Jo Ngarlaa Allen
I walked along that new bike track. The sun was rising. There were oranges and blues and purples and greys racing across the sky, hiding behind the trees and clouds, and the birds flew in their packs for encouragement.
A guy ran past you, all sweat and muscle and hot air, wearing those fancy running shorts. He had some sort of music player or fitness checker strapped to his bicep with earphones attached. You had been there since three a.m. He didn’t even notice you sparkling in the sun. You were covered in glitter from some rave you’d gone to with your boyfriend. Glitter is hard to get out.
Months ago, I was sitting in the laundromat watching people with bright cheeks and straightened teeth load their sweaters when you walked in. The atmosphere changed and the wind brought in your scent. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t melodious, and when I looked up at your face there wasn’t a chorus in the background with doves floating overhead. I don’t think you had bathed in at least a few days. You made eye contact and gave me the slightest of smiles and politeness dictated that I return it.
You sat beside me.
Two spots opened up and we made our way over to the machines.
I grabbed my own mess of on-sale items I got from the discount warehouse on Halstead Street. I put my clothes in the machine in one heap and inserted the twenty cents for the laundromat’s own powder, paid the four dollars for the wash, and away it went. I glanced at you expecting you to separate your clothes just like everyone else. But you didn’t.
We sat there and watched the clothes tumble around as the drone of the machines created this weird peacefulness. The noise was loud and in your face, both distracting and relaxing, as the rain began to fall outside. It was hard rain. The rain that blocks out the sun and slams down instantly. The kind that is so fast it can’t control where it’s going so it hits everything. Like a drunk driver. Overconfident. Under-skilled. Destructive.
When our clothes were done, we moved them to the dryers.
We were alone. Everyone else had left in their cars or under pathetic bright umbrellas. My knee started shaking. I clutched my hands. You looked out the window and said softly, “It hardly seems worth it.” I didn’t know if you were talking to me or yourself.
“Yeah,” I said. You know, just in case.
You looked back towards me and smiled. It wasn’t a whole-face, open-mouth smile. But a smile nonetheless. I remember it didn’t reach your eyes. No, they were as mundane and grey as the concrete floor.
My clothes finished drying before yours. I grabbed them, huddled them close and made a run for it. You were right, there wasn’t much point really. They were completely drenched again by the time I got down the block and through my door.
The rain had come in through my kitchen window and pooled on the floor. I didn’t bother closing it or cleaning up the water. Its reflective surface reminded me of when I was seventeen. The day the pool boy had drowned at my parents’ house. All flailing limbs and splashes, and fear in his eyes. My father was away that weekend. That always seemed to be when the pool needed the most cleaning. He didn’t seem to question that, or when the coroner ruled it as an accidental drowning. He must have paid him off. He always paid them off.
The next time I saw you I had already put my clothes in the machine and you had to wait. Turned out you ended up taking my machine since we were the only two that didn’t separate their clothes. You smiled at me. More than before.
“Julie,” you said.
“Nice to meet you,” I replied. I didn’t give my name, and you didn’t ask for. Figured I didn’t want to talk about it guess.
I remember my Gran said to me, “Be careful when giving it out to people.” She leant in to me, and poked me in the chest repeatedly. Roughly. I glared at her, and her poking became more insistent. “Once you give it to them,” she continued, “you can’t take it back. It’s theirs forever. Be discreet, and honour the family’s name.”
At the time I was ten and playing with a boy I had just met, his family had moved down the road. She probably figured I had different intentions than most other kids. As right as she was, she was wrong all the same. A few weeks later his face was on milk cartons everywhere. They found him, Tommy, in a water hazard at my parent’s country club.
So there we sat and you were talking. It was mundane at best and my mind wandered to the clothing rolling around in the dryer.
“Wonder why the ‘clunk-clunk’ noises they make are uneven,” I said interrupting you.
You seemed to take no offence to my cutting you off, said “Dunno,” and continued the conversation.
The rain hadn’t yet begun. A joke was made at our poor choice of days to wash. My load finished and was dry and it was time to go. Part of me hesitated to leave. I don’t make friends easily. People either avoided me because of the way I look or because I’m too quiet, and I think it unnerves them. But my hesitation was small and I left just the same. I did say “Goodbye,” though; I’m not that far gone that I don’t understand basic manners.
You came in the next weekend. Your hair was recently cut, your pants looked ironed and your shoes were shiny. You just came from a job interview and were feeling optimistic.
“It’s like we’re laundry buddies,” you said as we waited by our machines.
Buddies. I knew a Buddy once. Buddy Michaels. Her name was actual Bethany, or Bettie maybe. But after an exchange student said it wrong one time the name Buddy stuck; much like her matted blood soaked hair did to her face on prom night. Head wounds bleed a surprising amount, and rubber soles squelch a lot on wet floors. I think her boyfriend, Chad, is up for parole soon. He still maintains his innocence, but the whole town is certain it was him. Well, except my father of course.
You thought things were starting to go your way and were thinking of joining a dating site, “just to see,” you said.
“Just be careful, you never know who is out there,” I mumbled before I took my clothes home.
I didn’t see you for weeks.
Masses of disgusting people would traipse into the laundromat. Their clothes were brighter every day. Their laughter and matched clothing was blinding. I could barely open my eyes when they came in. You weren’t there to make things dull. Darker.
I started doing my loads at night. It was better that way. The night was more... dead. But, even then, the lights were too bright and they hung there mocking me.
Last night you walked in.
“Hey,” you said and ran up to give me an excited hug. I pulled away.
You bounced as you talked emphasising each word with a flick, or lift, or shake of your hands and arms. Occasionally you would wriggle your fingers or eyebrows and giggle like they held some taboo secret we shared. At some point you nudged me. It was too much. You were losing your darkness. I could see it in your straighter, whiter teeth. You told me about the rave he had taken you to. About the dancing. The music. The grinding, the joy, the sex. About how the beat could be felt through the ground, your feet, your legs. Your legs that were becoming milkier as we sat there while you spat this horrid vanilla mint breath in my face.
“I could feel it everywhere,” you said, “Oh my god, and would you believe, at midnight glitter fell from the roof and stuck to me everywhere. Look, see?”
You showed me your hair and your abdomen all covered in speckles of blues and reds and purples and greens and gold. You got up, a smile plastered across your face and put your load on. “Fuck, this is the best night of my life.”
It was sickening.
Your eyes were green.
I sat there staring through you. My jaw clenched. I cracked my neck and began to take deep huffing breaths. Your phone rang. You answered it.
“Me too, baby,” you said after a while, “No, you hang up.”
You giggled and blushed, and I began to suffocate. My eyes closed slowly for a few seconds before flicking open at the bang as you leant back on your machine. My fists clenched; I rested my chin on them. I stared off into the distance, into the past and all the times the colour and the smells became too much. I squinted and glared sideways at you. A small tick formed in the corner my left eye as you texted on your phone.
The grotesque beast I first saw was gone.
I ground my teeth.
Your load finished. You turned around and crouched into the machine. I could hear you scrounging around, and the metallic scraping of your jewellery on the drum.
“Where are my fucking socks?” you said. I glanced around. We were still alone.
I stood, launched and rammed your machine door. My shoulder hit it just right. The force from my speed assisted in the crunches of your delicate frame and neck. I picked up your limp body and easily placed it into the industrial washer. I inserted forty cents for powder and eight, one dollar coins. I guess the larger size should naturally come with a price increase, but double is a bit much.
I watched you tumble over and over and over again. Back and forth. Back and forth. I watched as the soap entered the barrel and the foam began to sparkle.
Just before three a.m. you were finished. You were all wrinkled and soggy. You were hair and fat. You were pale. You were dark. You smelt worse than you ever had.
You were beautiful. I put my clothes in the dryer, picked you up and we went towards the park. When I returned to the laundromat, my clothes weren’t quite done yet.