?

Log in

seftiri [userpic]
Short Story: The Laundry
by seftiri (seftiri)
at May 1st, 2006 (03:10 pm)
listless

Playing on the Mood Swings:: listless

Another short story I am thinking about working up for possible publication.
Comments and constructive criticism needed and welcome!

Thanks!
 

The Laundry
By Erin M. Hoagland


She walked up to the Laundromat door just as I turned the key in the
lock.  She held a periwinkle blue laundry basket on her hip and it
had seen better days.  One of the handles had broken off and there
was a gash in the side where a pair of jeans was trying to escape, a
denim dolphin from a plastic play net.

"Oh," she said, looking beyond the glass doorway into the darkened
coin laundry.  "It closes?"  She looked back at me with weary, stormy
eyes.  "Someone told me this one didn't close."

I started to shrug then stopped myself, taking a closer look at the
young woman.  Her dirty blond hair was pulled into a ponytail behind
her head, tendrils too short for the band curling around her face.
She had large, worried eyes outlined in thick, black eyeliner too
dark for her complexion and full, red lips, lightly glossed.

A choker of wooden beads on some string lightly garroted her creamy
throat, leaving tiny bite marks that were revealed only when she
turned her head.  She wore a tight, black T-shirt with garish orange
sequins 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 or
two 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 was
her only other possession.  It had patches sewn onto it from wars she
wasn't old enough to remember and places she had never been.

"They changed the hours," I said.  "New signs go up tomorrow, I
think."

"Oh."  Disappointment was a shadow that followed this young woman
closely and it touched her face now with a dusky hand.  She suddenly
looked gaunt and worn.  I wondered when she had eaten last.

"Come on," I said, pocketing the Laundromat keys.  "I live two blocks
over and I have my own washer and dryer."  When she looked at me
quizzically, I answered her unspoken question.  "Having my own is
cheaper.  Eaker doesn't give discounts to employees."  I pointed to
the sign above the door.  EAKER'S WASH AND DRY.

She followed my finger then looked back at me, not sure I was really
offering her what I seemed to be.  Or not sure if there were strings
attached.

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 and
dryer; you have dirty clothes.  I have a place two blocks away; you
are barefoot at midnight.  And it's March.  Seems like taking me up
on the offer couldn't hurt."

She contemplated her options for a moment.  Or tallied up her lack of
them.  "Okay," she said, finally.

"Okay," I replied, grinning.  She returned it shyly, following me as
I led her down the darkened street.  Her smile was gone by the time I
unlocked the door to my basement apartment.

She hovered in the doorway.  I pushed past her and turned on the one
small lamp in my living room.  A pool of greasy yellow light appeared
on the ceiling and the floor.  Shadows rose grotesquely on the
cracked plaster walls.  I did a little turn in the center of the
room.

"Nothing here but us chickens," I said, grinning again.  She smiled
and came into the apartment, shutting the door behind her.

I took the basket of clothes from her and headed to the little alcove
behind the kitchen into which I had crammed my washer and dryer.  I
rummaged on the shelf above for an unopened box of laundry soap.  I
watched her watch me open a tiny box of Tide, a fringe benefit from
my job.

"Thanks for—" she started but I hurried to talk over her, not feeling
particularly worthy of thanks at the moment.

"You want to take a shower or something?  Before I put the laundry
in?  You'll actually get some hot water then."  Fear leapt back into
her 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 to
make an omelet and watch some TV.  You're safe with me, honest.  I'm
the 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 pair
of green plaid boxers left behind by an ex.  I dug through my hamper
for the best towel I owned and folded it, laying it Sheraton-side
down 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 was
a stupid door and hadn't shut properly since the day I'd moved into
the place.  I was strangely embarrassed by its failure.

I sorted her clothes into two piles, realizing that I would have to
mix some of my whites in with hers to make a full load.  I turned on
the stereo as I passed it, heading for the bedroom.  Something low
and throbbing came out of the speakers as I snatched up the few
discarded items that would round out the load of whites.  I adjusted
the music's volume lower in deference to the people in 1B above me,
thinking they wouldn't appreciate being woken up by the solid
bloodbeat of jungle drums in the middle of the night.  Even if it was
a 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'd
moved out.  My friends believed she'd left it by accident but I knew
she was just that much of a culinary Nazi.  It was her way of
pointing at me and sneering even after she'd gone.

I turned on the gas burner, settled the skillet over the heat and
added two thick squares of butter, watching them slide downhill with
the uneven substructure of the building.  I sighed.  Nothing in my
world was level.

I had intended to make omelets, something I am normally quite good at
making, but the wet slap of water against the bottom of the tub mixed
with the rain sounds of the shower reminded me that I was alone
again.  Distracted by thoughts of my last lover's smiling face
emerging freshly scrubbed from the bathroom on Sunday mornings last
year, I ended up with six scrambled eggs mixed with cheese and fake
bacon bits.

The sticky squeak of the bathroom door opening alerted me that my
guest was done in the shower and she caught me just as I was stirring
chocolate sauce into a glass of milk for her.  She held the clothes
she'd been wearing in a little ball in front of her.  The T-shirt and
boxers I'd given her were too big for her but they looked cute, in a
way.  She'd pulled her wet hair under a blue bandanna and the choker
was still present.  I wondered if she ever took it off.

"Hungry?"  I set a plate of eggs and toast in front of the barstool
at the counter.  The clunk of the blue plastic tumbler of milk as I
set it next to the plate was louder than I had intended.

She handed me her clothes without a word but I saw the emotion rise
in her eyes.  Relief, gratitude, guilt, resentment.  She turned away,
embarrassed, and I busied myself with the laundry to give her some
time to collect herself.  I hoped she wouldn't thank me again.

She didn't.

She finished her meal methodically, silently.  Eating one item at a
time and finishing with the milk.  I had hardly managed a bite of
mine, too intent on watching her.

Her eyes lifted from the plate and sought mine out.  Sea-blue and
calm.  I became painfully aware of the laundry churning behind me.  I
felt heat rise in my cheeks.

"Look," I said finally, "your stuff won't be ready for a couple of
hours at least.  Why don't you crash here for the night?  You can
have the bedroom and I'll take the couch.  I sleep there more often
than not anyway.  You know, watching TV?"  I smiled lopsidedly to
hide the awkwardness of the moment.  No matter how I phrased it, it
was still a hand out from a have to a have-not.

She said nothing, only stared at me, her eyes gauging, weighing
options.  Pensive.  Penetrating.  She was quiet so long I thought she
would refuse the offer.

"Are you gay?"

The question came out of nowhere, just like that damned orange pickup
truck six years ago, the one that had given me the nine-inch scar on
my left leg.  I only barely kept the fork from dropping out of my
suddenly slack hand.

*No way out but through, smart ass*, I told myself.  I thought about
everything I kept in the bathroom, trying to determine what she'd
seen that would prompt such a question.  Towels, toilet paper, pink
plastic razors, a dusty silk fern, a half-gone bottle of Listerine...

Or was it was just a survival instinct?  A sort of keep-`em-guessing
game.  If it was, she was definitely winning.

"Uh...yeah."

"Oh."  Her face remained impassive.  "Cool."  She turned toward the
back of the apartment.  "Bedroom back there?"

"Uh...yeah."  Hooray for originality.

She said nothing.  Only turned and headed for my room.  The door shut
a moment later.

I stood there for several minutes, gaping at the peeling white
expanse of the closed bedroom door.  Then I did what any red-blooded
lesbian would do...

I finished her laundry.

I also finished my dinner and was sitting on the couch, flipping
through the channels on my 12-inch color TV when the baby in 1B
decided hunger beat out sleeping through the night and began to
caterwaul.  Coming to from my cable-TV-induced coma, I glanced at the
clock radio on the bar.

4:12am.

*Christ!* I swore.  *Plannin' to get any sleep tonight?*

It was a common reproach from my inner abusive mother.  I sighed and
hit 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 bandanna
was gone and her hair had dried in muddy, un-brushed rivulets, darker
than I remembered.  A thin braid snaked out from behind her left ear.

"Everything okay?"

She didn't answer me, only came to a stop directly in front of me and
held 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 me
down the hall towards my bedroom.

She shut the door and all I saw was black.  Ruby black.  Indigo
black.  She still held my hand in hers and I felt her turn towards
me.  Her breath was hot against my cheek, hot in the shell of my
ear.  I could feel her trembling.  Only my blood moved within me.

"Are you awake?" I whispered urgently.  If this wasn't what it felt
like it was, I would be so screwed.

She rubbed the soft skin of her cheek against my face, like a cat
would.

I wanted to give her milk.

She wanted to give me mercy.

Her lips brushed along my jaw line and I whimpered.  She still held
my hand in one of hers but the other one lifted and clutched a
handful of my thick, inky hair, holding it away from my neck.  The
humidity of her breath, her unbearable nearness, and the crevasse of
space between us—though barely a half-inch wide—were driving me
quickly insane.  Wind rushed past my ears.

She pulled my hair down and my head snapped back, baring my throat to
her 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 some
sound that would attest to my existence, would mark the moment.  None
came.

She released my hand and slid hers up over my belly, under my Duke
sweatshirt to my breast where she rubbed her thumb over my nipple.
It answered her command and reached back for her, hard and solid.  I
wanted 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 her
other hand slide underneath my top, lifting my arms up over my head
and the shirt with it until it was off my body and lying in a heap on
the floor.  She bent her head immediately and sucked hard flesh into
her mouth.

Oh god!  I channeled my desperate desire for sound that would not
come into the blind purpose of action.  I pulled at her T-shirt,
tugged it up off her slight torso and over her narrow shoulders.  I
pushed the baggy boxers off her hips and kicked them away from her
feet.

Her long fingers hurried to unbutton my jeans, raced to rid me of
them even as my fingers behaved like hummingbirds, flitting from
place 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 my
mouth to hers, winding her hands in my hair, holding me close.  I
submerged 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 a
portal to a world made of water, made of wine.

There was architecture in her spine as she arced herself into my
touch.  And angels with stone wings heavy on my back as I lifted away
from her to bring my mouth to her spare breasts.  She was Venice and
I flowed into her like the sea, through canals and currents and
crevices 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, stole
from her, begged for her, and commanded her to do my bidding.  I
raged above her like a frustrated storm, rainless, straining against
the swelling of my dark belly, greedy for release, bereft and broken.

The lightning bolt of her scream split the silence of my room and fat
raindrops finally fell from the ceiling, from the sky.  From my belly
and from between my thighs.

I lay myself across her like dew, rising and falling with her
shuddering breath, studying the earth beneath me, noticing the
blossoming orange flower around her navel for the first time.
Cantaloupe and creamsicle and crazy with spots.  A tiger lily with
six petals folded back on themselves, open fully to the sun.

I watched that flower until the color ran off her in a hissing
stream.

When I finally woke up, orange stripes of sunlight made prison bars
along one of my walls and I was alone.  Cold March air settled across
my backside like a blanket and I lifted my face from the rumpled
quilt 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 unfolded
it.  After a moment of gazing, I pressed the orange sequins into my
cheek and breathed in cold air from a new sky, sweetened with spring.




Erin M. Hoagland
Edited second draft
November 13, 2002

Comments

Posted by: Katie (oracledelphi617)
Posted at: May 1st, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)

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.

Posted by: seftiri (seftiri)
Posted at: May 9th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
Benson Cute Smile

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!