I was folding a sheet with my mother. We held our arms wide with the sheet stretched flat between us and brought our arms together, left to right. Then we took the folded edge hanging down, brought it up till it was horizontal and shook the sheet.
Pull it tight, she said.
We walked towards each other. She took the sheet from me, folded it again and put it on a pile. She picked up another sheet and said, Take the other end.
We pulled the sheet flat between us, then we brought the edges together so the folded sheet hung down.
She said, I’m leaving your father. I finally decided.
She picked up the bottom of the folded sheet and brought it horizontal.
He’s still carrying on with that woman from work. Pick up the sheet. Don’t just stand there. Says he isn’t, but he is. Have you decided what you're going to do?
I picked up the bottom of the sheet and held it up. The sheet was white, flat, like a highway across the dining room.
Pull it tight, she said, and pulled it.
A corner slipped out of my hand and the sheet hung down, twisted. I grabbed it up, and she pulled and I held on tight. She flipped the folded sheet so a ripple came from her to me. Then she walked towards me and took my end of the sheet, shook it and folded it again and put it on the pile.
Well? she asked, looking at me.
I don’t know.
She took another sheet and I took one end. It was twisted and I had to change it round to make it straight.
You'll have to decide who you want to live with: him or me? Well hold the sheet out. I'm going to stay with your Aunty Betty, till I get on my feet. It's all arranged.
We held the sheet out tight and flat and she walked towards me, took the sheet, folded it, and put it on the pile.
That's all the sheets, she said.
I picked up one of Dad's shirts.
Leave that. Let him do his own ironing. Well, what do you want to do? I won't cook and clean for a man who’s sleeping in someone else's bed. I've packed my stuff. I'll take these sheets; they're what my mother gave us. I don't imagine Betty's got more than enough sheets for herself. Don't just stand there crying girl. Crying never did any good.
When are you going? I asked.
Right now. Your Aunty Betty’s expecting me. It's not what I wanted. When I married your father I hoped it would be for good, but he's broke my heart. I won't put up with it. I don't deserve this. I worked hard for that man. I know he worked hard for me too, and he didn't drink, which was a blessing. But my mother always said once a man cheats on you he'll do it again. I'm just going to pack the sheets then I'm going to ask Mrs. Prendergast if I can borrow her phone to call a taxi. If I don't do it like that I'll have to walk all the way to Betty's which is too far on my bad legs.
She picked up the pile of sheets and looked at me, the sheets held out like an offering.
I'm sorry. I can't think what else to do. If you want to come I'd like you to. But you're old enough now to decide for yourself.
She left and clumped up the stairs. I looked at my dad’s shirts, washed, dry and crumpled. If she didn't want to iron them why had she washed them? Upstairs I heard her clomping around, banging cupboard doors. She came down again, her case bumping on each step. The front door opened and closed.
I heard her footsteps in the hall. She came into the dining room. I'll say goodbye then.
She came over with her arms open. My mother’s embrace always sucked the life from me. Her arms enfolded me, gripping me tight, her wet lips on my cheek. I love you, she said. Always remember that.
She let me go and moved away, stroking my hair and looking at me with her shallow eyes. Bye, take care of yourself. If there's anything you need, you know where I am.
Then she left, plonking down the hall, opening the door again, her case banging as she pulled it down the step. The door closed.
I listened, but there was nothing.
I imagined her pulling her old case down the path and into the street. Looking at the cars and buses, crossing at the crossing and smiling at the drivers.
She would say to Mrs. Prendergast, Hello, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if I could borrow your phone. I need a taxi. And Mrs. Prendergast would ask where she was going and Mum would make up an excuse.
I went to get the ironing board. I had to be careful not to squash my fingers as I unfolded the legs. I ran my hand over the smooth cotton top, padded and soft. I picked up my dad's blue and white striped shirt and stretched it over the board. I picked up the iron, heavy and solid, and spat on its flat surface. It sizzled. The shirt was slightly damp and hissed as I smoothed the iron over it. I propped the iron on its stand and moved the shirt, smoothing it flat like Mum had shown me. Outside it started to rain. I was glad we’d got the washing in.
_________________________________________________________________________________________ Samantha Memi is the author of the short fiction collection, Kate Moss & Other Heroines (Black Scat Books, 2012). Her writing can be found at http://samanthamemi.weebly.com/ _________________________________________________________________________________________