The hard benches of the laundromat rubbed in to the back of my spine. I adjusted my legs and stared at my laundry circling round, and round, and round. An old man sat down next to me and I crossed my legs the other direction and looked over, past him, through him, to inspect him not so obviously. He – already looking at me – reached over and pressed his sun worn hands on top of mine. The door rocked open with the breeze behind me and slammed shut. He was standing in front of me now, with some heightened accessibility that he hadn’t seemed to have before. His knees weren’t rocking, his hair wasn’t as grey, he smiled a little bit. I wondered if I’d seen him truly before or if I’d just made some image of him up in my head. Some background knowledge to prevent myself from having to think of him as a person. Some glitch in my environment. Another man, another filled seat. But now here he was in full detail, and not quite what I had expected.
He held out his hand to me and I reached out and grabbed it. I was never too eager to break my bubble, particularly not for strange men, but he smelled like dish soap and hand knitted blankets. He had a small sticker on his lapel that said “I just gave blood” and so I trusted him, I trusted him instinctually.
I need help, he said.
That seemed logical. It seemed perfectly sane. All the washing machines spun at once. Just once, and then they stopped. Except mine. I could see my jeans twisting about through the sheets and dish towels, grease and grime being whisked away. The door knocked open again with the wind and I jumped – noticing that sand had begun to pour in.
I need help, he said.
He pulled me upwards and started to walk away and I followed. He went to the back of the laundromat and opened a door that I hadn’t seen before. More background knowledge. Things I’d faded out. Places I knew I’d never been and never needed to go. It led to a dark hallway and I reached out to feel his back with my fingertips. My mouth tasted like worn out peppermint gum and I remembered my laundry would be done soon. I looked back as the door moved further and further away and the darkness enveloped me and the stranger.
Another light appeared in front of us, dimmer, but brighter as we went. I lifted my fingers off his back and guided myself towards the opening at the end.
I shrunk my shirt you see, he said. I shrunk my shirt, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to do my laundry, it’s my first time. It’s my first time. She’s been gone so long and I’d been doing it right and I think this was just a mistake. A silly goof. A wrong I need to right. She gave me the shirt and I shrunk the shirt, I don’t know how.
I walked towards the opening, a red door, into a room that just went down. It dropped off into a blue sky, filled with floating clothes. Socks flapped around like seagulls and ties spun like little twisters. I turned around to ask him what I could do – how I could help – where I was – my clothes, my clothes are almost done! I should really go, I thought to say, I was going to say –
But as soon as I turned around I knew it was too late. He’d gained more strength, not an old man at all, and he pushed me off into the empty world of lost clothes.
I fell for awhile, occasionally smacked in the face by a pair of denim shorts, billowing open like a pair of bright blue eyes. I flew downwards with my arms outstretched and found an old beach towel that smelled like Downey, just as soft. I wrapped it around my neck like a cape and soared through the tangled mess.
Just ahead, just a little ways away, I saw one of my dish towels. I doggy paddled through the air, still falling, towards the only familiar piece in the absence of sense. When I touched it, the gravity let out, and I fell. I fell right down, as though the emptiness were a laundry shoot. I collapsed at the bottom in a wicker basket of clean underwear.
I looked up and the man was looking down at me, from so very far up. I’d gone much further than I’d thought.
He laughed once or twice and then slammed the door.