The Unexpected Pillow, Part 1

Fiona finished mopping the kitchen floor, pausing to examine her handiwork. The tiles were old and faded, but gleamed with cleanliness.

Satisifed, she turned to her next task, loading the laundry into the washing machine.

Fiona hesitated. As usual, there was an assortment of clothes filling the basket, but today, on top of the clothes, was a pillow.

Not just the pillow, mind, but the pillow case too, slipped off and folded over on top.

It was so jarring to Fiona that she set the basket down on the counter-top and stared at the offending item.

Fiona knew of course that it was Sora’a pillow. But Sora usually put both of her pillows in the basket once a month, and even than it was at Fiona’s insistence.

This single pillow represented a departure from everything that Fiona knew and was familiar with. It was a minor aberration, but it gave her an unpleasant feeling in the pit of her stomach.

And yet, the pillow was in the laundry basket, so she would have to wash it with the rest of the load. Assuming it would fit, of course.

Fiona snapped out of her contemplation of the pillow and loaded the washing machine. The anxiety that she’d felt started to recede as she found that there was room enough for the pillow and the clothes in the washing machine. Routine began to re-assert itself, as familiar as taking breath.

As she’d done before many times, Fiona filled the powder tray of the machine and pushed it back in. She selected the correct program, turned the machine on and heard the rush of water as it filled up.

There was time now for a short break, so Fiona left the machine, and sat on the sofa in the living room. She felt a bit put off by the pillow, but she was thinking about what it might mean. Perhaps she would no longer have to coax Sora to put things in the laundry basket. Particularly pillows.

But what had brought about such a change? Fiona wondered if there was something she could do to encourage this to keep happening, even if it did mean a little disruption to the routine now and then.

That would of course mean having a conversation with Sora. Preferably with actual words instead of mono-syllabic grunts.

There was something else though, something Fiona was missing. When she realised, she jumped to her feet and ran back into the kitchen.

The washing machine had filled with water, but apart from that, nothing seemed to be happening. Fiona checked the program, tried the on-off toggle, and even turning the programming dial all the way around.

Nothing. The washing machine was silent.

Fiona also tried turning the machine off and back on with the mains switch, to no avail. She was becoming quite agitated, unlike the laundry. But she tried to keep her cool, casting her thoughts in a helpful direction.

She didn’t have the original manual for this machine, but she had the next best thing, a electronic copy of it stored on her phone.

Fiona flicked to the troubleshooting guide and mentally checked off the steps she had already completed. She followed the rest of it, listening as instructed for the sound of the motor turning.

She listened intently, but heard no such thing.

The guide informed her that the likely cause was motor failure and to see the warranty information for details on the manufacturer’s return information and repair services.

Of course, this washing machine was well past the warranty period. So Fiona thought back to the last time there was a problem with the machine. The thermostat failed a few years ago and was replaced by an engineer from a local repair shop.

Fiona didn’t remember which shop, but a quick search jogged her memory. She picked up the phone and dialed the number.

“Hello, Brightmore Repairs, Gillian speaking, how can I help?”

“Uh, hi there. I need someone to come out and look at my washine machine. The motor isn’t turning.”

“Alright then. Can I take your name and address please?” Gillian asked.

Fiona gave her the details, including the make and model of the washing machine.

“I’m not sure if we have motors for that one any more. But I can put an order in for one if the engineer determines that the motor can’t be repaired. Now then, I can send someone out this afternoon, if you’ll be in?”

“Yes, I’ll be in.”

Gillian went on to detail the call out charge and the usual rate for this type of work, and confirm that Fiona wanted to go ahead with the call out.

The charge and the rate were a little steeper than a few years ago, but not so much that Fiona wanted to back out and shop around for a better deal. She told Gillian to go ahead and send the engineer.

After hanging up the phone, Fiona didn’t know what to do. She considered skipping to the next job of the day, but she found herself anxious and rooted to the sofa.

“Who was on the phone?”

Fiona looked up. Sora was standing in the doorway. She seemed disheveled, as though she had scrambled out of bed and dressed in a hurry. Her hair was untidily pulled back into a ponytail.

“I had to call an engineer out to fix the washing machine,” she explained.

“Oh. I’d be lying if I said I was surprised.” Sora sat next to Fiona on the sofa. “So, when are they coming out, and what are they skinning us for this time?”

“Today, actually. As for the cost, it depends on whether the motor is fixable or not. It’s a reasonable per-hour rate though.”

“If you say so,” Sora said with a non-committal shrug.

“Sorry about your pillow, by the way,” Fiona said, glancing at Sora to gauge her reaction.

“Eh, don’t worry about it. I have a spare.”

“It’s just as well you didn’t put both in at the same time.”

“Lucky me.” Sora glanced sideways. “So, what are you going to do while you’re waiting for the engineer?”

“I don’t know,” Fiona said, “I don’t really feel like doing anything, although there’s plenty left to do.”

“Oh.” Sora realised something then. “You were really looking forward to doing the washing, weren’t you?”

“It’s the highlight of my day,” Fiona said, with a tone and a dismissive shrug which tried to downplay the importance.

“It really upsets you that you can’t do that now.”

“Well, so what if it does?” Fiona said, defensively.

“Nothing, I just… I think I’ll go put the kettle on.” Sora got up and turned to the kitchen, but gave Fiona’s shoulder a poke. “What do you take in your tea?”

Fiona blinked and stared up at Sora, wondering whether she’d heard correctly. Sora never offered to make a cup of tea. “Uh, milk, and a spoonful of sweetener.”

Sora cocked an eyebrow. “There’s sweetener? I had no idea.”

“It’s the little plastic jar with the green cap.”

Sora, now in the kitchen, poked her head in the cupboard. “Oh, that one. I thought it was for baking.”

“It’s good for baking too, but mainly it’s for my cup of tea,” Fiona said. She listened as Sora filled the kettle from the tap. “Don’t fill it all the way up,” she said, out of habit more than anything else.

Sora turned the kettle on. The sound of water being heated was subtle at first, then grew in intensity. Meanwhile Sora set two cups on a tray and added sweetener to Fiona’s cup, sugar to her own.

“Shouldn’t be too long.” While the kettle boiled, Sora slouched against the door frame.

“You never usually make tea for anyone else,” Fiona said.

Sora shrugged. “Usually, you don’t look like you really need one.” With the water bubbling away furiously, the kettle clicked off and she straightened, returning to finish preparing the tea.

“It’s not every day that the washing machine just dies.” Fiona watched Sora pouring the water into the cups, wondering if this was a one-time thing or a sign that Sora was changing.

Although Sora didn’t talk about it much with Fiona, she had been depressed for a while. She’d been in treatment for a year now and, despite several follow-ups with her doctor, Sora still seemed lethargic.

Fiona knew that her roomie – technically, flatmate, since Sora had her own room – often slept for stretches of twelve hours, and spent her waking hours looking like she was half-asleep and on auto-pilot.

So she was glad to see Sora carrying two hot cups of tea from the kitchen. It might not be an obvious change to anyone else, but to Fiona it suggested that Sora was on the road to recovery.

“Thanks,” she said, accepting the cup which Sora offered her.

“No problem.” Sora sat down beside her, cradling her own cup of tea in two hands.

“So how are you?” Fiona asked.

Sora grunted. “Could be better. Could be worse.”

Fiona sipped at her tea. It was still hot, but not scalding. The taste was pleasant, neither too sweet or bitter.

Sora didn’t say anything, but obliquely glanced at Fiona, as if making sure that her tea met with Fiona’s approval.

“It’s nice,” Fiona said eventually.

“Oh. Good.” Sora considered Fiona a little longer, taking a few sips from her own cup. “Would you like to do something while you’re waiting on the engineer?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Sora said with a shrug, “hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

Fiona looked around the room. It was tidy, so there was nothing laying around. Well, unless you counted the pair of game controllers neatly arranged on top of the console.

“Shooty game?” Fiona suggested.

“Okay then.”

Fiona set her tea down and hopped up, thumbing the power button and returning lickety split with the two controllers. “For you,” she said, handing Sora one of them.

They sipped some more tea while their game loaded up. Then, as the game started, the remainder of the tea slowly cooled as they concentrated on the action. Occasionally, between rounds, Sora and Fiona would take a gulp.

They had played a half-dozen matches when the sound of a knock at the door interrupted their afternoon gaming session.