The Washer at the Laundromat

I thought I was alone. I wasn’t hiding, exactly; more like practicing invisibility. I was at the very last row of dryers, settled in a chair with my newspaper. Quiet, unnoticeable, just doing my wash and minding my own business. When the door opened I peeked over the machines, saw the young man in camo gear, and went back to reading. He wasn’t carrying any baskets, and I figured he was just looking for a good vantage point for the parade. The front window of the laundromat would give him an excellent view, as well as keep him out of the rain.


As I said, I thought I was alone. When the young man spoke I peeked up again, planning to return his greeting politely and go back to my paper. Instead I heard another voice respond, and saw a woman at the pre-treat sink. I don’t know how I had missed her in my first peek, since the sink was directly between me and the young man.


She was one of those old/young people you see from time to time. Straight back, firm stance, but with fine lines around her eyes and hair riddled with grey. There were streaks of black and red, too. It reminded me of some of the punk styles from my youth, but without the harshness and obvious borders of the various dyes. It didn’t look dyed at all, to be honest, and I’m practically an expert on that.


I couldn’t hear their conversation, just a murmur of voices. I could see them clearly, however, and the young man appeared distinctly agitated. He appeared to be asking questions, demanding answers, and she continued serenely working on her laundry, replying quietly, but obviously not satisfying him.


As his voice rose I could make out some of the words. ‘More now than ever’,  ‘sergeant’,  ‘bonus.’  I found myself looking more closely at his clothes. Of course, everyone wears camo these days. His were desert-coloured and obviously from a department store.


Then I noticed what the woman was washing. Camo, desert-coloured, but somehow as obviously authentic as his were obviously fake. She was putting pre-treat on some stains. I would have told her to give it up as a bad job if I hadn’t been invisible. Those stains were never going to come out, and even if they did I could see for myself the holes and singe marks in the material. No way would those ever be usable again.


The man’s voice rose and I saw him reach out as if to shake the woman, but he pulled back his hand before it reached her. I remember thinking that a wise thing for him to do. Women these days can take care of themselves, and this one looked even more competent than most. He held his hand to his chest as if it had been burned and just stared at her, white-faced. She seemed to be humming as she worked.


The door opened then and a bunch more people came inside, shaking rain from their coats and crowding around the front window. The parade had begun, all the young soldiers in their dress uniforms, marching along and looking so fine and patriotic. Even my old spine grew straighter as I watched them go by, and I’ve never been drawn to that life myself. There is just something that reaches out to my insides when I hear the pipes and the drums, and see the strong young men and women, faces shining with pride and glory.


I heard the young man leave, and I turned my attention back to the sink, only to realize that the woman must have left, too. I watched the rest of the parade while folding my laundry, then packed up and headed home. I was feeling rather strange and unreal as I made my way home, like I had witnessed something ancient, ritualistic, and not meant for me. I can’t explain that, but by the time I made it home I had reached two decisions.


I was not going to read the news from the front for the next few weeks; and I was buying my own damn washer and dryer.



[Marilyn Shand is a forty-seven year old animist.  She lives in Ontario, Canada.  Her bedtime stories growing up were an odd mixture of Scottish and Ojibwe, and she sometimes get confused about who lives where and who pals around with whom.  She has been reading tarot cards professionally for twenty-eight years.]



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