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WASHING UP / Tobias Wolff THEY WERE DOING the dishes, his wife washing while he dried. He'd washed the night before. Unlike most men he knew, he really pitched in on the housework. A few months earlier he'd overheard a friend of his wife's congratulate her on having such a considerate husband, and he thought: J try. Helping out with the dishes was a way he had of showing how considerate he was. They talked about different things and somehow got on the subject ofwhetherwhite people should marry black people. He said that all things considered, he thought it was a bad idea. "Why?" she asked. Sometimes his wife got this look where she pinched her brows together and bit her lower lip and stared down at something. When he saw her like this he knew he should keep his mouth shut, but he never did. Actually it made him talk more. She had that look now. "Why?" she asked again, and stood there with her hand inside a bowl, not washing it but just holding it above the water. "Listen," he said, "I went to school with blacks and I've worked with blacks and lived on the same street with blacks and we've always gotten along fine. I don't need you coming along now and implying that Tm a racist." "I didn't imply anything," she said, and began washing the bowl again, turning it around in her hand as though she were shaping it. "I just don't see what's wrong with a white person marrying a black person, that's all." "They don't come from the same culture as we do. Listen to them sometime — they even have their own language. That's okay with me, I like hearing them talk —" (he did; for some reason it always made him feel happy) "—but it's different. A person from their culture and a person from our culture could never really know each other." "Like you know me?" his wife asked. "Yes. Like I know you." "But if they love each other," she said. She was washing faster now, not looking at him. Oh boy, he thought. He said, "Don't take my word for it. Look at the statistics. Most of those marriages break up." "Statistics." She was piling dishes on the drainboard ata terrific rate, just swiping at them with the cloth. Many of them were greasy, and there were flecks of food between the tines of the forks. "All right," she said, "what about foreigners? I suppose you think the 66 ¦ The Missouri Review same thing about two foreigners getting married." "Yes," he said, "as a matter of fact I do. How can you understand someone who comes from a completely different background? A different culture even?" "Different," said his wife. "Not the same, like us." "Yes, different," he snapped, angry with her for resorting to this trick of repeating his words so that they sounded crass, or hypocritical. "These are dirty," he said, and dumped all the silverware back into the sink. The waterhad gone flatand grey. She stared down atit, herlips pressed tightly together, then abruptly plunged her hands under the surface. "Oh!" she cried, and jumped back. She took her right hand by the wrist and held it up. Her thumb was bleeding. "Ann, don't move," he said. "Stay right there." He ran upstairs to the bathroom and rummaged in the medicine chest for alcohol, cotton, and a band-aid. When he came back down she was leaning against the refrigerator with her eyes closed, still holding her hand. He took the hand and dabbed at her thumb with the cotton. The bleeding had stopped. He squeezed it to see how deep the wound was, and a single drop ofblood welled up, tremblingand bright, and fell to the floor. Over the thumb she stared at him accusingly. "It's shallow," he said. "Tomorrow you won't even know it's there." He hoped that she appreciated how quickly he had come to her aid. He acted out of concern for her, with no thought of getting anything in return, but now the thought occurred...


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pp. 66-69
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