There was something comforting about handling a machine. The nature of the situation was almost always evident: understand the laws of thermodynamics, the dangers and uses of friction, the chemistry of combustion, and it was possible to handle any problems that might arise. The inexplicable could be explained, the right decision implicit in the conditions. Incorrect decisions were measurable. And if something went wrong, there would be a solution. Or at a least a clear reason for scrapping the heap.

When she couldn’t get back to sleep after Rob had left for work, Morgan sought out machines. She replaced the air filter on the furnace and cleaned the humidifier. She checked the transfer switch to the backup generator. She tossed a load of laundry into the washing machine and listened to its rhythmic churning for a few minutes, staring at Rob’s yellow shirt still hanging over the sink. She sniffed at it, but it hadn’t grown any more scent since Tuesday night. As usual, Rob had done a thorough job.

What had been on the shirt? And why did she care? Why was she so sure Rob was daring her to notice it? It could have been anything—a soil sample, some chemical from the lab. Coffee, which his doctor said he should avoid. Red wine (she’d counted the unopened bottles, though, hadn’t she?). Cigar ash? Lipstick, perfume?

She was straying too far from the world of machines. She pulled the shirt down from its hanger and tossed it in with the rest of the roiling laundry, where it was soon buried in suds. It made her feel better, but not good.

Cheryl Walsh

Cheryl Walsh earned her MFA in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her novel Unequal Temperament won the Buffalo Books Fiction Prize and is forthcoming in 2023 from Buffalo Books and the University Press of Kansas. She has been awarded writing residencies with the Djerassi Resident Artist Program and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and her work has appeared in Short Édition, the anthology Imagination & Place: Cartography, the audio magazine The Drum, and such literary magazines as Confrontation, Cicada, and The MacGuffin, among others. Follow her on Twitter @IrishRoad.

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