Too Much Soda

Fiction
Simone Davy


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Photo courtesy Simone Davy

Marilyn was all done up. Her mam said her hair was pinned so high a bird could have landed and she wouldn’t have noticed. Her father didn’t approve of the length of her skirt, but that didn’t bother her; she just hiked it up once she was out of the house.

‘I hate the way we step out of our door straight onto the street. It don’t seem right,’ said Marilyn to her mam.

Marilyn went red looking at that pram her mam was pushing. Everyone could see everything you’d got and everything you hadn’t. Her mam always put their undies in a brown paper bag underneath the towels. Marilyn wished they had enough money to go to the laundrette, but that was three shillings and the wash house was only one. Still, Marilyn could think of one good reason for going, and it had nothing to do with getting your hands wet.

‘Hurry up! Stop dreaming, and look where yer walking! Those heels will get stuck in the cobbles.’

 

There were no men, just a queue of women with prams of washing. They were making a right old ding-dong. Some of the prams had babies and toddlers all mixed up with the washing. The babies sucked black treacle off dummies as though they were greedy sparrows with open mouths. The older women’s backs formed hills as they bent over their loads.

At last the wash house opened up. There he stood with a bunch of keys in his hand, and his tie as wide as the door. He was called Mr Hobbs, and quite a few of the women knew his first name. They flirted with him as they went inside.

‘Mornin’ girls, bit fresh out there, you’ll soon be warm as toast.’

His hair was slightly too long—clean though, and he smelt of soap and soda. Marilyn liked that he wasn’t as dirty and rough as the men who worked in the factories. The lilac colour of his shirt reminded her of the lavender sweets you could buy in the corner shop. He was a salmon, a good catch, and he’d not been hooked yet.

Marilyn didn’t look at him as her mam bought their ticket, but she brushed her arm across the suede of his coat and felt his hand slide beneath the hem of her skirt. That would have to last her until tonight.

It was steaming in there before they’d even started. The women lined up the prams, and then took turns pushing the washing through a hole in the wall. Her mam said it had looked the same for years: rows of big square tubs so deep you could lose your arms in them. The ceiling was a spider’s web of pipes and pumps. Marilyn imagined she was inside a large machine that was just about to collapse and soak her with water.

She put a scarf round her head not wanting her pins coming loose while she was doing the washing. Her mam didn’t wear make-up or do anything special with her hair. It didn’t matter because it was the colour of the sun as it set—everyone admired it. If you didn’t look at her hands you’d say she was beautiful. Her dad was lucky.

‘Here’s yer soap. Careful yer don’t spill it, otherwise we’ll have nowt left for next week.’

The women sang along to the wireless while they worked. It was Marilyn’s favourite in the hit parade, “The Sounds of Silence.” She knew all the words off by heart. She wondered if Mr Hobbs was listening to her; she knew she had a good voice.

‘Look at Arthur’s legs,’ said Iris, holding up her husband’s wide trousers. ‘You could stand ’em up, the mud on ’em. He’ll not be happy if they’re not clean.’

Marilyn laughed. Her mam never showed theirs off and scolded her if she did. She liked everyone to think their sheets were clean.

Marilyn’s best mate, Jo, came and joined them. They were lined up in a row, scrubbing, wringing, and singing.

‘You all right then, bet yer glad it’s Saturday.’ Jo nudged Marilyn’s arm as she raised her eyebrows at Mr Hobbs. ‘Seeing him tonight then? Bet your mam doesn’t know nowt about that.’

‘We’re meeting at The Cock and Crow down Maple Street. He’s tekin’ me to see Alfie.’

‘That’ll be a gud ‘un. Yer be careful, mind. It’s not like when you were seeing that Bob from down the road. He didn’t know his trousers from his shirt. This one will… God, I’m dying for a ciggie. Do you think these socks are white enough?’

‘Mam thinks I’m going to the dance wi’ yer.’

‘Oh, Marilyn, not again… Blimey, this water’s too hot. Look at me arms, they’re red raw like beetroot. I’ll ‘ave to put cream on ’em when I get home, otherwise I’ll have blisters.’

The women carried on washing—bubbles frothing over the edge. It was loud inside just like a proper factory. They had to shout to hear one another. Marilyn kept her eye on Mr Hobbs.

‘I’ll tek’ me lunch then, duck.’ Her mam always went first while Marilyn put the clothes onto the wringers to dry. ‘Best keep an eye on the washing. I don’t want to be seeing Mrs Brown in my best top next week.’

Her mam went off to get her lunch from the pram: cold meat sandwiches and a flask of tea.

‘All right, girls,’ said Mr Hobbs, as he flounced between the rows. ‘Gonna have my lunch for a bit and leave Marilyn in charge.’

The other women looked over at her.

‘Be your turn next week, Jo. You’ll be right in there with Mr Hobbs,’ said Eileen. She raised her skirt as she said it—she liked to stir things up.

‘Well, it won’t be your turn with veins on your legs like that.’

The women roared and whistled.

‘I’m gonna pop out for a bit first,’ whispered Marilyn to Jo.

‘I thought yer were supposed to be in charge not larkin’ about out back.’

‘I’ll think of an excuse, say one of the steamers stopped working. I want to check we’re still on for tonight.’

‘Go on then, if you have to.’

First she went in the lavs, red bag swinging from her shoulder. She put on a bit of lipstick and powder. In the mirror she was surprised at how grown-up she looked; since she’d started working she seemed to have got taller and filled out a bit. She had a quick wee and made sure her skirt was looking nice. She was about to pull the chain when she heard voices out the back. She climbed onto the seat and tried to peer out the window.

Mr Hobbs, Paul, was talking and laughing. It was a dry laugh that sounded as though he’d smoked too much baccy. She almost fell off when she heard her mam’s laugh too. She didn’t laugh much, but there was a ring to it now, like when it was Christmas and she got a new bar of soap the shape of a bird.

Marilyn’s stomach spun and she jumped down quick. Her ankle twisted as she fell and she cried out with the pain of it. It was like that day she’d spotted her brother Reg at it with his girlfriend Brenda. She’d felt sick and had to miss her tea.

Hobbling, she went round the back. Her mam was sitting on the grey stone wall near a patch of cowslip that was growing wild. Her skirt was long, but you could see her legs. Mr Hobbs had pulled her mam’s slip up and was carelessly smoothing the skin like a piece of linen that needed a press. He stood as close to her as he could. Her mam had her face up towards the sky and his lips were all over her neck. It looked like bliss, not like the quick snog Marilyn got in the back of his car on a Saturday night. He was always disappointed that she wouldn’t go any further—she could see why.

It took ages for them to finish. She couldn’t help but stand still and watch until it was over. Her mam had spoilt everything, and her stockings were laddered too. She wanted to go home, take her hair down, pull off her stockings and have a right old sob. But she knew she had to go back to the sodding ironing. She turned away, wiped her eyes and nose with the back of her hand—snot and tears smeared together.

 

‘What’s up with you?’ said Jo.

‘I’ve just seen my mam snogging Mr Hobbs out back.’

‘Blimey, I wouldn’t have reckoned on that. I bet it took him a bit to persuade her.’

‘It was disgusting seeing Mam doing stuff like that.’

Marilyn pulled the washing off the wringers as if she was pulling the hairs out of Mr Hobbs’s head.

‘All right, love?’ said her mam, coming up behind them. ‘I’ll do the ironing and you can do the folding.’

Marilyn said nothing.

They stood together—Marilyn, Jo and her mam—ironing and folding the sheets, shirts, and blouses. Marilyn’s hands were shaking as she did up the buttons and fluffed the skirts. She kept herself busy with her eyes on her work. She wished they’d turn off the bloody radio.

She spotted a glint of gold on her mam’s wrist.

‘What’s that you got there?’ she asked, without looking up.

‘Never you mind that. Here, help me with these creases…’

He’d not given her anything. Annie had got some plastic clip-ons. She’d shown them off to everyone, but no one had got a gold bangle. It couldn’t be real but it looked as good as.

‘Did you hear the council are thinking of closing down our wash house?’ said her mam.

‘Who told you that then?’ asked Marilyn, fidgeting with the buttons on her dad’s shirt.

‘Mr Hobbs. He said they want to build a leisure centre.’

‘Well, I’m glad, then. It needs shutting down.’

Marilyn bet she’d have to take that bangle off, and keep it somewhere safe.

‘I don’t know what we’ll do without it. It’s been here all my life. I reckon we should mek a fuss. Go and dump our washing outside town hall. See what they mek of that.’

‘If men had to do the washing they’d not be closing it down. They’d be building another one with a bar in the middle, so they could sup their ten pints while doing the ironing,’ said Jo.

‘Fancy ham and eggs tonight, duck? Before you go out? Dad got us a nice slice of ham from the butcher yesterday.’

‘No, I’ve gone off ham and eggs.’ She felt sick.

‘Do you want to push the washing home?’

‘Give it ‘ere then. You’ll be tired I shouldn’t wonder after all that washing and stuff.’

‘I’m not past it yet, duck.’

‘I know you’re not,’ Marilyn muttered under her breath.

Mr Hobbs watched the women leave with his hands in his pockets. Marilyn wanted to knock the smirk off his face. She wondered why she’d ever dreamed of ironing his shirts and making his lunch every morning. She slung her red patent bag on top of the clean washing and started pushing it back down the street.

‘What’s up, yer like a whippet on the tracks? Eyes are red too,’ said her mam, catching her up.

‘Tripped and laddered me stockings when I was looking for Mr H out back—if you must know.’

‘Marilyn…’ Her mam’s face turned the same colour as her hair.

Marilyn was glad. ‘Leave it, Mam.’

Her mam was behind her now—not so quick in her step. Marilyn thought about Mr Hobbs waiting for her outside the The Cock and Crow. How good it would be to see him all done up looking at his flash watch and wondering where she was.

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Simone creates imaginative fiction that explores ordinary life events. Her stories have been published in various literary magazines. She is currently working on a novel set in North London suburbia. As well as writing, she also works as a Social Science tutor with the Open University. She blogs at simonedavy.wordpress.com. Email: simonedavy00[at]gmail.com

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