ESCAPING THE LAUNDROMAT

I was told that everything could be interesting if you tried hard enough. My father would tell me that, out in the garage in the summer heat, with a fan running on high, blowing hot air in my face. I was something I never really understood until I was older; when the world started to become something that I could make choices in, rather than follow blindly.

Those are exactly the words that floated through my head as the elevator ticked from floor two to floor three. The white light, which had faded to a dusty yellow over the years, flashed “3” on arrival, and the quick accompanying Ding-ding noted that I should prepare to depart. The doors slid open, slowly, like sludge through a pipe. It was early on the weekend—before most people get up. That’s the best time to go; you’ll be able to find an open washer.

That morning I had gotten up extra early. Work had called me late the night before to ask me to cover a shift, and my uniform was still dirty. Ruined my Saturday, but work was money, and money was tight. So early, that the sun was still coming up when I walked in the door. I loaded my cloths into the washer, put the detergent in, set the water temperature, and hit “start.” Suddenly I had forty minutes to burn. And I had forgotten my book.

So what was I to do, dad? What to do what to do what to do what to—Ding-ding. The elevator clicked open again, and a little old women came out. She hunched over was pushing a square cart full of cloths. She was so ancient, it looked like she was sinking into the ground in front of me. But she shuffled by, wheels squeaking loudly.

And I wondered about her. When was she born? What did she do as a child? The little spiral of a story unwound in my head like an old toy from my childhood. The little girl, walking down an empty street, that slowly filled with the buzz of cars. Her mother was dead, and her father was still out from a night of gambling and drinking, but she—she was fine. Every few steps she broke into a happy skip. Then the scene morphed away, and suddenly I saw a beautiful young woman. Her black hair twisted lightly down her backside. She was walking again, this time with a man at her arm. They were dressed in elaborate outfits that denoted the importance of them, yet for all they had, her eyes held a sense of fear in them.

Again, I watched as her hair was peppered with streaks of grey, and her warm eyes glazed over. A barrel of caramel colored children ran around her ankles, with the same glee she had been filled with not five minutes before. Almost as if they had sucked the life out of her. Of course, it must have been the fifties then. So it would have been just her. Men of such “importance” didn’t stick with black women at that time.

And as my mind found her in the elevator, struggling to push that cart of clothes, I realized my own clothes had finished washing and she was staring back at me, as if to tell me it was my turn to tell my own story. And suddenly, even the Laundromat didn’t seem quite such a boring place.

——

 

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