Kay walked into the kitchen and through to the utility room, as she did every morning, and looked in disbelief at the pile of ironing on the worktop. “I don’t believe it,” she said to herself, growling with clenched teeth. “What is it, Mum?” asked Kenny, her son, who had just appeared at the door. “Oh, it’s nothing. Actually, it’s very annoying. I agreed with your Dad that as he gets up and potters about for an hour before going to work that he could iron a couple of his shirts each morning and that would ease the housework I have to do. But he doesn’t do it.” Kenny scratched his head: “It doesn’t sound like a big deal to me.” Kay started to respond but stopped, thinking that any kind of long-winded explanation to a fourteen year old boy about ironing shirts was tantamount to discussing Chinese with the cat – pointless. But to Kay it was a growing problem causing frustrations and, sometimes, angry exchanges between her and her husband. Jim did not seem to understand how much a little help would mean to Kay, trying to juggle her role as housewife, whilst doing her part-time job at the bank.
“Look Kay, just chill out about the shirt thing. I don’t have time,” said Jim when he came home from work. Kay exploded. “Chill out, chill out, how dare you say that to me as if I was a skivvy.” Jim got up off the sofa and stormed out of the room, passing Kenny who was sitting on the stairs with his hands cupped under his chin. He hated these arguments, but they had become a nightly ritual of shouting, banging doors, stomping feet and then long stretches of silence as his parents refused to speak to each other.
Kay and Jim still slept in the same bed but more often than not it was with their backs to each other. The love was draining out of their marriage and all because of a few lousy shirts, thought Kay. She spent most nights lying awake, thinking
about how on earth a relationship can be threatened by trivial things. Was she making too much of the ironing thing? Should she back off ? Shouldn’t she just be content with her life? She weighed up the pros and cons. She had to find a way through this silly episode.
One morning, Kay walked downstairs and proceeded to follow her normal kitchen and utility room routine. She stopped in her tracks when she saw two piles of beautifully ironed and folded piles of shirts on the worktop. On one of the piles was a note with an X and a raggedy-drawn smiley face. Kay let out a laugh. She saw what she saw but she couldn’t believe it.
Kay played it cool when Jim came home from work. She didn’t mention the ironed shirts directly but she did give him a lingering hug. “What’s that for?” he asked. “Hugging my husband does not need a reason, does it?” Kay smiled at him. Jim sniffed the air. “Hmmm, shepherd’s pie, my all-time favourite.”
Kay, Jim and Kenny all ate together and the conversation was good with everyone talking and behaving like a very happy family. Kenny looked a little tired, but his Mum put that down to his football activities after school. Kay had the best night’s sleep ever, after thinking about the turning point in what was fast becoming a rough, potentially fatal patch in their marriage. She should have shown more gratitude about the shirts, she thought, but things seemed to be more relaxed and, anyway, Jim hated fuss. She was glad they fell asleep facing each other.
In the days that followed, it was like courting again with flowers, chocolates, meals in nice restaurants, a visit to the cinema, and even shopping together in the same precinct at the same time, with Jim waiting patiently in clothes stores as Kay tried on several outfits. There were more kisses and cuddles than there had been in months. Kay was amazed at the change in their lives. Her colleagues at the bank remarked that she seemed much less drawn and much livelier. Kay explained that she had learned a valuable lesson in the past week, that trivial things can wreck lives, and that life is too short to argue about shirts.
About a week later, Kay woke up to find a single red rose on Jim’s pillow, with a note saying “I love you”. He had left for work as usual but these little tokens of appreciation were becoming a feature of their refreshed marriage. She would find notes on the fridge door, in her underwear drawer and in the latest novel she was reading. Jim was a changed man, and she loved it. She walked into the kitchen and was alerted by noise in the utility room. She went through and saw Kenny folding down the ironing board. Behind him on the worktop were two neat piles of Jim’s shirts. “Oh, Mum,” said a startled Kenny. Kay looked at him, then at the shirts, at the ironing board and then back to Kenny. “What’s going on?” Kenny rested the ironing board against the wall and said: “I was a bit late getting up this morning. I thought I’d have had this lot done before you got up.” Kay’s jaw dropped. “You mean, you’ve been ironing the shirts.” Kenny looked a little sheepish as he nodded. Kay could feel herself getting angry. She had been duped. All this time, she had assumed that Jim had changed his spots and was helping out with the ironing chores. Kenny could see his mother getting upset. “Look Mum, I had to do something to stop you two arguing about stuff like this. It is so upsetting. I even thought about leaving home to get away from it all.” Kay let out a gasp and walked over to hug Kenny. For a few moments they held each other, with Kay saying sorry several times.
When Jim got home from work, Kay had a casserole in the oven, some chilled wine and a bowl of pistachio nuts. “Let’s sit in the conservatory until dinner is ready,” she said. “But before we do, let’s raise a glass to our wonderful son for being, well, our wonderful son.” Jim looked a little perplexed, but clinked his glass against Kay’s and played along with the nice sentiment.
In the conservatory, Jim was working through a handful of nuts as he talked about his day. “By the way,” he said, “not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I did notice that my shirt cuff today was very wrinkled. You must have missed it when you did the ironing.” Kay held an expressionless face and thought that just over a week ago she could have stabbed him for a comment like that but in her more relaxed outlook on life and knowing what she knew about Kenny’s contribution to the improvement in their lives, she muttered “hmmm” and left it at that. No point in getting shirty, she thought.