The iron of doubt

When I was a kid our yearly pilgrimage to the coast included battles with boredom and my father’s tendency to fall asleep at the wheel (see the story A day apart). But the first twenty or so kilometers presented a test of a different kind. A few minutes into our trip, my mother would speak up.

“I think I might have left the iron on,” she’d say.

“What iron?” my father would ask.

“The iron iron.”

She’d light a cigarette and stare out at the highway ahead and add, “The one for clothes.”

“What did you iron?” my father would ask. “We’re going on holiday for God’s sake!”

“Does it matter?”

My father would grip the wheel and accelerate a little, but my mother would persist.

“I’m not sure,” she’d say a minute later, “but what if I did?”

A few more minutes of this, and my father would snap. “Goddammit!” he’d shout and take an off-ramp so that we could return home and check on the iron.

Over the years, my sister and I learned to check and double-check irons and coffee machines and anything that could burn the house down before we left. Yet, no matter that we had, and no matter that we had never found the iron to be on upon returning, my mother would wait until we were a few minutes away, and then begin to doubt it all. One year it seemed as though we could be spared. We were out of the city and on our way to Johannesburg, farther than we’d ever come without the inevitable question, but then she spoke.

“I think I left the iron on.”

“That’s OK,” my father smiled without even glancing at her.

“What do you mean?”

He accelerated a little and said, “I think I left the bath running.”

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