2/7/12

The Laundromat
By Eric Suhem


Paulina entered the Laundromat, carrying 2 bags of clothing. She approached the detergent dispensing machine and deposited the necessary coinage. As expected, a little box of detergent appeared in the chute, and she clutched it distractedly, Paulina glanced at the detergent box, and it did not have the letters ‘Tide’ or ‘Biz’, etc. but rather the screaming face of her 8-year old son Billy. She closed her eyes, looked again, and it was gone.

At the elementary school, on a bright, clear, cool Wednesday morning, Billy was walking in perfect little circles (radius of five feet) around the flagpole, and he could not stop. It had drawn him in. At first he had been screaming, but now he just spun around and around with a cold, dull stare. It was a sort of Bermuda Triangle. Old Mike, the janitor, had discovered it early, and was using tools in an attempt to pry him out, but it was of no use.

Thirty years ago, eight-year old Paulina put dishes into the dishwasher faithfully. Every smudge and discoloration would be cleaned, but she looked at her grandfather, who declared with evil glee, “You are so unclean, dirty child!” while dancing in a circle around a makeshift campfire created in the middle of the living room. “You are unclean!” he repeated in a high-pitched indigenous wail, waving berry-stained, smudged towels in haphazard directions. The dishwasher cycle ended, but the dishes didn’t look quite clean, probably best to run the dishwasher again. Paulina would also need to put the towels in the washing machine, after her grandfather finished his tirade.

At the Laundromat, Paulina stared at the back of the detergent box, which had a list of usage instructions: 1. Insert clothes and empty detergent box in the third washer from the left, and set the wash cycle to ‘Soul Cleanse’. 2. Set the next cycle to ‘Spin’. 3. Sit in the fourth orange plastic chair from the right. After accomplishing the first 2 instructions, Paulina moved quickly to the fourth orange plastic chair from the right, but saw that it was occupied by a cantankerous, rutabaga-chewing old man who would not budge. She was eventually able to pry him out of the chair with a small crowbar that she kept in her purse. The old man wandered out the door and down the sidewalk, muttering laundry-related obscenities.

Paulina sat in the orange chair, the detergent box in her hand. As the third washer from the left’s cycles progressed into ‘Soul Cleanse’, and then ‘Spin’, it started slowing. Paulina looked at the detergent box, and saw her son’s face dissolving into that of an old man. She knew that she needed to add more quarters, but could find none, moving towards the doorway and reaching to the sky, hoping that a bird would drop a quarter out of the air. Minutes later, 8-year old Billy was found in the street, babbling about how in his day, they used good old soap to clean clothes, not these new-fangled detergents. And an unpleasant old fellow with a rutabaga-like face stood near the flagpole at the elementary school, wanting to play tetherball.

After rerunning the dishwasher, trying to pacify her bellowing grandfather, eight-year old Paulina opened its door, discovering that their contemporary plates, glasses, silverware and bowls had been converted into crude stone implements from the Pleistocene Era. As Paulina stared at a rock bowl, she wondered if the dishwasher was a time machine that could transfer her back to another epoch: a different time, a different place, as somebody else. She liked believing that the dishwasher had changed her identity, even if it was only in her imagination, as her grandfather screamed.  A subsequent test of the dishwasher proved that it could not do so, but Paulina believed that the results might have been different if she had waited for the ‘Rinse’ cycle.

After more fevered hunting through her purse, Paulina was able to find enough quarters to finish the ‘Spin’ cycle. As the cycle completed, she looked with relief as Billy walked in to the Laundromat, smiling and back to his normal self. The old man had also returned to his natural state, wandering through the street, complaining bitterly about unclean clothes. All was well for now….until laundry day returned again next week.


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Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his vegetable juicer.

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