The Potomac — Poetry and Politics - Pamela Painter
Winter 2009 - THE POTOMAC

   Pamela Painter

Jessie’s Mom is folding laundry in the kitchen. Her wheelchair swivels back and forth between heaps of laundry on the table and piles of folded clothes. She’s always saying she might be in a wheelchair but there's still work to get done. She dumps out one basket at a time. Darks first.

Jessie drinks her coffee sitting on the bench by the back door. Her chair's stacked high with pink uniforms from Lorena's Beauty Shop where she washes hair before Lorene takes over for the cut. Her Mom's chair holds housecoats which she favors. Dad's his work clothes. This morning Jessie stayed behind to tell her mom about her Dad. Here’s how Jessie puts it: she tells her mom that it's hard to sleep even when he doesn't come into her room at night.

Her mom keeps on folding clothes. Now whites and lights. She smooths and slaps and folds. She's best with towels. She folds towels in half and then in thirds, then piles them up fold out. Sheets and towels are solid walls on two more chairs. Sheets are harder to manage. Stripping them from beds, making bundles, then seeing them through the ringer.

"I'll hold an end," Jessie says, leaning to catch a corner of her twin flat. But her mother yanks it away saying it's the least she can do.

Well, Jessie says and then she tells her mom that it's harder to sleep after her Dad does come into her room.

She waits as her Mom folds twin fitted. Double fitted. Double flat.

Done with sheets, her mother starts on the last basket--all socks. One by one, she pairs them off. Sure enough, when she reaches bottom there's two don't make a pair. She holds the socks up for Jessie to see, then she ties them together anyway. It's always a mystery she says. Rolling away from the table of clean clothes, she says, OK tomorrow, Jess. Tomorrow you can practice that home perm you been wanting to do on me. Get me all gussied up.

Jessie is late for work. She washes her cup and hangs it on a hook. Her Mom stops piling towels on her lap when Jessie puts her hands on her mom’s shoulders and tells her she’ll pay Lorene for the perm curlers and solution first thing so she don't forget. "You'll see," Jessie says.

Her Mom pats her hands. "Go on now," she says.

Two baskets of laundry have turned into piles of clean clothes. While Jessie is gone her Mom will wheel from room to room and put it all away.


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