Will and I don’t clean out our garage like normal people.
In fact, I have to draw on my fiction-writing sensibilities to imagine how other people accomplish this task. They clear their schedules maybe, setting aside a few hours on a sunny Saturday morning in which to move, sort and reorder their belongings. While they move objects onto the driveway, neighbors pass by with children in strollers and dogs on leashes. Pleasantries are exchanged. Afterwards these normal, happy people collapse onto the couch with a sense of accomplishment, a cold beer in their hands and a baseball game on TV.
Will and I prefer a different approach: We wait until the washer malfunctions, then wade through ankle-deep water to salvage what’s left.
The washer malfunction is a strange fact of our lives. It is a rather-new, deceptively competent-looking machine. It works like a charm 99% of the time and then every few hundred cycles – once a year or so – something backfires. Since the prime laundry-washing hours for a night owl are between ten p.m. and midnight, we usually discover the flood while we’re winding down for the day. We drop everything else, curse the faulty washer, and begin the task of moving everything to dry ground.
In the seven years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve performed this task six times and therefore have it down to a sort of science. Our garage is too small for either of our vehicles, even Will’s Civic – which is strange, since homes in the ‘40s presumably had larger cars. So instead of accommodating a car, the garage is a repository for our stuff – notes from Will’s seventeen years as a journalist, texts from my eight years of teaching, cleaning and paper supplies, half-empty gallons of paint, random garden tools. The garage is also functions as a limbo for the things we don’t really want anymore, but haven’t absolutely destined for Goodwill – wedding gifts we’ve never actually used, clothes we haven’t worn in a while.
It’s a mostly silent task. Will opens the garage door (a feat I’ve never mastered), most of the water spills out onto the driveway, and we start dumping things on the lawn. By this point our neighbors – sane people, all of them – are asleep, their homes dark. Each time I’ve expected a police cruiser to drive by and idle at the curb, but this has never happened. (There's no trouble, Officer!) Spread out on the lawn, our belongings are a sorry lot. If I had to imagine the people who owned these random things, I would never picture the two of us.
Some things are lost for good, like the bag of cat food and a twelve-pack of toilet paper – things that actually belong on shelves, but through laziness and general apathy end up on the floor of the garage, now weighted with water and rendered completely useless. The real joy is the cat litter, which takes on the mass and consistency of a load of cement. It has to be scraped off the floor, then wrapped in layers of plastic bags. I try not to think about the bodily functions of my cats as the litter oozes between my toes.
The first time it happened, we were emotional wrecks – Will angry at the disruption, me weepy over what we’d lost. By now we take it in stride, which in a way is even worse. We’ve resigned ourselves to the situation; we’ve accepted the possibility that our benign-looking washing machine will one day turn on us. (Annie Dillard, if I recall, had a similar experience with a typewriter that one day exploded, showering her writing table with sparks. After this single incident, it worked fine.) And so, an hour-and-a-half later, the garage is drying, our belongings are reorganized and a shopping list of toiletries is affixed to the refrigerator. Will and I call dibs on the first shower; in what has become our pattern, he lets me take it.
For a week or two afterwards, we’ll watch the machine carefully, opening the garage door for a quick peek to catch it in the act, like a disobedient child. And then, inevitably, we’ll forget. Nah, we think, listening to the whoosh of the rinse and the rumble of the spin cycle. It’ll never happen again.
Paula Treick DeBoard