There’s something about clean laundry that makes everything all right with the world. Piled up, clean-smelling; tights waiting to be pulled up a young girl’s leg, t-shirts laying patiently, awaiting ketchup stains and dirt. Suits and skirts are wrapped in plastic dry-cleaning bags, flattened and neat, new looking. Just a snap of the fingers and they will jump, excited to go to work, for long commutes with books loaded onto iPods, lunches, heels. Tomorrow, they will watch longingly at the kid clothes, thrown on with violent fervor and jumps and yells, infused with syrup and happy and ready. Tomorrow they’ll wait, like wiggly puppies, for their turn.
On my first week after losing my job, I’ve turned my focus to the laundry that had begun losing it’s patience with me and climbing out of the basket and up my walls, seeking out my attention. It’s been neglected, but I’m making up for lost time.
The door to my dryer broke months ago, the little latch that holds the door on. It has to be lifted up and slammed into place, and secured with duct tape. Wet clothes push against it, too hot, too crowded, they try to get out. The cycle slows. It stops. I notice the hum of the dryer only in its absence. I investigate.
The dial has inched only a millimeter toward its destination of “very dry.” It seems to prefer dampness. I rip another long strip from the circle of silver tape that now has a home on top of the dryer and apply it to the drawer. I tell the clothes to stay put. That it’s for their own good. I push the button and distract myself with status updates and nonsense. I don’t notice that the dryer has once again slowed to a defiant stop.
Hours later, I wrench open the door, the duct tape clinging, trying to prevent me from seeing what it knows might very well push me over the edge. Wet laundry. Smelly now from sitting in a dryer for an entire day. It will have to be rewashed, but there are clothes in the washing machine already, quietly awaiting their turn. Mildew crouches at the helm, hungry.
I didn’t want to do this. I thought we were past this when we bought our cute suburban home, leaving behind the basement apartments of our twenties. But they have left me no choice. As my work clothes can attest, there is no room in the budget for dryer door fixing. It’s off to the Laundromat, where bad things happen to good clothes, and their mothers.
The Laundromat is no picnic and no country club either. Lined up in rows of cells, stacked neatly for hundreds of square feet, the washers and dryers are menacing and scary. Quarters clink. The detergent is powdery. Children run, men sit despondently and watch their clothes go round. The women wear mismatched sweatpants. Bras are on tables where anyone could see them.
I use a washer that costs $4.50 per use, but fits almost everything I own in it. There are three compartments on top of the washing machine. The directions alert me to something called a “pre-wash cycle.” I put soap in all three and I wait.
We move to the dryer section and I throw 4 quarters in and let them dry for an hour, just to show them who’s boss. Then I leave them. I just walk out, throwing caution to the wind, exposing them to danger, to strangers, to the unknown. There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street, flooding my insides with caffeine and sugar and brown. I go back. I’ve made my point.
Through the glass partition that separates us, I can see the red shirt leaping over the blue jeans, mingling with the purple dress and tights that match. Stripes and solids, cotton and rayon, they mix, they play. They haven’t even noticed that I was gone. They haven’t learned a thing.
We fold to the ceaseless banter of CNN Moneytalk or some such show and I learn against my will that Barney Frank isn’t going to run for reelection due to redistricting and that Black Friday positively affected the Dow Jones Industrial Average but the volatility is still making investors nervous. The big table allows me to sort. A woman smiles at me across the room. She folds feety pajamas too, same size as the ones I hold. If I weren’t in disciplinary mode, I might consider a play date.
We drive back home, all folded neatly in baskets. There is an air of calm, of quiet. I’m still not used to being home in the afternoons, the kids at school, my responsibilities now cut down to the domestic ones. I tuck each shirt lovingly into its drawer and hang the little dresses in closets. My own closet gets a visit, making room for casual attire next to the sharp edges of blazers and trousers, maybe even a priority now.
I think I can forgive them.