Wet Bleach and Forget by Patricia Friedrich

Constance feels an almost irresistible urge to scream when three fingers of her left hand get caught in the top drawer of Victor's bureau. But she doesn't shriek or cry out; instead, she lets one and one only teardrop wet her rosy cheek. It is ten-fifteen on a rainy October morning, and she busies herself with putting away her husband's laundry. She is proud of the way his clothes look - spotless and wrinkle-free. By now, five years into her marriage, her hands permanently smell of bleach, but the result is worth it, she thinks with pride.

She loathes seeing men pricked by crooked collars, shamed by stained lapels, or embarrassed by unpolished hems. Those domestic mishaps compromise a man's dignity and, plainly speaking, make the wives look bad, she ponders. Her Victor, on the other hand, is always perfect; she will not have it otherwise. Everyday she inspects his clothes to make sure no button is coming loose, no elbow is wearing thin, and no hemline is unraveling. That habit has become almost an addiction, but one whose results, she is confident, have helped him ascend fast in his while-collar career.

Today, however, she is skipping the practice. After yesterday's incident, she feels justified. She thought nothing of it when she first heard the cracking noise of paper as she palpated Victor's suit pockets. She almost threw the little note away without looking, but she had done that once before, and her husband had yelled at her for it. This time she unfolded the paper and found Victor's messy handwriting screaming in red ink. The note contained a phone number and the words "new cell" prefacing them.

Constance had a nagging feeling, similar to the kind she got when pure cotton shirts were pressed and proper but not flawless. In those instances, it was necessary to starch them some more, spray them with a little water, and use all the weight of one's body to make sure the rumples went away. She used the side of her hand to iron the note, and she placed it on the table to look at it as if she were considering where to start the job.

She picked up the phone and almost without thinking dialed the numbers that looked at her dispassionately from the note. On the other side of the line, a voice answered immediately and without saying hello: "Calling from your house line? Is the wife not home?" Careful not to gasp, she gently put the receiver back on the hook and, efficiently as always, went to check on the lace curtains, the ones that reminded her of her wedding dress, which were sure to need a little washing.

So today she will not check pockets although she knows she cannot avoid the task forever. Today she will fold socks because socks carry no secrets. She will wash tee-shirts because they have no pockets, and she will bleach and scrub her bed sheets with vigor because they are filthy. And the urge to scream will go away, just like it did when she caught her fingers in the top drawer ofVictor's bureau.


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