Runner Up: Sarah Ann Hall
For twenty years Sarah Ann Hall has lived on a boat travelling the UK waterways. She used to be a Psychology researcher, before giving up a proper job to write fiction and recycle redundant antiques into jewellery. In 2001, she wrote the book she needed to get out of her system, which languishes on her hard drive, hopefully never to escape. Since then she has written short stories, some of which have been published in anthologies or short-listed in competitions, and had long breaks from writing while working as a painter and decorator, and then medical records administrator. During the last few years, Sarah Ann has completed a novel about a young woman coming to terms with terminal cancer, for which she is currently seeking agent representation. Along with short stories and long fiction, Sarah Ann enjoys the challenge of flash fiction and is trying to learn the discipline of haiku.
Sarah Ann posts her flashes, and infrequent work-in-progress updates, at https://sarahannhall.wordpress.com/ and tweets weekday haiku at @sarahannhall_
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‘Why can’t we just buy a basic one?’
‘Because they’re too simple. They don’t have the adjustable spin or allow me to change the temperature. And they don’t have a silk programme.’
‘Do we really need a silk programme?’
‘If you, the best man and ushers don’t want to look like screwed up discarded tissues, then yes we do.’
‘But £800? We can’t afford it.’
I was beginning to think it would have been better to postpone the wedding. We’d been doing it on a shoestring as it was, not wanting to go into married life with another debt hanging over us. Student loans and a mortgage were enough for any couple. Danny’s parents and mine had both made contributions to the wedding reception, but the contingency fund had run out when Danny’s American cousins changed their minds and decided to join us after all. We could have asked our parents for more, but how would that look when we were trying to be independent?
‘What if we use Mum’s machine?’ Danny said as he eyed our dead one.
‘Everything has to be drip-dried. It will get creased on the journey to and from your mum’s house.’
‘We could leave the stuff there to dry.’
‘Danny, you parents’ house is small and they fry chips at least once a week. I’m not being mean, but I don’t want my entourage to smell like a chippy.’
I wondered, briefly, if Danny would ever stop running home to his parents at the first sign of adversity.
‘What if we add it to the present list?’ he said.
‘We can’t do that. It’s too much to ask. And it won’t be here in time. We need it before the wedding.’
‘We could use Sally’s machine next door. Then the things wouldn’t get creased.’
I knew he was trying to be helpful. I didn’t want to spend the money either, but I felt his suggestions were beginning to sound desperate.
‘Sally works shifts. It would probably take us all the time between now and the wedding to work out when it would be convenient for me to go in. I’m sorry, Dan. I know you think I’m being extravagant, but we need a new washing machine.’
Having a frugal wedding meant I was wearing my mum’s wedding dress, a simple shift, still fashionable, tweaked with the addition of pearl beads along the neckline and hem. Mum had cleaned the dress after her one wear of it, but after thirty years under plastic in a wardrobe, the ivory linen was in need of a refresh. Our budget allowed for it to be dry-cleaned, but not the bridesmaids’ dresses and waistcoats for all of Danny’s family.
Danny has a big family and they all wanted swanky posh waistcoats. Having known this from the start, I had spent every spare moment in the charity shops in town and collected a selection of waistcoats, all of vanilla hue with curlicues dancing up the front panels. Only if you examined them next to each other could you see they weren’t exactly the same pattern. But at £120 to have the lot cleaned, that was the proverbial straw.
‘I know we can’t afford a new machine right now,’ I said to Danny, ‘and I know we said no more debts, but think of it as an investment. A better quality machine will last longer than a basic one. We will still be using it in ten years. And you never know, people might give us the odd cheque as presents, which we can use to pay for it.’
‘I wanted any money we were given to go towards a honeymoon.’
‘Danny, my love, I don’t want a honeymoon. You know that.’
We had discussed what to do after our wedding, how to celebrate alone when everyone was gone, and had decided on a few days camping. What can I say? I’m not a Maldives or Mauritius sort of girl. But I did want us all to look the part on the day. If only the bridesmaids’ dresses hadn’t been subject to ‘accidental ingress of water’ we might have done a deal on the waistcoat dry-cleaning.
The bridesmaids’ dresses were being made by my best friend, whose teenage son hasn’t quite learnt the knack of switching off taps when running a bath. In truth, my bridesmaids’ dresses were the least of her problems given a quarter of her sitting room ceiling had come down and the insurance company were being a bit slow to compensate for careless adolescent. But water damaged cotton dresses, even with the addition of some plaster and paint dust, were something I could deal with, if I had a decent machine. Why mine had chosen to give up the ghost two weeks before the wedding was just fate being fickle. It was old and had been making rumbling noises for a long time, so when the bearing decided to go pop and fill the drum, and assorted towels, with metal shards, there was nothing to be done.
Danny did suggest getting it repaired.
‘Great idea,’ I said. ‘Do you know where to find a washing machine repairer these days? The same place you find the TV and computer repair people I suppose.’ I think he might have said yes if I hadn’t been so acidic. ‘Look, Danny, just leave it to me. I’ll sort it out.’
‘But there’ll be installation charges on top of what it costs to buy.’
‘Danny, I am perfectly capable of plumbing in a washing machine.’
‘Love, I know you’re Supergirl, but –’
‘If you don’t want me to throw something at you, I suggest you leave now.’
Sometimes I wondered why I was marrying such a chauvinist. After all, who did he think had plumbed in my previous washing machine?
And so, in between last minute panic phone calls about flower arrangements and table plans, I went off to look for a new washing machine. When people offer to help, I know they mean well, but it would have been so much easier if I’d done everything myself. It’s not that I’m a control freak; I just have a good memory. I can remember all the family rifts and affairs so know who has to be kept away from whom. With my nearly sister-in-law taking on the seating plan, I was receiving daily calls to check the tables were compatible. With my cousin asking a friend of a friend to do the flowers, there was a constant stream of emailed photos and questions regarding colour and style, and I wished I’d stuck with my first option of garden flowers. It was June after all, there wasn’t likely to be a shortage of pink roses.
With seating and flowers almost sorted, I took a couple of days off work. My boss understood. After all, who didn’t have last minute wedding issues to sort out? I spent the first day driving to and traipsing around electrical stores until I fell in love all over again. This relationship was definitely going to last. She was pretty and her functionality supreme. I could have any temperature and spin cycle combination I wanted. She had half-loads, quick washes, even allowed for a half-load quick wash. The silk, wool, and delicates programmes were all slightly different. She could even adjust the amount of detergent based on load weight. She was a miracle in waiting.
Once I had chosen her, I needed to find the money to pay for her, and she wasn’t cheap. I spent half the next day wandering between the banks on the high street, and the other half online and on the phone before I found a loan I was prepared to go with. The washing machine was going to be with us a long time, that didn’t mean I wanted to be paying for her for all that long. There had to be a balance between her price and what we would end up paying for her. Once I was happy with that, and without running all options past Danny first, I had my loan and my washing machine was delivered the next day. I went back to work a happy and relieved woman, and then spent the following three evenings washing and ironing waistcoats and dresses. When each piece of clothing was collected by whoever would be wearing it on our special day, it went with firm instructions to be careful and not to eat or drink near it until the following Saturday.
Having experienced a few weeks of changeable weather, we weren’t sure what our day would be like, but I didn’t care. As it was, the sun shone throughout. We laughed and smiled and danced and there wasn’t a bad word said by anyone all day. In the photos, Danny’s chest shines, along with those of the best man, ushers, his dad, uncles and cousins. And the bridesmaids’ cream with maroon trim 50’s-style skirts show not an inkling of the indignities they had suffered so recently. I can look at the photos forever and know I made the right choice, in man and machine.
We did receive some money as presents. We weren’t able to put it towards paying the loan off any quicker, it being a fixed-term thing, and we didn’t put it towards a honeymoon either. We went camping as planned. The weather stayed fine for us, which was lovely, but terrible in another way. The early morning sun meant Danny could see the staining on our well-used and loved tent. He didn’t suggest we use our wedding present money to buy a new one, which I could have understood. No, it was worse than that. Having looked over my new love once we were home, he found the ‘outside care’ function. I know I’m a bit finicky when it comes to clothes and washing regimes, and we will have to compromise on that score, but I never imagined my married life would start by negotiating whether or not a tent should go in a washing machine
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