Fiction by Tom Lodewyke
Eazy-Clean Laundromat, Sydney, 2015
Steven had never been inside a laundromat before. He hoped he didn’t see anyone he knew. His reflection in the window surprised him as he crossed the street. Where did the one with the shiny smile and the swept back hair go? Now his white polo wore a red moon over the bellybutton where a slice of salami had landed. His large, leonine head was ringed with scrubby beard. Beardy scrub. He looked fat. He wondered if he always had. The past year had certainly featured more snoring and less sex.
The divorce hadn’t shocked him as much as Rachel’s ferocity. Like, after wringing every cent out of him in court, she still had to take the f—ing washing machine? Not that he’d known how to use it. But he would have worked it out. Essentially no different from the microwave, except it made things wet instead of hot. Ever since Rachel left the city, he’d let his dirty clothes fall where they wanted. His Ralph Lauren polos, his Hugo Boss work shirts, the Calvin Klein boxers he’s bought after throwing out the jockeys she got him – he wasn’t some f—ing geriatric – they all lay mournful on the floor of the Coogee apartment they used to share.
Steven checked his phone. Nothing. Sometimes she still texted him when there was no way around it. He craved the loud bling of his message tone. He was careful not to reply straight away, though. Anyway. He rolled his shoulders. He’d been staring at the laundromat window for ages. He pushed open the door and shuffled through with his bag. The place smelled of cheap soap, but not as much like sweat as he’d expected. That annoying cell phone song was playing, lurching along with the ungainly steam train rhythm of the washing machines. Two old ladies with identical blonde perms sat on the bench that ran along the wall opposite the machines. They glanced up from their magazines with a practised minimum of movement.
Steven squashed the clothes into the belly of the nearest machine. That much was easy. Now, how to switch it on? There was a dial with words like COLD RINSE and SPIN CYCLE that made little to no sense. He picked one. But there was no ON button. He tried pushing the dial – nothing. He twirled it all the way round. The old ladies were watching him, he was sure of it. When he saw the coin slot, he made a show of fishing in his pockets, mimed a facepalm and jogged out to the Merc to find some change.
He kept his eyes low as he came back through the door. He thought he could hear the ladies chuckling. He slid the coins in and the machine heaved into motion. One of the old ladies cleared her throat, she definitely did. Steven spun around. The one reading Better Homes and Gardens used the tiniest bob of her head to indicate a blue box on the wall marked SOAP. Steven volleyed back a curt nod. He fed in yet more coins and carried his cup of soap powder over to the machine. There was no hole for it. Wasn’t there meant to be a soap hole?
“Just tip it in, darl,” the Better Homes lady said without looking up.
Steven opened the lid, refusing to acknowledge that he’d heard. He started to pour in the soap but there, poking out between two of his polos, was a corner of red lace. He pulled out Rachel’s favourite lingerie – his favourite too. Memory floored him. He saw that silvery dress slipping off her shoulders. He saw her pressed up against him in the shower, but the vision warped and ran wild and when he looked in the bathroom mirror the face wasn’t his own. She was bending over backwards for someone else. Not just anyone, his beard-grooming golf mate Rick. He’d always been wary of the way she looked at Rick, often falling into a sullen silence when she laughed at one of his stupid jokes.
Steven walked over to one of the driers and flung in the scrap of lace. He punched HIGH under TEMP and crammed a fistful of coins into the slot. He watched the lingerie flop meekly around, thinking it must soon catch fire. That was something that happened at laundromats, wasn’t it? Well if it did, it took longer than he’d thought. He found himself gazing instead at his own face, bloated by the round plexiglass into a grotesque projection of how he’d probably look at fifty. His losses were colliding with each other like a three-car pileup. First Rachel, and because of that, the job, and without the job he’d soon lose the apartment. There were smaller losses too: his friends, his looks, all scattered like broken glass on the shoulder of the road.
Steven left the lingerie in its mindless spin and lowered himself onto the bench next to the two ladies. He let his head conk back against the brick wall. He didn’t need someone else. He didn’t need anybody else. He checked his phone.
© Tom Lodewyke.