Another short story I am thinking about working up for possible publication.Comments and constructive criticism needed and welcome!Thanks! The LaundryBy Erin M. Hoagland
She walked up to the Laundromat door just as I turned the key in thelock. She held a periwinkle blue laundry basket on her hip and ithad seen better days. One of the handles had broken off and therewas a gash in the side where a pair of jeans was trying to escape, adenim dolphin from a plastic play net.
"Oh," she said, looking beyond the glass doorway into the darkenedcoin laundry. "It closes?" She looked back at me with weary, stormyeyes. "Someone told me this one didn't close."
I started to shrug then stopped myself, taking a closer look at theyoung woman. Her dirty blond hair was pulled into a ponytail behindher head, tendrils too short for the band curling around her face.She had large, worried eyes outlined in thick, black eyeliner toodark for her complexion and full, red lips, lightly glossed.
A choker of wooden beads on some string lightly garroted her creamythroat, leaving tiny bite marks that were revealed only when sheturned her head. She wore a tight, black T-shirt with garish orangesequins spelling out TIGER LILY.
Well, mostly. The T-shirt had seen better days, too.
Closer inspection showed me that her jeans were within a washing ortwo of falling off her hips and she was barefoot with two toe rings,one on each foot. An olive green satchel worn across her body washer only other possession. It had patches sewn onto it from wars shewasn't old enough to remember and places she had never been.
"They changed the hours," I said. "New signs go up tomorrow, Ithink."
"Oh." Disappointment was a shadow that followed this young womanclosely and it touched her face now with a dusky hand. She suddenlylooked gaunt and worn. I wondered when she had eaten last.
"Come on," I said, pocketing the Laundromat keys. "I live two blocksover and I have my own washer and dryer." When she looked at mequizzically, I answered her unspoken question. "Having my own ischeaper. Eaker doesn't give discounts to employees." I pointed tothe sign above the door. EAKER'S WASH AND DRY.
She followed my finger then looked back at me, not sure I was reallyoffering her what I seemed to be. Or not sure if there were stringsattached.
Runaway, I thought. Or throwaway.
She clung to the street like a safety blanket.
"Look, you don't have to if you don't want to. I have a washer anddryer; you have dirty clothes. I have a place two blocks away; youare barefoot at midnight. And it's March. Seems like taking me upon the offer couldn't hurt."
She contemplated her options for a moment. Or tallied up her lack ofthem. "Okay," she said, finally.
"Okay," I replied, grinning. She returned it shyly, following me asI led her down the darkened street. Her smile was gone by the time Iunlocked the door to my basement apartment.
She hovered in the doorway. I pushed past her and turned on the onesmall lamp in my living room. A pool of greasy yellow light appearedon the ceiling and the floor. Shadows rose grotesquely on thecracked plaster walls. I did a little turn in the center of theroom.
"Nothing here but us chickens," I said, grinning again. She smiledand came into the apartment, shutting the door behind her.
I took the basket of clothes from her and headed to the little alcovebehind the kitchen into which I had crammed my washer and dryer. Irummaged on the shelf above for an unopened box of laundry soap. Iwatched her watch me open a tiny box of Tide, a fringe benefit frommy job.
"Thanks for—" she started but I hurried to talk over her, not feelingparticularly worthy of thanks at the moment.
"You want to take a shower or something? Before I put the laundryin? You'll actually get some hot water then." Fear leapt back intoher eyes and she clutched her satchel in front of her like a shield.
"Look, I'm not some psycho ax-murderer or anything. I was going tomake an omelet and watch some TV. You're safe with me, honest. I'mthe most boring person I know."
She laughed, a sound like sunlight across windchimes.
"Sure," she said. "If it's not too much trouble."
I settled her in the bathroom with an old T-shirt of mine and a pairof green plaid boxers left behind by an ex. I dug through my hamperfor the best towel I owned and folded it, laying it Sheraton-sidedown on the counter by the sink.
"Take as long as you want. The water heater's good in this building."
I pulled the bathroom door shut as best I could when I left. It wasa stupid door and hadn't shut properly since the day I'd moved intothe place. I was strangely embarrassed by its failure.
I sorted her clothes into two piles, realizing that I would have tomix some of my whites in with hers to make a full load. I turned onthe stereo as I passed it, heading for the bedroom. Something lowand throbbing came out of the speakers as I snatched up the fewdiscarded items that would round out the load of whites. I adjustedthe music's volume lower in deference to the people in 1B above me,thinking they wouldn't appreciate being woken up by the solidbloodbeat of jungle drums in the middle of the night. Even if it wasa Saturday.
I returned to the kitchen—all of five feet in the opposite direction—and pulled out the cast-iron skillet Jess had left with me when she'dmoved out. My friends believed she'd left it by accident but I knewshe was just that much of a culinary Nazi. It was her way ofpointing at me and sneering even after she'd gone.
I turned on the gas burner, settled the skillet over the heat andadded two thick squares of butter, watching them slide downhill withthe uneven substructure of the building. I sighed. Nothing in myworld was level.
I had intended to make omelets, something I am normally quite good atmaking, but the wet slap of water against the bottom of the tub mixedwith the rain sounds of the shower reminded me that I was aloneagain. Distracted by thoughts of my last lover's smiling faceemerging freshly scrubbed from the bathroom on Sunday mornings lastyear, I ended up with six scrambled eggs mixed with cheese and fakebacon bits.
The sticky squeak of the bathroom door opening alerted me that myguest was done in the shower and she caught me just as I was stirringchocolate sauce into a glass of milk for her. She held the clothesshe'd been wearing in a little ball in front of her. The T-shirt andboxers I'd given her were too big for her but they looked cute, in away. She'd pulled her wet hair under a blue bandanna and the chokerwas still present. I wondered if she ever took it off.
"Hungry?" I set a plate of eggs and toast in front of the barstoolat the counter. The clunk of the blue plastic tumbler of milk as Iset it next to the plate was louder than I had intended.
She handed me her clothes without a word but I saw the emotion risein her eyes. Relief, gratitude, guilt, resentment. She turned away,embarrassed, and I busied myself with the laundry to give her sometime to collect herself. I hoped she wouldn't thank me again.
She finished her meal methodically, silently. Eating one item at atime and finishing with the milk. I had hardly managed a bite ofmine, too intent on watching her.
Her eyes lifted from the plate and sought mine out. Sea-blue andcalm. I became painfully aware of the laundry churning behind me. Ifelt heat rise in my cheeks.
"Look," I said finally, "your stuff won't be ready for a couple ofhours at least. Why don't you crash here for the night? You canhave the bedroom and I'll take the couch. I sleep there more oftenthan not anyway. You know, watching TV?" I smiled lopsidedly tohide the awkwardness of the moment. No matter how I phrased it, itwas still a hand out from a have to a have-not.
She said nothing, only stared at me, her eyes gauging, weighingoptions. Pensive. Penetrating. She was quiet so long I thought shewould refuse the offer.
"Are you gay?"
The question came out of nowhere, just like that damned orange pickuptruck six years ago, the one that had given me the nine-inch scar onmy left leg. I only barely kept the fork from dropping out of mysuddenly slack hand.
*No way out but through, smart ass*, I told myself. I thought abouteverything I kept in the bathroom, trying to determine what she'dseen that would prompt such a question. Towels, toilet paper, pinkplastic razors, a dusty silk fern, a half-gone bottle of Listerine...
Or was it was just a survival instinct? A sort of keep-`em-guessinggame. If it was, she was definitely winning.
"Oh." Her face remained impassive. "Cool." She turned toward theback of the apartment. "Bedroom back there?"
"Uh...yeah." Hooray for originality.
She said nothing. Only turned and headed for my room. The door shuta moment later.
I stood there for several minutes, gaping at the peeling whiteexpanse of the closed bedroom door. Then I did what any red-bloodedlesbian would do...
I finished her laundry.
I also finished my dinner and was sitting on the couch, flippingthrough the channels on my 12-inch color TV when the baby in 1Bdecided hunger beat out sleeping through the night and began tocaterwaul. Coming to from my cable-TV-induced coma, I glanced at theclock radio on the bar.
*Christ!* I swore. *Plannin' to get any sleep tonight?*
It was a common reproach from my inner abusive mother. I sighed andhit the POWER button on the remote. The TV flickered and went black,cutting Miss Cleo's promises of my future off at the knees.
The bedroom door opened.
Sleepily, my houseguest padded up the hall towards me. The bandannawas gone and her hair had dried in muddy, un-brushed rivulets, darkerthan I remembered. A thin braid snaked out from behind her left ear.
She didn't answer me, only came to a stop directly in front of me andheld out her hand.
Not quite sure what she wanted and pretty sure she was sleepwalking,I put my hand in hers and she tugged me up off the couch, pulling medown the hall towards my bedroom.
She shut the door and all I saw was black. Ruby black. Indigoblack. She still held my hand in hers and I felt her turn towardsme. Her breath was hot against my cheek, hot in the shell of myear. I could feel her trembling. Only my blood moved within me.
"Are you awake?" I whispered urgently. If this wasn't what it feltlike it was, I would be so screwed.
She rubbed the soft skin of her cheek against my face, like a catwould.
I wanted to give her milk.
She wanted to give me mercy.
Her lips brushed along my jaw line and I whimpered. She still heldmy hand in one of hers but the other one lifted and clutched ahandful of my thick, inky hair, holding it away from my neck. Thehumidity of her breath, her unbearable nearness, and the crevasse ofspace between us—though barely a half-inch wide—were driving mequickly insane. Wind rushed past my ears.
She pulled my hair down and my head snapped back, baring my throat toher mouth, to her tongue, to the searing liquid heat of them both,like hot wax from a candle sliding down, pooling in the hollows,catching in the crooks. I wanted to scream or moan, to make somesound that would attest to my existence, would mark the moment. Nonecame.
She released my hand and slid hers up over my belly, under my Dukesweatshirt to my breast where she rubbed her thumb over my nipple.It answered her command and reached back for her, hard and solid. Iwanted to call out, to say *fuck* loudly, over and over, to hiss.Still no sound came.
She pulled her mouth from my neck and released my hair, letting herother hand slide underneath my top, lifting my arms up over my headand the shirt with it until it was off my body and lying in a heap onthe floor. She bent her head immediately and sucked hard flesh intoher mouth.
Oh god! I channeled my desperate desire for sound that would notcome into the blind purpose of action. I pulled at her T-shirt,tugged it up off her slight torso and over her narrow shoulders. Ipushed the baggy boxers off her hips and kicked them away from herfeet.
Her long fingers hurried to unbutton my jeans, raced to rid me ofthem even as my fingers behaved like hummingbirds, flitting fromplace to place, tasting the ephemeral sweetness of skin, of sky,skirting the edges and refusing flight.
We fell into my bed wrapped in gooseflesh and heat. She pulled mymouth to hers, winding her hands in my hair, holding me close. Isubmerged myself in the kiss and shared her breath to keep me alive.My hands scoured her empty acre for the promise of spring flowers.
I pressed myself into her, rocked against her, opened her like aportal to a world made of water, made of wine.
There was architecture in her spine as she arced herself into mytouch. And angels with stone wings heavy on my back as I lifted awayfrom her to bring my mouth to her spare breasts. She was Venice andI flowed into her like the sea, through canals and currents andcrevices and cracks in marble walls.
She clutched at me, shipwrecked on my shore, gasping for air,drowning, pulled under by the tangle of spindly seaweed fingers,reaching for her. I covered her, filled her again and again, stolefrom her, begged for her, and commanded her to do my bidding. Iraged above her like a frustrated storm, rainless, straining againstthe swelling of my dark belly, greedy for release, bereft and broken.
The lightning bolt of her scream split the silence of my room and fatraindrops finally fell from the ceiling, from the sky. From my bellyand from between my thighs.
I lay myself across her like dew, rising and falling with hershuddering breath, studying the earth beneath me, noticing theblossoming orange flower around her navel for the first time.Cantaloupe and creamsicle and crazy with spots. A tiger lily withsix petals folded back on themselves, open fully to the sun.
I watched that flower until the color ran off her in a hissingstream.
When I finally woke up, orange stripes of sunlight made prison barsalong one of my walls and I was alone. Cold March air settled acrossmy backside like a blanket and I lifted my face from the rumpledquilt beneath me.
She couldn't stay and yet she couldn't quite leave. Not all the way.
I pulled the black T-shirt up from the foot of the bed and unfoldedit. After a moment of gazing, I pressed the orange sequins into mycheek and breathed in cold air from a new sky, sweetened with spring.
Erin M. HoaglandEdited second draftNovember 13, 2002
I really do wish I had some constructive criticism for ya! Mostly all I'm coming up with are random vowels to communicate how much I liked this. :)Well...okay, and take this with a teeny, tiny grain of salt - the dolphin descriptor at the beginning seemed a little too cheesy, almost jarring.
Well...okay, and take this with a teeny, tiny grain of salt - the dolphin descriptor at the beginning seemed a little too cheesy, almost jarring.I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond! I am bad. Bad bad bad! As for your comment, it is the one thing about the story I have always been ambivalent on. I never thought it was exactly the way I wanted it to sound. Thanks for the heads up. I will re-work that section on the next draft.You rock, sweetie!