Airing out

Submitted into Contest #31 in response to: Write a short story about someone doing laundry.... view prompt



Here we go again. Why are humans so disgusting?

Shirts, socks, skirts. Jeans, jumpers, jackets. Stained and smelly and utterly disgusting. I’ve seen everything. Ketchup, wine, grass, mud, blood, vomit. You name it, I’ve washed it.

It’s endless. The laundry basket is not so much a bottomless pit as an overflowing sewer. They just keep chucking filthy clothes in with the expectation that someone will pop up miraculously to scrub them clean.

That’s me. Hurray. What a great life I have.

I don’t mind so much when it’s kids. They don’t know any better. If I come across tiny shorts with grass stains and dribbles of chocolate sauce I know that some boy or girl was outside having fun. The adorable darlings! There’ll be dried-up smears of sunscreen around the collars of their little shirts. Those stains can be hard to remove, but that’s all right. I can picture the children playing outside. Flying a kite, perhaps. Building a treehouse. Playing five-a-side football in the park. Some of the children are so small they can barely run, let alone kick a ball. It doesn’t matter. There will be laughter rolling around the field. And afterwards, there will be ice cream for both the winners and the losers. It makes me smile to think of the outside world and all the children in it.

Adults, though. Bastards.

Their filthy clothes reveal dirty secrets. A smudge of lipstick in a new colour, that’s an affair. Wine stains and tears, that’s a night out gone wrong. Sweaty armpits on a high-quality shirt, that’s a presentation important only to the presenter because everyone in the audience is either asleep or a bumbling idiot. A splatter of canned soup one week and a splatter of green juice the next, that’s someone telling themselves that they’re getting the hang of this food prepping thing.

Don’t get me started on the socks.

All these types of dirt are just symptoms of the same disease: adults have forgotten how to have fun. And so they lie to themselves. They pretend to love things they don’t need, and in doing so they turn into versions of themselves that they don’t want to be. There’s a whole world out there, but have you ever seen adults jumping in puddles just because they can, or daring each other to flip rocks to see what comes crawling out underneath? No, they argue about who’s the most important and whine about whose life is the roughest. In a way, it reminds me of kids boasting about how strong their dads are. But kids can forget about their petty fights in mere minutes. Adults forget the good and remember the bad. They will explain to you in excruciating detail how everyone less fortunate than them is lazy while those on the highest rungs of society’s ladder had it easy. It’s all there in the stains on their clothes. I don’t really like adults.

I would gladly swap with any of them. I’ll take the mundane office job and the worries about rent if it means I have the chance to leave this place.

I want to feel grass between my toes. I want to see dappled sunlight in a forest. I want to know what the sea smells like. There’s a laundry detergent that I sometimes use that claims to smell of “fresh ocean breeze” but I like to imagine that the real thing is less soapy. And surely, real flowers must smell better than “orange blossom joy” or “lavender dreams”. I miss the days when laundry detergent was just that.

Still, it could be worse. I once spent a decade scrubbing blood stains out of clothes. The owner might have been a butcher or a mass murderer, I never found out. And it wasn’t as though I could have just called the police. When I could finally move to the next place, the relief was overwhelming.

I’ve been with my current family for nearly six years now. In that time, the youngest child has gone from wearing tiny rompers covered in spit to t-shirts with dinosaurs, stained with an eclectic collection of mud and chalk. The eldest child has taken to wearing cute dresses in light colours. I do my very best to scrub the mascara stains out. And the middle child is still getting the hang of sanitary pads. The poor dear is horribly embarrassed about it. Every month I’ll find underwear scrunched into a ball and sometimes entire bedsheets hidden in the middle of the laundry basket. I fish them out and scrub them clean.

The parents of these three are decent enough, for adults. The father has gone down two sizes in as many years. This might have meant less fabric to clean, but unfortunately for me his weight loss was the result of a newfound enthusiasm for cycling and so the laundry basket tends to fill up with sweaty Lycra. The mother likes to paint and sometimes forgets to put on the oversized t-shirt she has for that purpose. At least she usually paints with watercolours. She’s an enthusiastic cook too. Her pumpkin soup is delicious. The kids love it and so do I. No one likes her bouillabaisse but they’re all too polite to say so. She doesn’t like it either, but she thinks her husband does. See what I mean about adults and lying?

They’ve got a laundry room at the back of the house. This is where I spend my time. There’s a modern washing machine with twelve different programmes and a gazillion ways to modify them. It can handle everything from trainers to sleeping bags. But they’re just an average family, so my laundry basket fills up with normal things: jeans, socks, shirts. The parents shower in the morning, the kids in the evening. They’ll come in with their hair dripping, smelling of shampoo, and dump a load of dirty clothes in my basket. And then I get to work.

Sometimes, sometimes I just need to remind them that I am here. So very occasionally, I’ll take something. Never anything big. I wouldn’t take a woollen jumper knitted by a loving grandmother, or a favourite pair of jeans, or the only smart blazer someone has. I’ll take something small and insignificant, like a single sock.

And then I’ll creep out of my hiding place and put my ear to the door and wait until someone notices.

When they do, they always sigh dramatically and mutter to themselves: “That damn monster in the washing machine is at it again!”

March 07, 2020 00:32

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