As I opened the door and stepped into the laundry room, a voice came from the bedroom.
“Is it time yet?”
“No, but in five minutes it will be. Come on and you can help me fix the blankets.”
The apartment manager’s brochure had called the tiny room leading off the kitchen a laundry room by virtue, I supposed, of its possessing a washer and dryer hookup. I have seen larger walk-in closets, but I cherished each inch of that five and a half by nine foot space. Functionally, it gave us another room.
I ignored the fact that the yellow and white striped wallpaper on two of its walls clashed with the gold and white paisley on its other two. I also ignored the fact that the water heater sat against the back wall, copper tubing meandering out of its top like two oversized chromosomes escaping out of its head. Jutting out of the wall beside the water heater were the red and blue-painted steel spigots for hot and cold water for the washer. Next to the water heater stood my beloved old bookcase; its presence alone would have made that tiny room special. That bookcase was an ancient relick that had long ago outlived its sturdiness but by no means its usefulness.
Only two if the bookcase’s five original shelves remained affixed to its pasteboard interior. The other three stacked behind it bore silent testimony to my lack of carpentry skills. However, I made good use of the top. It held two jewelry boxes Sharon made for me in daycare by gluing elbow macaroni to cigar boxes and spray painting them gold. I treasured those two boxes as much as the bookcase, of course, but for different reasons. The hand-made boxes were mementos of Sharon’s childhood; the bookcase was a memento of my own.
When I was thirteen, I had saved allowance money to buy that bookcase, unassembled and unfinished, from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. When it arrived, I spent the whole of one cool autumn Saturday on the carport, putting it together and antiquing it, all by myself. It had remained in my bedroom for all the years of junior and senior high school, holding my small library of reading books, my school books, and the big red dictionary I used when I began writing and studying seriously, sometime in tenth grade.
That battered old bookcase reminded me I could do things I didn’t know how to do and hadn’t been taught how to do, like assembling and finishing a bookcase, and that I could do them by myself. Besides that, it brought back memories of long winter afternoons and evenings in junior high school when I first discovered there was pleasure in learning.
I came straight home from school and spent hours in my room, doing studying and reading beyond what was required for class. I read about Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theater so that I could understand Much Ado About Nothing, which our class was reading. I even learned to like parts of history and trigonometry.
I discovered the joy of writing about the same time, finding pleasure in using my mind creatively. I read all 712 pages of The Web and the Rock by Thomas Wolfe. And, although only one of Thomas Wolfe’s novels was required for my English lit paper, read the 743 pages of You Can’t Go Home Again late at night, with a blanket stuffed under the door.
Throughout my junior and senior high school years, that bookcase stood next to my desk, holding my big red dictionary, my Complete Works of Shakespeare in Two Volumes, and well-thumbed copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, You Can’t Go Home Again, O Pioneers!, and classic works of other novelists whom I dreamed of someday emulating. As a mere hint of wind transforms an ember into a strong orange flame, just looking at that bookcase made me feel my dreams might just come true someday.
Besides pleasant memories of my childhood, that laundry room held more recent memories, memories forged during times Sharon and I watched movies together, lying on old thick blankets and quilts, snuggled together like two little kids, like tonight.