Open the door. Halfway in, always halfway in. A full cup right? Right. Normal. No, not warm. Cold will be too cold. Cool it is then. Extra Rinse? Extra Rinse. Close door. Locked. Fill. Perfect. The lock clicked and the machine turned. I quickly opened the round black lid and put my bum in first, then shoved the rest of my body in. My neck creaked as it adjusted to the embossed cylinder. I held my breath as though it would make my body smaller. Even with my knees touching the tip of my nose, the door just barely closed. It had been a while since my last wash, the ick had become heavy on my skin. The drum twisted once, then twice trying to gauge the weight of the load— of me. My toes screamed in pain as they tried to anchor me through the intervaled spins. I sighed as the heaviness of the ick began to settle into the ridges of the drum. It had been a while since the ick had been this bad. With overeager people being overly friendly and constantly being called upon in class, the ick had managed to infiltrate my clothes and lodged itself in the small fibres around my joints. I hadn’t tried getting rid of it with this washer yet so we were really living life on the edge.
The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention as the water poured into the drum. Please work, fuck, please work this time. I had rigged the lock of the washer when I moved in. It would lock, unlock and instead of lock again, it would stay unlocked for a minute so that I could get inside, and then lock again. I didn’t expect facilities management to fix said lock because no one would use the washer but me, I made sure of that. Now that I think about it though, the Out of Order sign that took me a few minutes on Word and a handy dandy inkjet printer nearby might be something that could lead them on if they cared enough. The entire point of it was to figure out whether or not the rig had worked. I don’t really want to think about what would happen if it didn’t. The water wooshed into the drum and stopped right under my neck. The machine stopped for a moment, both drums stilled, and my heart dropped in my chest. My softening nails dug into my palm and my shoulders slumped. Great. I’d have to reposition the magnet, try a new rig or maybe a new machine even.
Just as I was about to push the door open, the soapy liquid flowed into the drum. The strong gush of water made the Mrs. Meyers Basil laundry detergent bubble on the surface. A heavy sigh left my clogged lungs. It used to make me gag, the foamy liquid, I mean. It’s like when you get shampoo in your eye and it stings. This wouldn’t sting though. Instead, it would sink into every crevice and scrub out the ick. The washer kept getting more and more cramped as my limbs grew longer but nothing worked as well. My eyes shut and my breath eased as the knots in my shoulder unwound. Mam had been on my case a lot more this week, Da hadn’t been home for a few days. Things had got better between them once I’d left, but they still fought enough. The tension in her voice floated through the sound waves and settled in my bones. It’s not that she was a bad mother, it was more so that her tough love coupled with the unexpressed feelings was a little too tough at times. People around me didn’t get why I’d get angry. Matt didn’t get it either even though he tried to offer countless ways to talk about feelings. Boxes of Camels lay in my bin and my lungs hurt. I hated tobacco but it helped when my brain knotted together and fought with everything and everyone who cared.
The pressure of the water squeezed my lungs and the tobacco dripped out of them in globs. The ability to breathe without feeling any pain was magical. The back and forth of the washer made the thoughts in my head hit against my skull aggressively. They were trying to escape, they always did that. The small bump in my head had been a favourite spot of theirs but today they were hitting every surface they could. It was slightly abrasive and it felt like they were trying to achieve a goal— ridding themselves of sin and dirt by hitting against my skull again and again. It had been hot today, maybe I should’ve cared more about paying attention in class and being better but it didn’t matter when the sweat kept pooling under my clothes and clung onto each thread of my red shirt. Mam had also said something about being a good child, maybe even a better child, right before hanging up. But I wasn’t a good child, there was all this ick on me. After a few whiskeys, she always slurred at me about God, and sin, and the reward at the end of spiritualism that was only granted to the good souls. What the hell did good even mean? It was frustrating trying to figure it out but I trust the cycle knew the answer, it always did. I squeezed my eyes shut as this week’s ick eroded against my skull.
The dull gurgle of the valve opening made all the gunk drain out in a long whoosh. Instantly, the extra rinse kicked in. The water gushed out the valves and flowed through another, sloshing against me aggressively. With each flood of water, the sweat, not nice feelings, and anxiety kept being pulled out of the atoms. Clothes always came out looking happy after a wash, maybe this time I would too. It was almost time to leave the ridges that supported me and soaked up all the ick through the cleanse. Some gushes came in tidal waves, and despite me holding my breath, they made me splutter like a fish, before draining out. I had learned to hold my breath for those three minutes back in middle school. I was on the swim team and a few of us used to faff about and see who could be underwater the longest. Whoever won got a fiver at the end. The spinning kicked in the compressed drum and squeezed the broken bones and sore tendons together. They were crushing into each other, molding into one another wherever they fit with the magic that ran through the washer. The little jingle of the washing machine rang in my ears. Guess I was done for this week. I pushed the door open and dangled whatever bit of my body I could out the front, like a fortune cookie fold.
“You should wear running shorts,” came a voice from the far end of the room. I didn’t expect anyone to be here.
“Excuse me?” I craned my neck towards the voice holding onto the cold comfort of the steel.
“You’re wearing jeans, jeans get really heavy in the wash. Aren’t you uncomfortable?” She turned back towards her basket and kept putting things into the drum.
It was almost three in the morning, why was this girl in polka dot pajamas doing laundry right now? The only reason I came down at this time was because no one used the machines at this time so it was easy to carry out my compulsions. Ah, I see, she’s here because it is three in the morning and no one would be using the machines. She had a point though, why had I been wearing jeans for so long? It made sense to wear something that was lighter and wouldn’t absorb as much water. Truth be told, wet and rough denim had always been a little bit of a pain.
“I never thought of that before.” I picked at a loose thread on the denim.
“Exactly. So wear running shorts next time.” She hummed to herself and threw in the Tide pods.
“You’re right, running shorts would dry quicker.”
“And they wouldn’t chafe either.” I couldn’t help but agree with that. The chafing was always bad after a particularly rough spin.
I nodded at her and made my way out of the washer. My spine cracked in relief once my feet were firmly on the white tiled floor. If it weren’t for the humming of the radiator, she would have been able to hear just how old I felt. I attempted to say goodbye, I wanted to know her name but her back was still to me. So I just left. My legs felt heavier now that I was actually paying attention to the denim. I was surprisingly not dripping all over the place but I guess that’s why washers spin at the end for a while. I got back to my dorm and lay on the floor. The stale smell of the heating overpowered the gentleness of the Basil that, moments ago, flooded my senses. I had mopped that morning so the floor wasn’t as disgusting as usual. The beige linoleum was cold though. The wet clothes pressed against my cool, damp skin and made me feel cold. Maybe the temperature would help keep the other shit away. I could feel my eyelids struggling to stay open. Just a few more minutes, I didn’t want to go to sleep just yet because then I’d have to wake up and do tomorrow. The denim remained moist and all I could think was yeah, running shorts next time.
JUSTINE ANTHONY is a simple human trying to get by in the universe concentrating in classics and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Some day she hopes to find the perfect laundry detergent and fabric softener combination and spread the word far and wide. Until then, she is content learning dead languages and cooking tofu.