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  • Writer's pictureGastropoda

Rinse and Repeat by Hilary Ayshford

He'd always meant to learn to use the washing machine in the flat, but the instructions were a foreign language. His lack of domesticity was one reason she said they were incompatible. That, and his poor communication, his reluctance to commit and his inability to take anything seriously. He'd wanted to explain he was scared that colours might run, that precious sweaters might pill, that buttons might go missing.

He'd always thought there was nothing more pathetic than a single bloke in a launderette watching last week's shirts and underpants rotating lazily in the greying water. Until he became one of them.

He likes it here now, enjoys the warmth, the steam, the dampness. It's where he comes to think. He likes identifying individual items among the hypnotic swirl of colours, to pick out the highlights, remember the best times. He likes untangling the dense knot of wet clothing, as impenetrable as his regrets. He likes trying to pinpoint the exact moment when clothes transform from being dirty to being clean, when attraction turns to love, when a relationship becomes habit.

He's learned the perils of the hot wash, how it can make things shrink or fade. He's learned that some stains cannot be entirely removed; a trace will always remain. Even bleach cannot whiten everything, sometimes makes things worse. He's learned that ‘wash by hand’ does not mean washing your hands and walking away.

He wishes he'd understood that things never come out of the machine the same as they went in, that nothing stays the same forever. He wishes he'd known that if you catch things at the right moment, while they are still damp, they can be remodelled, restored to their original shape.

He wishes he'd learned to use the washing machine in the flat.


Hilary Ayshford is a former science journalist and editor based in rural Kent in the UK. She writes mainly micro and flash fiction and short stories and has been nominated for Best Of The Net. She likes her music in a minor key and has a penchant for the darker side of human nature.

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1 Comment

David Lewis
David Lewis
Feb 11

This is a terrific piece, Hilary, that astutely reveals the analogies between washing clothes and starting/maintaining relationships. I'm reminded of a poem by Brecht (which, annoyingly, I can't now find ...).

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