I placed three coins into the washing machine and pressed start. The familiar hum and turn of the inner drum instilled a sense of comfort at the thought of having thirty-five minutes of uninterrupted reading time in the empty laundromat. In the past month, I only encountered one person at the laundromat, and that was the proprietor: a feeble woman who hardly left the leather recliner in her office. You could hear the mumble of voices and music wander through the cracks of the office door from the television.
Working swing shift is an excellent solution for the seeker of a new world. The daytime is plagued with an overwhelming amount of visible routine: Morning traffic, school buses, barking dogs, evening traffic, soccer moms and mini-vans, runners, bicyclists, children hollering at play. However, when the sun finally folds and makes way for the creep of night, the world appears inverted: Streets grow sparse, dogs resort to the growl, cars parked in garages, buses at the depot and children asleep. The darkness affords a measure of privacy and an element of peace: two notions readily dismissed by day walkers who consider the night a time to sleep or to reflect on past, present, and future anxieties. Midnight is considered limbo, mystery, a source of fear and flight.
For me, nightfall is the shroud required to brace against the unforgiving cruelties of life, the daily 9-5 grind, and every goddamn emotional nuance that keeps my head spinning in all directions wondering which way to hold my gaze before switching to someplace new. It’s the little things, like being able to do the laundry at a public place in private. The old woman was likely napping while I washed my clothes, I never knew for sure.
I sat in the plastic chair and rested my head against the soda machine. The soft vibration of the cooler sent a gentle buzz through my head and my hands slowly brought the paperback to my nose. The pages smelled fresh and full of vigor. E-books were great and all, but they lacked the smell that afforded the world’s most modest rush of dopamine.
Laughter brought my eyes up. The familiar high-pitched sound must’ve belonged to a young girl. What strange hours to keep for a child. I went back to the book, only for a moment, before the laughter brought me to my feet. It was loud and exhaggerated. Almost intentional, fabricated, a mere act. Why did I feel the urge to forget my clothes and run out the door? The machines all switched on and began to stir. The overhead lights flickered and popped, sending down a shower of glass. I fell into a crouch and slowly brushed off my hair.
I could hear the television, too. A man was quickly singing the Alphabet and clapping his hands. The next time through he sang a little faster, and clapped his hands harder. I stood and scanned the dark room. The machines were still roaring, and the glow from the soda machine cast a faint light down the aisle. That’s when I spotted the two blue slippers that tapped against the tile floor. The little feet rapidly tapped in unison.
The washer door flew open and whacked the person in the blue slippers off their feet. I could see the dark form of clothes and water rushing forth and spilling all over the floor. I watched the pool creep towards my shoes and saw that it was crimson. The squeal of flesh against linoleum brought me back into the chair as I tried to steady my shaking legs. I watched a little girl drag herself towards me, leaving a streak of red in her wake. She was laughing into the floor, the gash at her head spewing forth blood and exposing a piece of skull. Her hair and dress were wet as if she just stepped out from a bath.
“Am I clean enough for you?” She said, rising before me.
I gripped the side of the chair until my knuckles popped. She walked closer and I tried kicking her away.
“That hurts,” she said. “Why do you want to hurt me?”
The glow from the soda machine fluttered out, leaving me surrounded by blackness. I kicked and screamed until my muscles were sore and my throat grew raw. I tasted blood and felt my eyes swell from the tears and the sudden, shameful rush of wetness at the crotch. A hand entered my mouth and there was nothing more to say, but I could still her the girl whispering, “Am I clean enough for you?”