by Rupan Malakin
I noticed the laundry hanging from my washing line one Friday morning as I took my usual stroll around the grounds. Immediately, I was on my guard, for my cleaning lady did laundry on Tuesdays. Besides, this was not my smattering of jumpers and slacks, but rather a whole family’s attire: jeans and t-shirts, dresses and bras, underwear and socks. A closer examination revealed them worn out, and I imagined a dishevelled, rag-tag bunch. The cleaning lady knew nothing. In the end, I left them there – I didn’t want any trouble – and the following morning, they were gone.
The next Monday I found the washing line filled with the same clothes. I considered removing them, perhaps with a stern note attached to the man’s shirt, but when I questioned my annoyance I found it insubstantial. Yes they were trespassing, but without harm, and as long as their clothes were gone come morning so my own could be hung out, then why should I complain?
This pattern continued for months. I formed quite an attachment to the family hanging their clothes on my line. I imagined them as gypsy folk, huddled around a fire, singing old songs, telling ghost stories. The father, a big man with a penchant for sweating, I called Earnest; the mother was slight and liked to make her own long fleece skirts, and I impressed her with a Celtic name, Rhonwen; the children comprised a boy and girl, aged maybe ten and six respectively, who I called Oeife and Brian. I would examine their clothes and say, young Brian, playing in the mud again, or dear Rhonwen, what a way she has with embroidery!
Soon it struck me that I wanted to put faces to the names. I devised a plan to wait up for them one night, hiding in a back bedroom until they arrived. Perhaps I would go down and meet them. Perhaps Earnest and young Brian – for I was sure it was them sneaking into my grounds – would invite me to sit with them around the fire. I could almost feel the warmth of the flames, almost hear Rhonwen’s Irish lilt as she sang some wonderful old ballad. We would say goodnight to the children, then Earnest and I would settle down with a bottle of homemade whisky and talk about the world, the fracturing of decent society, and the way it makes people so isolated.
I waited until a fresh batch of laundry arrived on my line, and that evening set up camp by the bedroom window, buzzing with excitement, unable to concentrate on the book in my hand or the music on the radio. The hours ticked away, and still the washing hung on the line. My thermos of coffee ran dry. By morning, they had not come.
This turn of events left me bemused, for not once had they failed to remove their clothes. I returned to the bedroom and waited for the whole day.
As dusk spread violet and blue colour across the sky, I struggled to keep my eyes ajar. I made more coffee. I blared Tchaikovsky’s No.4 through the speakers. But it was to no avail, and come three a.m. I slipped to the side and fell asleep, my face pressed to the cold glass.
I woke with a start at dawn. My eyes searched the lawn, the washing line.
The clothes were gone.
I ran downstairs, outside, and scanned the grounds. It was useless. They were nowhere to be seen.
That was over a week ago now, and they have not yet been back, but I know they will. Little Brian is too fond of the rough and tumble, and dear, sweet Oeife is quite the keen painter, a real talent I’m sure, but her pretty tunics are forever stained. Earnest only has one decent shirt, and that’s always in need of a good wash. Rhonwen, the mother that she is, would never see her family without clean, dry clothes. So as another night falls, I prepare a thermos, and take my place by the window.
Rupan Malakin is a short writer of tall stories who spends his spare time cowering from the rainy northern England skies.