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Day 169/365: A tall tale. And by that, I only mean that it's long ;)

I lost my Mom when I was fifteen. No, she didn't die... she just... got lost. Perhaps I should start from the beginning?

 

Mom and Dad divorced ten years ago, when I was eleven. Dad moved towns to be closer to his parents--Mamaw and Gramps--who were having troubles of their own. When the divorce happened, Gramps refused to come downstairs in his and Mamaw's house. Mamaw, a stern (yet highly prone to imagination) woman who normally ruled the house with an iron first, made very few concessions for Gramps, and refused to climb the stairs to bring Gramps meals, save one a day. Dad eventually had to move back in with them to make sure Gramps ate regularly.

 

It was one particularly stormy night when it happened.

Mom had driven me and Heather over to Mamaw and Gramps's house for Dad's week with us. We hurried through the rain from the car to the door and into the relative safety of the house. Dad greeted me and Heather with a hug and gave Mom a cursory touch on the shoulder.

"Mamaw's in the living room, why don't you go say hi?" he said.

We headed in, and Mom, too, brushed passed Dad, saying, "I'll just check in on Gramps before I leave."

 

We found Mamaw perched in a recliner in the living room.

“There you are, where on Earth have you been dawdling?" she intoned as soon she saw us. "Come give me some sugar.” Her appearance was regal, with a crown of white hair and her mouth tight in a commanding expression. Wrinkles and sun marks covered her face, but she made no effort to cover them with makeup. In fact, that only makeup she used was a swipe of deep blue eye shadow across her lids, perhaps to draw attention to the fact the she was always watching. Even when she couldn’t see you, she knew what you were up to. Heather walked over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Mamaw hugged her warmly, but instantly withdrew with a frown.

 

"Your hair is damp."

"Yes, Mamaw," Heather replied.

Dad struggled through the door with the luggage he'd retrieved from Mom's car.

"Robert!" Mamaw said, sharply. "Porch. We need to have cigarettes. Girls, go see your Gramps."

 

Heather and I gave each other a quick look. “Having cigarettes” never meant having cigarettes; it meant Mamaw would smoke and talk while Dad listened. It was the same everytime Mom dropped us off. We quickly ran upstairs, but instead of heading to Gramps’s room at the end of the hall, we turned immediately into the bathroom at the top of the stairs. Wrenching open the stiff window we could see the back porch just below us to the left. The rain had softened to a faint drizzle by now, and we could hear the muffled voices outside.

 

“When are you going to get that girl back Robert?” we heard Mamaw asking. Then came the click of a cigarette lighter. “She’s a special one; I don’t understand why you’re letting her get away.”

 

“It’s not that I let her get away, she’s choosing to get away. She won’t make any sacrifices! Mom, this happened years ago, and it happened for a reason. Besides, you know the doctors won’t let me leave you here by yourselves, and Dad won’t leave the upstairs, let alone the house. What am I supposed to do?”

 

Mamaw let out a long breath of smoke. “You’re supposed to do a damn sight more than just stand there. You let her come in and out of this house as though she means nothing more to you than a flipping babysitter. Is that what she is to you? A babysitter?”

 

“Look, I—”

 

Heather stood up and tugged on my shoulder.

"Come on Chelsea, we shouldn't be listening. Let's go find Mom and Gramps."

I nodded numbly and followed her into the hallway. We made our way to Gramps’s room and knocked on the doorframe before walking in.

“Gramps?”

No one answered. In fact, no one was in the room.

“I wonder where they went,” I said. “I didn’t hear them walk past the bathroom. Mom?”

“I heard the dryer start while we were in there. Let’s check the laundry room,” said Heather.

We crossed the hall and turned on the light to the laundry room. Sure enough, the dryer was running. But no one was in there either.

“Mom?” I called again. “Where could she be?”

“Can you hear that?” asked Heather.

I listened to the rumbling of the dryer. Shwishweer. Shwishweer. Shwishweer.

“The dryer? Duh, Heather. Stop fooling around.”

“No!” she cried, “it’s different. Listen to it.” She moved into the room and knelt down in front of the dryer door. I rolled my eyes and crouched beside her.

 

Shwishweer. Shwishweer. Sheeshwineer. Sheeshwineer.

 

“Heather, you’re imagining things. I feel ridiculous.” I started to stand up, but Heather caught my shirt sleeve.

“Listen Chelsea, please!”

Her eyes were wide and slightly watery. I couldn’t imagine how she got so worked up over a stupid dryer, but Heather was always imaginative, and Mamaw encouraged it every time we visited. I knelt once again to appease her. I listened harder.

Shwishweer. Sheehswineer Sheeshwineer. She’s in here. She’s in here. She’s in here.

I stood up with a gasp. Then a hand landed on my shoulder and my breath caught in my throat in panic. I spun around and backed into the wall.

But it was just Gramps.

“Gramps! We were trying to find you and Mom, but you weren’t in your room--” I began.

“Gramps, can you hear it too? Can you hear what the dryer is saying?” interrupted Heather.

 

Gramps grinned manically. “Of course I can. I put her in there.”

 

Heather and I stood in shocked silence at the back of the laundry room. Finally I spoke up.

“What do you mean you put her in there? Who?”

Gramps scowled in a manner that made his jowls quiver. “Your mother. She came up to greet me and immediately began complaining about how Robert can’t take care of himself and how he needs to move back to the city. You know, I’ve been waiting for 4 years for her to ask me for advice about the two of them, but did she? No. So I helped her myself.”

“By killing her? You stuffed her in a dryer!” I reached for the dryer door, but a spasm ran through my hand as I thought of what kind of gruesome scene awaited me inside. I was already so messy from the rain; I didn’t want blood on me too. I shook the thought from my head. How can you think that? This is your mom!

 

“Go ahead and open it,” advised Gramps with a gravelly chuckle. “I think you’ll be surprised.”

I peered up at my grandfather in disgust, but I yanked the door open before I could change my mind. The rumbling whisper ceased immediately. Oddly, no mangled body lay inside the machine. Instead, a long metal slide formed from the cylindrical interior, darkening as it disappeared into the depths of the wall behind the dryer.

 

“Where is she?” Heather asked, lifting her knee to climb into the dryer, and sticking her head into the opening.

“Heather, don’t! I don’t want you to fall in!”

“Never restrain a child’s curiosity, Chelsea,” said Gramps, and he pushed Heather in with the toe of his shoe.

 

“What are you doing? Heather!” I called down the dryer slide after her, but all that remained of her was her fading scream. “Gramps, what are you doing? What’s wrong with our dryer? What’s down there?” I was certain this had to be a dream, but I had never before dreamt such a dizzying head rush or tightened chest from my frantic breathing. I silently pleaded with Gramps to give me some logical answer, something that made sense.

Instead Gramps said simply, “It’s Washington.”

“Washington?” I asked, confused. “Like the state.”

“No,” said Gramps, “this is The Land in the Dryer. Washington. You probably want to follow Heather now. I expect you want your mother back.” With that, Gramps turned around and left the laundry room, pulling the door shut behind him.

 

I stared at the dryer and the machine gaped silently back at me. The whole thing made no sense. A hole in the back of the dryer and some strange land at the bottom? I had entertained the idea that my grandfather was playing some cruel, insane trick on me before I had seen Heather disappear before my very eyes. I didn’t think my dad or Mamaw would believe me if I told them what had happened. After all, wasn’t I supposed to be the reasonable child? And I hardly expected Gramps to go in and get Heather back. The man didn’t leave the upstairs of the house; had he ever ventured into the dryer?

I snorted. “Has he ever been in the dryer? Now you’re really losing it Chelsea.”

With that, I climbed into the dryer and vaulted myself down the metal slide.

 

Rescue workers pulled me out three days later, and Heather an hour after that. They proceeded to fly us to Boston where we were treated for lint inhalation.

 

We never found Mom.

   

For Flickr Group Roulette and the Bullshit group. This was originally something I started writing for NaNoWriMo last November. You may not take it, quirk it, improve it, niet, zilch, nuttin' honey. :)

 

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EXPLORE #48

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Taken on June 19, 2008