Sign me up for all the latest razzmatazz about the Chronicles books and the 1920s and get the novella DESTINATIONS for FREE!!Don't miss out!

Washday Blues

Chapter 22 from Innocence Lost: Book 1 of the Bootleggers' Chronicles

Chapter 22

What with the turn of the century and then the war, it is a time of many advances in America: cars, planes, radios, telephones. Lots of changes, and yet some things are still the same. Monday is still Wash Day and clothes are still scrubbed on a board and wrung out to dry, then pinned on the line. Tuesday is still Ironing Day, with a hot iron from the stove. Wednesday is mending, usually replacing the buttons torn off by the washing machine’s mangle. Thursday means cleaning the upstairs. Baking is done on Fridays. Saturday’s chores are to clean downstairs. The best day of all is Sunday: a day of rest, church, and visiting.

Now that Maggie’s doing the lodgers’ wash, her Mondays are longer than ever. Her investigative responsibilities have to be juggled with her expanded landlady duties.

She bends over the large, galvanized-tin washtub on the back porch, and scrubs Tommy’s shirt on the washboard. There are two more washtubs next to it on a wooden washstand. A hand-wringer, the infamous mangle, is mounted above the wash tubs. Two wooden rollers and a crank squeeze out the excess dirty water before the shirt is rinsed in the second tub. Her mangle often breaks a few buttons, keeping Maggie busy with repairs for her own household as well as for the public laundry downtown.

Like most of the houses in the neighborhood, the windows at the back of Maggie’s house are always steamed on Mondays. Inside the kitchen, a large pot of water is on a slow boil so that the washing water stays hot and the soap is dissolved. Maggie uses a second rinse tub to make sure the harsh Borax soap is rinsed out of the clothes before she hangs them on the line. As the shirt goes through the wringer for the last time, it falls into a wicker laundry basket.

It’s a mild March day, and Maggie puts clothes on the line to dry. Even with it being sunnier, after pinning out the clothes this morning, her fingers are blue from the cold. She picks up one of Tommy’s school shirts and remembers that day she found Alicja crying. She feels a lump in her throat. It seems a lifetime ago.

Next door, Clara hangs her own wash. Maggie hadn’t enjoyed washdays before, but now looks forward to them. It’s her way of staying connected to her neighbors now that she’s not needed over in the Leszek kitchen.

There’s a community conversation going on under the washing lines and over the fences of the houses every Monday.

“So, Joe was telling me about this cop in California who had two houses, a couple of cars, a speedboat, and cash stashed in every bank in town,” Maggie says.

Clara mumbles around the wooden peg in her mouth. “I should have married a cop. I’d get me one of those new washing machines.”

“And sit and eat bonbons on Mondays, while the rest of us work?” Maggie asks with a chuckle.

“Nah. You can come over and use my machine too, Peggy—I mean, Maggie. That new handle of yours will take some getting used to. But whether you’re Peggy or Maggie, I’ll still let you take it for a spin. But it will have to be a Tuesday, because I’ll need it on Mondays.”

“Then when would I do my ironing? Wednesday? Clara, that wouldn’t work. And I suppose mending day would get pushed to Thursday and before you know it my whole week is turned upside down.”

Their laughter is caught by the flapping sheets.

“Yes, but you’d have Mondays free, Maggie. You could eat bonbons with me.”

Fanny appears from around the corner of the house. “I thought I’d find you out here, Missus B.”

“Fanny, how wonderful to see you again,” Maggie says through a mouthful of wooden clothes pins.

Fanny steps around the basket of wet clothes and holds a grease-stained paper bag. “I brought donuts.” She takes a seat on the step.

“Eee- you great gal, you.” Clara shouts from behind a wet sheet being hung on the line. “I hope you brought enough for three.”

“I brought one for Joe, too. You can eat his. Just don’t tell him.”

Fanny sits on the step, enjoying her donut while the two women finish hanging out the wash. The sun shines through the bare branches. The three women gossip about movie stars.

“So, how’s work, Fanny? Fanny works downtown at the Atlantic Refining Company as a telephone operator,” Maggie explains to Clara as she pins more clothes to the line.

“Oohh, very posh. That keeps you in donuts, does it?” Clara asks.

“Not really. I’m always running out of money. Living in the city is so-o-o expensive.” Fanny sighs and takes another bite of her donut. Clara hangs her last item, brushes her hands together, and parks herself on Maggie’s back steps. Fanny offers her Joe’s donut.

Maggie brushes back a stray hair off her face. She grabs a clothespin and jabs it down on the shoulder of Tommy’s wet shirt.

“What have you been doing, Maggie?” Fanny asks. “Joe says you’ve been pretty busy lately.”

“Oh, out and about. You know…” Maggie says. “I’ve been seeing a lot of my friends lately.”

“Ah, is that a little blush there, toots?” asks Fanny.

“A friend called Howard, perhaps?” asks Clara. Fanny and Clara burst into giggles.

Maggie rolls her eyes, grins, and ducks back behind the trousers. If they only knew. Stepping out with Howard is mild compared to my life as a lady detective. Imagine what Mother and the Garden Club would say.

If you haven’t yet read Innocence Lost, the first book of the founding series of the Bootleggers’ Chronicles, the Rum Runners’ Chronicles, and the Moonshiner Mysteries, head on over to the book page and click on your favorite online book retailer. 

Cheers, Sherilyn