worst sagging, rotting deck imaginable. The problem is the squirrel-like way in which he estimates, or rather doesn’t estimate pesky number problems, like adding up this figure here, with that one over there. It’s like contracting ala carte. Where, nothing in the original estimate is covered, or so it turns out. Finally, if you survive to the end of the project, you find yourself arguing with a Houdini reincarnation, as he wriggles and squirms his way out of any previous agreement you’ve tried foolishly to chain him to . “Ah, nope… that was not covered, and the money you are now saving by doing all the power washing and staining yourself, also clean-up and removal of the two story staircase, well now…that’s not covered in all the additional charges, either.”
    About now, Nelli Forbush just added more shampoo to her cute little noggin’ of tightly cropped curls and scrubbed and danced barefoot while the ocean lapped an endless white sandy beach and the man of her dreams literally rides up on horseback to ask what that song is about and if she wants to have dinner with him. Oh, he’s rich, owns half an island, has a deep rich baritone voice, the kind that makes a girl’s knees quiver….anyway, back to, as the deck turns, and the gnome/elf contractor hopelessly lost in never, never land. There is no real solution. No reasonable way around the ridiculous charges, the unmatched this, the missing that, the why the hell did you not use a leveler thing in the first place and why are you calling yourself the deck doctor for God sake?
    Silence follows more of the same. There are no answers. Not for the sane. For those buying looney tunes’ line of reasoning, well sure, write the check for any amount and in your spare time finish the damn deck yourself. If only I could win the lottery, it’s up to 90 some million and someone has to win, eventually. Meanwhile, my deck sucks. It will cost me more ala carte charges to power wash, stain, un-attach, and haul off the rotting stairs and my head hurts and I need a shower on a faraway beach.
    But once upon a time, I knew Mary Martin’s real life granddaughter and I hope this blog finds her doing well and enjoying a deck that is not sagging or in need of endless ala carte repairs. Otherwise, if she’s feeling overly satisfied with life and in need of a challenge, I’ll wash my deck doctor right out of my hair and send him on his way… to Peter Pan’s real life granddaughter. That would make for two greenish elves in serious need of growing up.

  3. Lila’s hair was all spilling out of her bun. She was wearing one of those tank tops she always wore. This one was in a color somewhere between teal and turquoise, but her red bra straps were slipping all over her shoulders.

    She was a beautiful mess all right, one hot catastrophe. She bent down to throw her clothes in the machine and those tight jeans of hers got all tighter and hugged the roundness of her ass. I wanted to…to smooth my hands over, grab her hips…pull her…

    But some guy came out of the Laundromat, asked to bum a cigarette from me and totally blocked the entire window. Jerk. I gave him a cigarette anyway, because that’s just the kind of person I am. I wasn’t about to smoke one with him though. He tried to look down my shirt when I handed him my lighter, so I just kind of “accidently” stepped on his foot and went inside to watch Lila clean her clothes.

    “Meggie!” She squealed my name when she saw me. It was like I was the new “it” girl coming down the red carpet. Like Scarlett Johansson five years ago. “You done destroying your insides babe?”

    I slapped the pack down on a dryer. “Your turn?”

    “Yeah, Matt doesn’t like it when I smoke.”

    “He smokes reds.”

    “He says it makes my breath smell bad. He won’t kiss me if I’ve been smoking.”

    “Then take the whole pack. It’s on me.”

    Her eyes got all shiny. “You would quit if Luke asked you to. I know you would.”

    “Whatever.” Lila was always throwing Luke in my face.

    “I just know you would. You would do anything.”

    “I don’t care. Don’t smoke.”

    She opened her mouth a little like she was going to say something, but then she didn’t. And I pretended like she wasn’t thinking something really mean and I watched her clothes spin around and around in their vicious-fast circles. Her cherry blossom pink blouse caught my eye. It was so precious in there, swirling up with the bolder colors. I was so worried it would get twisted up in there. Lila looked so good in that one, so soft, so just-woken up, so sweet.

    I saw everything in the reflection of that damned machine. The guy who bummed a cigarette from me was back inside talking with his friends, so loud, pointing at us, laughing, and Matt and Luke were outside smoking, bullshitting, and we didn’t even tell them that’s where we were going to be and there were like five other Laundromats in our neighborhood, and Lila’s eyes were getting so heavy, and her hands were getting so shaky, and our guys were telling stories out there and slapping the window for emphasis and I heard some child whimper, “mommy,” and I wanted to open the machine, grab out Lila’s cherry blossom pink blouse, save it, have her put it on.

    If only I could be brave enough to do that…If only I could be brave enough to grab her wrist, bend her back, and kiss her the way I really wanted to…If only I could be just that brave, maybe we could close our eyes and wash away all those men who were never really going to be good to us no matter what. Maybe we could ride on out of that place on a swell of soap bubbles.

  4. stephen Says:

    A bit darker than usual but, interesting. As always, nicely done Ms. Fitch

  5. Nadia Says:

    i love this story! it’s realistic & i know the feeling!!

  6. Maureen Salamon Says:

    Love the site, sign me up!

  7. John Jansen Says:

    Please notify me of new posts via email. Your site is very useful and entertaining, too!

  8. Chelsia Says:

    Sunday mornings always brought a sick, churning feeling to her gut, like any second now all her insides would spill out from her mouth and onto the back of the poor little old lady in the pew in front of her. She tried to focus her mind elsewhere, to keep the nausea down, and distract her mind with anything from the early sunlight shining through the stained glass windows to the patterns in the carpet that seemed to move if she stared long enough. She tried so hard not to look up. To not follow everyone else’s gazes, up to the towering cross behind the podium planted in front of the congregation. Not to look up at Pastor Johnny, standing there with Holy authority, pouring out Divine conviction with a booming voice and conducting a chorus of ‘Amen’’s and ‘Hallelujah’’s.
    But she never could keep her eyes off him.
    It’s not that she felt like a damned sinner, or that she’d set fire the second she stepped into Crabapple First Baptist. She knew there were a lot of things she could have done that were much worse. But she still couldn’t stop the feeling of her intestines twisting up in knots every time she pulled up to the parking lot at 8:45 on Sunday morning in her mother’s van. It always took her a few minutes to get her shit together, to breathe and try to numb her mind a little before walking through those heavy French doors. She told her mom she just needed a second to fix her makeup, or find her bible. Really, she was trying not to toss her breakfast on the dashboard.
    “We are all forgiven, washed in the blood of the lamb!”
    His voice rang out in the church, rang out in her ears, echoed through her brain and panged against her heart. She felt it flutter a little, sometimes skip a beat or pound really hard. Her eyes flitted up from the thin pages of her worn bible, up to his face. It was soft and welcoming, open like a sun was glowing underneath the skin. His eyes were bright and a warm brown, framed by long lashes that curled on their own. The corners of his mouth were always tilted up and a semi-smile, his lips were smooth and a delicious peach color. Just at the sight of them, she remembered what they tasted like, and she licked her own lips.
    Their eyes met and locked for a moment. His big brown eyes, so deep you could fall right into them and feel like you’d never come out. Her stomach coiled, she ripped her face away and back to her bible, she cursed herself for chancing to look up. Now images of his mahogany desk, papers and framed pictures of his adoring wife and children scattered by her intruding body strewn across it, plagued her mind. She couldn’t sit there any more, she felt the walls moving in, felt the room judging her, revealing her. She stood up slowly and crept to the back of the church, and when she was out of everyone’s sight she sprinted for the bathroom. She prayed to God, if he was still listening to her, that Johnny didn’t notice.
    She locked the door behind her, felt an instant relief in that “click” sound. She took a breath, closed her eyes, tried to clear her mind and calm her stomach down. But all she saw was him, sliding his hands up her Sunday dress, knocking everything off his desk, loosening his tie. She ran the sink and dabbed her cheeks with the cool water. It didn’t help.
    She took refuge in the ladies room until the service was over. When she heard the stampede of people spilling out of the sanctuary, only then did she dare come out. After everyone was cleared out and standing around in the parking lot, deciding where to eat lunch and such, and after she told her mom she was going with Mary and her family to eat, she wandered to the half-open door with “Johnny Stone” on it. Her heart beat like a kick drum as she quietly knocked and it swung open a little more, so she could see him sitting at that same desk, now cleaned up and orderly. He looked up, and smiled.
    “Hello, Katie. Come in.”
    She shut the door behind her, smiling when she heard the ‘click’.

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