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Illustration: Dean Regier

"The Gentle Cycle” Reflection by Amanda Smith Regier
Illustration: Dean Regier

When it rains in Aberdeen—and it does most days—the grey of the asphalt melds into the grey granite buildings and oozes right into the grey of the Scottish sky—one giant, gunmetal drop sheet that shrouds the city. Long ago some well-meaning lawmaker mandated that every building be constructed of local stone. Hard as nails, the grey rock never erodes like Edinburgh’s dun-coloured sandstone, and lacks all its weathered charm.

The guidebooks say that on sunny days the mica in the granite shimmers like silver as it reflects the sun. After nearly a year here I cannot attest to this claim, and on this, the eleventh consecutive day of overcast skies, I’m more aware of the shimmering droplets of water falling from my ponytail and running down my back, soaking into my bones.

We live in one of the thousands of granite tenement blocks in this city. Four up, two wide, side by side, the entire length of King Street—one of Aberdeen’s main thoroughfares, north to south, parallel to miles of North Sea sands. We live here—not “here” on King Street, but “here” in this obscure corner of Scotland—because my husband is one of those rare breeds, lucky enough to discover exactly what he was good at, that it was the very thing he loved to do, and that very few others were capable of it as well. The perfect recipe for a successful PhD.

And while his success should be my reward, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m grumpy.

I’m grumpy because there’s dog hair in the vestibule (which I am no longer willing to sweep up, to teach the careless second-floor dog owner a wee lesson. He just hasn’t caught on yet).

I’m grumpy because I haven’t seen the sun in so long, and I’ve just broken my fifth umbrella since we moved here. I will not buy another one—the last was a heavy-duty splurge and even it was no match for the North Sea winds.

I’m grumpy because I worked seven days this week and it’s my one afternoon “off” between pulling espresso shots at the coffee shop on Union Street and teaching media studies at the college up the road. It will be spent marking papers and doing the wash.

But behind the blue door at Unit 2B (actually the third floor, but these crazy Brits complicate everything) our whitewashed, Ikea-fied haven lets me forget the grey, the cold, the wet, the dog hair, the sound of milk steaming, the effort required to understand the blue-collared dialect of the riggers and fishers who keep this port city afloat.

And in spite of the general dark cloud over my head and my city, the flat always smells like heaven on laundry day—once you grow accustomed to the sugary sweet smell of these laundry detergents with non-descriptive names like Persil and Ariel that turn socks and towels into cardboard.

Much like my ambivalence toward my city, laundry day and I have a love-hate relationship. Laundry is the one chore that requires me to sit back and wait for an hour. And fresh flannel sheets in winter? There is no comparison. On the other hand, the spin cycle on this washer sounds like a radial arm saw. The granite foundations and I shudder in unison, knowing no pair of panties will escape unscathed. Here, there’s no such thing as the gentle cycle.

When the flat stops shaking, the real work begins. In this country, we do laundry in the kitchen, officially—the washer lives under the counter. But in reality every room in the house is called to duty on laundry day. It’s all hands on deck. The British compensate for their clothing-abuse by sparing it the cruelty of a dryer.

Instead: crank each radiator individually, room by room; drape every available surface—chair backs, tables, headboards, doors, towel rails, bath ledges, door knobs, curtain rods—with soggy whites and darks. Radiators themselves are reserved for big-ticket items: sheets and towels, strategically tented for optimal heat exposure. The temperature rises, along with the dense humidity, fogging over the windows, and trickling down the walls, frizzing your hair, wheezing in your lungs.

One load down. Two to go. But in the real world outside, the work day is over, and I know this because there is no light left in the sky, only a faint orange glow behind the gothic spires of Marischal College. Pulling back the drapes to see the workers coming home from jobs in the oil companies, civic offices, and hair salons of this forsaken Granite City, I raise my finger to the cold condensation. And in that moment he turns the corner—the best dressed PhD student you’ll ever see, in skinny jeans, pea coat and dapper hat, impervious to the rain and wind and the North Sea chill, so certain of his purpose here.

He looks up and smiles at me through the heart I’ve drawn on the fogged up window. And I colour it in with night sky, concrete and granite.


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