Usually, no one converses at the Laundromat on Second Street. Robotic in their movements, customers clutch onto coin purses. A ritual begins. Insert Clothes. Add Detergent. Close Door. Wait. Dry. Repeat. Red and white clothes spin into a pink cyclone, keeping the attention span of children at alert; “But, Mother. I don’t want pink socks.” Tension clears with the occasional cough. Buttons from jeans scrape the machines’ insides, a sharp sound. A woman grips her blouse, waterlogged, now navy, by the tag before tossing it at the owner.
“What kind of business is this?” the customer says.
“Is there something wrong with the machine?” the owner says.
“Something wrong? I’m getting marital advice from a washing machine,” she says.
“You put it on the delicate cycle, didn’t you?” he says.
The woman throws her belongings with a huff into the dryer. Delicate, indeed.
Upon hearing the news that the Laundromat proclaimed hidden truths in the personal lives of its customers, many find a reason to not wash their clothes at home. Families in twos and threes approach because they think it will be a good lesson for their children on the importance of growing up. Treat the washer and dryer like a wishing well, so loose change can go toward something useful.
A boy by the age of seven, stained striped shirt in hand, approaches the owner.
“I wrote a message this time,” the boy says. “Do you think it will answer me?”
The owner turns the shirt in his hands, written in crayon on the back of the tag it reads: “Will I go to mars?” Smirking, the owner tosses the shirt into the washer. The boy sits on the back table, legs swinging. When the boy removes the shirt, he pouts.
“What does it say?” the owner says.
“No,” the boy says.
“Put it in the dryer,” the owner says.
A sixty-minute, low-heat cycle reveals a hopeful “Yes.”
Sales of detergent and fabric softener increase as citizens from surrounding towns wait in line at the chance to go to the Laundromat. For some, the truth is too overwhelming; they wash their clothes at home, message free. Others become addicted to knowing their fate; their clothes shrink after too many washes. Puddles of water collect on the ground. Droplets fall from shirtsleeves and inside-out pockets. Colors fade.
When the dryers die the next week, the kids hope their messages from the washer can be fixed, but all that is left is the truth dripping in their fingers. On the back of their tags it reads: “Who are you at the end of the day?”
Katherine O’Hara is an MFA candidate and graduate assistant at UNCW, interning for Beloit Poetry Journal. She’s the poetry editor as well as one of the founding editors of semicolon literary journal. She’s a BFA publishing certificate recipient from UNCW’s Department of Creative Writing. Her work has formerly appeared in the Red Cedar Review. Find her on Twitter @katherineggrace