'Our Little Ways' by Nettie Thomson


My mother has her own little way of washing dishes. She'd swirl the dish rag around the tap between washing each item of crockery; a cup, a swirl; a plate, a swirl; each fork, knife and spoon was washed in her own idiosyncratic way.
I watched her, fists clenched by my side, nails biting mezzo luna into my palms.
“Do you need any help, Mum?”
“No, dear.” 
Swirl.
“I’m happy.”
Swirl.
“You know I like washing dishes. It keeps me busy.”
Swirl.
I turned and went into the sitting room where I picked up a magazine and flopped down on the sofa, my feet on the coffee table. I could hear the chink and splash of each swirl. I knew coming home wouldn’t be easy, but I hadn’t thought it would be this difficult. I felt suffocated by my mother’s figurines and lace doilies.
What could I do? I couldn’t stay with Iain, not now. I had found a diamond bracelet in the back of the Volvo, a present - I had thought - for my birthday. But my birthday had come and gone with no sparkle - unless you count that from the suds from the dishes I’d had to wash after the dinner I had shopped for and cooked. Iain had been too busy at work to spend time shopping for me, he said, and gave me a voucher inside a card bought from a petrol station. He hadn’t even bothered with a bunch of withered daffs.
The end came soon after.
“Do you want a cuppa, dear?”
“Yes, Mum. That would be lovely.”
I would get my own place eventually, but it would take time. I had no idea when the settlement would come through. The lawyers had been vague, as lawyers often are. I supposed I would have to refind the patience I had run out of in my marriage.
“Feet off the table, dear. Here, I’ve brought you a choccie biscuit too.”
“Sorry, Mum, and thanks.” I continued to flick through the magazine, admiring the grand houses on the pages.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, the lawyer from the insurance company called. Iain’s policy is paying up and the cheque should reach you by the end of the week.”
Mum went back into the kitchen and began her thing with the rag in the sink. I had done my thing with the brakes on the Volvo.
We each have our little ways.

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