Laundry Day

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



Shoot, I don’t think I brought enough quarters.


I never bring enough quarters.


The hum of washing machines and dryers accompanied the warm wafts of fabric softener sheets as I dropped my basket of darks. I began to dig in my bag for loose change, but crumpled receipts and forgotten pens whose ink leaked over my fingers were the only items that ran through my hands.


I felt the judging glance of a man sitting on the bench by my machine. In rundown sweats, he’d most likely stripped from his work clothes and thrown on the one outfit he didn’t care to wash minutes before heading to this laundromat. His eyes poked over his smartphone phone as his thumb went on swiping without his attention. The anxiety in his stare only made me investigate deeper into my bag. There had to be random change somewhere in this abyss.


When my search only resulted in half-used Chapstick tubes, I gave up. I began to pull my soggy, clean whites out of the dryer. Maybe I could hang them up in the bathroom at home? With paperclips?

What has my life come to?


Suddenly, a voice said, “Oh, I have some extra, hon.”


The voice belonged to a petite, elderly woman with gray hair frizzing around her forehead. The wrinkles of her face folded into a smile that I somehow recognized. When the kindness in her eyes engulfed me in what felt like my mom giving me a hug, I felt my countenance lighten.


The woman set her large-print crossword book into the rolling basket beside her bench. After scouring through her purse whose black leather frayed at the handles, she got up from her chair and handed me a small Ziplock full of quarters.


“Oh, thank you so much!” I told her, taking the bag, “You’re my hero.”


“It’s no fun folding wet clothes, now is it?” She giggled before she sat back down.


In relief, I tossed my clothes back in the dryer and slid the remainder of coins I needed in my dryer’s slot and started the cycle.


Propping my clean basket of my first load on the edge of my hip, I made my way to the counter of the laundromat to fold. As I passed my good Samaritan, I placed my hand over my heart and said: “Thank you so much again,” I told her. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”


She simply squinted her eyes with a gentle nod and returned to her crossword puzzle. 


I made it to the counter. Grabbing dress pants from the mound of dark clothes, I rested a minute longer in the warmth of kindness I had just received, taking a deep breath.


That woman didn’t know me, she wasn’t getting anything in return for her help, she could’ve just let me reap the consequences of my lack of preparation—ill-smelling socks—but she didn’t.


She saw me.


She interrupted her day to make mine better.


Lining up the edges of the pantleg, I wondered if I would’ve done the same thing in her shoes—if I would even have the wherewithal in such a mundane moment to look up from my phone and notice someone in distress.


I recognized in that moment that rarely do I come out the front door of my internal world long enough to recognize what’s happening in someone else’s.


Would I have stepped in to help if our roles had been switched? I hoped that I would.


I grabbed the next thing on top of my pile of clean clothes and suddenly heard the voice of my mother inside. Her words played like the next track on an album you know by heart: “Grab the corners underneath the armpits, fold the bottom half down and flatten,” the image of her hands in my mind’s eye smoothing the wrinkles of a T-shirt draped over my thoughts.


Suddenly, I’m five-years-old and my mom is teaching me something that I will use for the rest of my life: how to fold my clothes.


She continues in my memory, “Then at the collar, fold half and then half the other way.”


This is the way that her mother taught her and the way my mother’s mother taught her, and I suspect, the way I will teach my daughter someday.


I finished off the folding of my T-shirt. Gently placing it in a pile, I felt the teaching of mothers before me contributing to its completion—this guiding thread of generation running through a task so mundane, but so important.


I began my collection of socks to match later, once I got down to the last of my pile. As luck would have it, I pulled out both of my favorite thick, winter socks at once and balled them up—another fingerprint of my mother and the mothers before me. We don’t fold the socks, but we ball them so they don’t lose each other in the drawer.


Perhaps these fingerprints extend to more than shirts and socks.


In the same way that my sweet hero with the quarters probably taught her daughter how to fold her pants, her tops, her pajamas, I’m sure she also taught her that when you see someone in need of a helping hand, offer them your Ziplock of change.


I thought back to the line of women I had come from—strong-willed, resourceful women. These women whose love looked like hot green bean casseroles on Thursday nights, crocheted scarves for Christmas, and clipped coupons to your favorite froyo shop snail mailed to your college dorm room.


I thought back to the lost dogs my mother stopped our day for, the strangers she befriended in the grocery checkout lanes, and the way she offered whatever help she could to someone who needed it—like quarters to a silly girl who didn’t bring enough.


My mother had eyes to see outside herself to what others needed. I want my daughter to say the same of me one day.


I breathed a fresh breath and grabbed another shirt from my pile to fold.


March 06, 2020 22:45

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