The Dryer Demon

A demon lives in our dryer. You'd never guess that it's possessed. It stands a calm pale green by the washing machine, creaking and moaning when asked to perform. The washing machine is also possessed, but somehow I don't mind. If I'm doing laundry and the demon coughs up loose change, I get to keep it.

It's the demon in the dryer that bothers me. He's a hungry demon, liking nothing better than to feast on warm cotton. He won't dine on big things like jeans or T-shirts, perhaps out of fear they might be missed or maybe because he's a light eater, and he won't eat underwear, possibly because even demons have some sense of decency. So he confines his meals to socks, usually the white ones, one or two at a time. For some reason, he doesn't like Dad's black dress socks.

My family tolerates him, but we'd all get along much better if he'd eat an entire pair for his two sock luncheon instead of one here and one there, leaving one of Mom's anklets with the red pompom flopping off the back and one of my white knee highs. Entire pairs of socks are easily replaced, but no one will sell just one sock to match the one the dryer demon ate.

When you're folding laundry, you're never really sure who to blame for the unmatched sock. Children don't always match the socks they wear, don't always get both socks to the hamper, frequently leaving one mateless under the bed or under the couch or under the kitchen stools. So there are socks without matches; do you blame the hungry demon or the careless children? Since no one has ever decided, the strays are bundled together and stuffed into someone's drawer.

This practice, of course, creates havoc when the work of the demon is discovered at 6:10 am seven days later, in the mad morning rush. Friday mornings, by definition, were crazy in my house, everyone longing for the weekend and all somehow convinced that if no one moved and started facing the Friday, we could all wake up again to a Saturday. Unfortunately, it never worked, for someone, usually Mom, would get out of bed, and then Dad would have to face the latest project's current catastrophe at work, and my sister and I would have to brave another day of typical fifth or seventh grade woes.

Once again, I'd spent too long in bed, resulting in the rushed shower, the hurried dressing, the frantic mental inventory, a desperate attempt to remember what was due, what needed to go, and where everything was. With my mind already dashing furiously about the house, I stood before my dresser, glanced at the digital clock accusing me of laziness, heard Dad call me down to breakfast, recalled I didn't have the money to buy lunch, and wrote a mental note to make a sandwich. My bare feet suddenly spoke up, announcing that the floor was cold and the ground outside was going to be worse, so could we get some socks down here?

Since the dresser is older than I and fussy about its drawers, demanding that they be treated with respect and opened just right, you can't hurry when you need the socks inside. As I gently coaxed the drawer open, a solitary sock greeted me. Frantic, I dug in the neighboring boxes only to find I held my last sock, my only sock. I didn't have time for this!

In desperation, I called to my sister, just beginning her daily ritual in the bathroom we share. "Alicia! I'm short a sock; can I look in your drawer?"

"Uh-huh." Her sleep-fogged voice answered my frantic call.

Neither one of us were exactly morning people, especially when bothered with the other's crisis before we'd plugged in our brain. She'd be civil in a few minutes; I would still be more or less asleep for the bus ride to school, even after being up since 5:30. I happened to be more awake than usual today, but only because of my lateness and my cold toes and my need for socks before shoes.

Alicia always had lots of socks, acquiring the strays because I put the laundry away and tucked them in her drawer. I figured I needed the pairs more than she did; after all, I was in junior high, a reluctant member of that world where a moment's inventory of clothes, hair, and make-up decide status. Sure enough, socks burst forth as I tugged open her drawer: purple socks, black socks, yellow socks, baby blue socks, and socks stained a gentle pink after a tumble in the wash with something new and red.

My sister is a wonderful person and I loved her then as best as a jealous older sister could love a hyper, social-butterfly. But she has very little concept of order. This rainbow of socks smiled up at me, all loose, none with a match. The mateless sock I held in my hand might possibly have a partner somewhere in that mish-mash eagerly exploding out of the drawer or might very well be a widow of the dryer demon's appetite. I simply did not have the time to search.

"Could I just borrow a pair?" I pleaded. Alicia had staggered back into her room, fully awake, hair tied in yesterday's gymnastics braids and still tumbling down her back, her face surrounded by a halo of short fuzzies pulled loose in her tempestuous night-time tossing.


"Thanks." I grabbed two white socks from among the tangled mess, shoved her drawer shut, and tumbled downstairs, sliding into my seat at the breakfast table, tossing the socks into the corner to be pulled over my frozen toes as soon as I'd inhaled my cereal.

Events like this regularly interrupted the peaceful pattern of insanity in my house. The dryer demon knew the company of the drinking glass demon, who gleefully smashed the tall glasses someone bought Mom for Christmas, and the chocolate chip demon, who ate all the chocolate chips before anyone could bake cookies. George, a rather all-purpose demon, also lived with us, roaming through the house hiding important things, using the last bar of soap, stealing Alicia's shoes, and causing light bulbs to suddenly spark and die.

Some people might have sought exorcism for the demons, but somehow ours had wormed their way into our lives and become a part of the family. We blamed them for the lost things, the late things, the destroyed things. Accidents, broken dishes, the lack of eggs half-way through baking a cake, the deck furniture left in the rain, the bills that slipped into the trash: the demons caused them all. And although we threw up our hands and cursed our demons as we picked up the glass, fished the silverware out of the garbage disposal, called the neighbors for eggs, and shook the pencil shavings off the AT&T bill, we never wished these invisible family members away. They were our peace keepers.

Feb. 1995