The Towels are Missing

Amie Souza Reilly


The towels are missing from the hooks in the bathroom. The hooks were screwed into the wall near the shower so we could easily reach our towels, but now that they are empty they curl out like fingers, asking for something to hang onto.

The towels are missing from the hooks because my son forgets to hang his once he finishes using it, and then the next day, when he reaches out to his hook and finds nothing, he takes mine, and then his stepdad’s, until there are no towels left to hang because they are balled up in places they shouldn’t be.

I talk to my son about the towels, how he needs to stop leaving them, wet and rumpled, on his bedroom floor, the couch, the bathroom floor, and the closet doorknob. I demand he stop using a new towel each time he showers, remind him that every time he does he creates a pungent mountain of damp laundry for me to discover. That I must then wash, fold, and pile the towels in the linen closet, where they will lay on top of the Q-tip that rolled out of the box years ago, stacked beside the heating pad I use for my menstrual cramps and the rolled-up ace bandage too stretched out to bind pulled muscles.

But while I am talking about soggy towels and unnecessary housekeeping, I’m drafting a letter in my head to the attorney who has stopped responding to my emails even though we are close to finalizing the motion amending the parenting agreement with my ex-husband who is no longer fit to co-parent.

In the letter, I tell her I am disappointed in the way our communication has crumbled, that if it is not mended soon I will need to leave her and find a new lawyer. I tell her that I chose her to represent me because she seemed to understand addiction, to understand addicts, like my ex-husband. I tell her that since she has ghosted me I feel abandoned, cast away. I tell her that when she goes long stretches without acknowledging that I have asked her a question, or that I have followed up, and followed up, and followed up, the silence throbs in my ears like an echo and I wonder whether I am losing my mind. I tell her that when she does finally respond, the breezy ease of her replies makes me question whether I’ve imagined her negligence, worried myself to the bone for nothing. I tell her I feel as if I am teetering on madness.

She might call me hysterical—a sexist, antiquated word used to describe women who reveal emotions. Plato believed hysteria was caused by wandering uteri, and I picture my uterus, remember how it once carried the multiplying cells that grew into my child, protecting him from the outside, which was actually my insides. What a job this must have been for my uterus, guarding, stretching, then letting go, shrinking small again only to return to the job of catching my eggs and sloughing them away, every month, like clockwork. I imagine my uterus, exasperated with the tedium, coming untethered and floating like an inflated pear inside my body, bumping against my vertebrae, not hard enough to puncture, just bruise, then drifting over to my sloshing liver before finding its way up to my heart and nestling into the rhythm.

My floating uterus is not hysterical, it is wandering. Suburban college kids sometimes apply a bumper sticker to their cars that says, “Not all who wander are lost” and I want to ask them who told them wanderers might be lost in the first place. But maybe they don’t mean physically wandering, like a hiker down an ambling path, but mentally wandering, and that I can understand.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to focus. My mind, my eyes, get blurry and I become separate from myself. It happened during the therapy sessions I went to with my ex-husband as we inched toward divorce. My ex-husband said I spent too much time worried he would turn into my father, who died from complications of alcoholism. My ex-husband insisted that he was not an alcoholic. My ex-husband told our therapist my accusations were paranoid delusions.

I did think him an alcoholic, not because of my relationship with my father, but because he was, and still is, a person addicted. When I tried to say that to the therapist, the words got stuck in my throat. I ran from the room into a small bathroom decorated with conch shells and vomited into the sink. I washed my face, swished and spat, then pressed my ear to one of the shells to hear the ocean, enjoying the whoosh despite knowing it was only the way air moves inside ears and conch shells. I kept it pressed there so my right ear could be at the beach while my left ear heard the therapist ask my ex-husband why he did not follow me.

The thing is, I like the smell of the towels my son leaves around the house. It’s earthy, like mushrooms and spring. What I don’t like are the extra cycles of washing, drying, and putting away. And although I like the smell, I know it’s a sign of decay, and if there is beauty in rot, in the bloom of fungus between the roots of dying trees and in the shadowy parts of the woods, it doesn’t belong in our towels. I won’t tell my son this. I will only remind him of the rules, explain the importance of cleanliness, of being considerate. He will look at me, apologize, promise to remember next time. He will hug me, his mop of hair curling under my chin, and something almost imperceptible will bump inside me, the soft wet thud of meat hitting bone, because it was never about the lawyer or the ex-husband or the towels on the floor. It is about the empty hooks.


Amie Souza Reilly is the Feminist Fridays writer at The Adroit Journal. More of her work can be found in Catapult, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Gravel, or at