Author’s note: Hello! This is a short story I whipped up to start my blog with. I’ll probably do an introduction post later, but for now you can see the creative side of me. Hope you enjoy it!
It’s Monday afternoon, and even though the hours are slipping into early evening, the sun still scorches the tarmac outside. Children skitter over the hot pavement trying not to burn their feet. Their squeals flutter through the open window and dance upon the curtains, which stir in the breeze. I place another soapy dish on the drying rack with throbbing fingers flushed pink. I smile at a neighbour as she enters her back garden with a laundry basket balanced on her hips like a baby. She puts it down with some effort and reaches for a crumpled shirt, shaking it out like a bullfighter in the ring. As I watch her I realise I can smell the freshly washed laundry, astringent and tarlike. It is the smell of hospitals and an overbearing cleanliness that burns your eyes and reddens your cheeks.
I am taken back to bygone years in that instant, to Mondays of my childhood. Laundry Day. My mother would rise at 6am whilst the rest of us still dozed in our beds. Every mother on the street did the same, every mother all over the country. The old copper water heater was set, and whilst it boiled she’d sort the week’s washing; whites, colours, darks. They soaked in our wooden laundry tub whilst she made us breakfast. The rest of the day was spent alone in our box-room kitchen, scrubbing until her finger were swollen and pink like mine. It is the carbolic soap she used that I can smell now. It would cram itself into every corner of our terraced house. All the women along the street used it. Rows upon rows of laundry dangled between the houses, with women chatting between the folds. The smell filled my walk home and gave me headaches that forced me into bed and darkness to recover. By Tuesday evening they would be dry, and whilst dad sat in his armchair with a pipe in one hand and a newspaper in the other, she would tiptoe into each bedroom with perfect piles of folded clothes.
The smell brings back another memory, of a long-passed Saturday. I had been out playing in the woods by the canal, a few miles from our house. Father always insisted I was home before sundown, but it was a summer’s day much like this one, and it must have been past nine before I made my way home. My sister was then too young to play by the canal, so I picked my way through the thickets and footpaths alone. I was nearing the edge of the woods, running as young children always seem to, when I stumbled on a tree root and fell into a bush of stinging nettles. By the time I reached home my skin had bubbled all up my arms and legs. My mother took one look at me, said nothing, and disappeared into the kitchen. It was too painful to sit down, so I stood unmoving with hot tears dribbling down my cheeks. A few minutes later she came back with the wash tub full of water and a bar of carbolic soap. I was scrubbed from head to toe in the street until I was red and raw all over. She didn’t say anything until she was finished.
“There now, child. You’ll feel better now.” I heard her say through tears. We didn’t have antihistamine or ointments to use then, but the soap seemed to work well enough. It was agony, but the rash went down overnight. I haven’t smelt that soap years. I didn’t even know they made it any more. I haven’t thought about that Saturday for many years, either. It’s funny how so many memories can be triggered by just a smell.