Below is a piece I started during a NaNoWriMo attempt. I’m notorious for starting with a full head of steam and then just petering out. So I’m taking advantage of the A-to-Z Challenge to bulk up my writing muscles and get some word count in every day. I hope you will indulge me by reading the excerpt below. It’s a little over 1200 words which is technically cheating for the challenge, so I’m grateful for both your time and eyeballs.
The Laundromat: Where Life Unfolds
“Baby, I’ve seen it all,” thought the overseer of the suds, Bibbianna ”Bubbles” Romana. Bibbi inherited the Wash Whenever Laundromat from her parents, and had worked the sudsy emporium since she was a child. She brought her husband into the laundry business when he got back from the Army, and it sustained her after his death. No children for Bibbi and Vic; it was the time before folks were so open about infertility. It used to give Bibbi a little pang when she saw young expectant couples or babies in the place, but then she got to see the snotty pre-teens, dragged along to attend to their dirty clothes by haggard mothers, and then it didn’t seem like she was missing anything.
Bibi sighed as she folded a towel. The premium wash and fold service was a money-maker for the Laundromat. To Bibbi’s mind, folks were just getting lazier, and that was where wash and fold came in – seems dropping off dirty clothes and toting home a Saran-wrapped bundle of clean clothes was an affordable luxury for a certain clientele. And Bibbi didn’t mind taking on the wash and fold work herself. Laundry to her could be a meditation, and another way to eavesdrop on the very different lives of her patrons.
In most ways her worldview was shaped by the microcosm of the Wash Whenever: Honest labor had tangible results. Follow the rules or you’ll break the machine. Too much soap is never a good idea – nor can soap wash away all sin. Music and popular culture are both uniting and dividing forces. And don’t touch stuff that doesn’t belong to you.
Early morning in the laundromat was Bibbi’s favorite time. It was still cool inside regardless of the season and she didn’t have to turn the TV on so she could be alone with her thoughts and a her third cup of black coffee. Sometimes she had no thoughts, and that was a blessing. Most of the time she was thinking about machine maintenance or pest control – every living creature was looking for warmth and Little Chopsticks next door had intermittent rodent issues. The Wash Whenever was a no-frills, old-school laundromat where you came to wash your clothes. She got rid of the soda machine years ago – what a hassle that was. Too many people having an opinion on what sodas should be inside, and she hated the druggie route guy.
So she was folding and wrapping up a wash and fold order, and thinking about taking a little break for a bagel when she was startled by the sound of the front door opening. People did come in as soon as she opened at 6, but she knew those regulars: Margot coming home from the night shift at the hospital to get off her feet, and her daughter coming in to meet her with the laundry on her way to school. Or the drag queen Cherry Bomb who worked nights, too. Cherry would basically strip down to her G-string, throw everything in the machine and then take a dirty diva nap next to the last dryer.
Bibbi was not expecting to see the rag-tag pair of scrawny kids stooped under the weight of their backpacks and dragging a huge, stained laundry bag between them like elves. Were they siblings or a couple?
“Hey, there,” the girl’s face brightened with a smile in her greeting. “So glad you’re open this early. We really have a lot of dirty duds here.” The boy kept his eyes downcast – out of respect or just furtive?
Bibbi sniffed the air subconsciously. They didn’t smell like dirty transients. The girl had dreads under a greasy bandana and could have used a bath, but the boy’s head and face were clean-shaven, and he had the fresh smell of recent sweat. Maybe he hadn’t showered recently, but he might have been doing some kind of labor not too long ago.
“Is it OK if we use a couple a machines? We’ll be done faster and out of here before it gets crowded,” the girl asked Bibi indirectly by thumping her laundry bag on top of three machines, a little tail of a printed sheet lolling out.
“Suit yourself, hon. It’s first come first served.” Bibbi had no intention of stepping out to the bagel place now. Nosiness beat out hunger every time. She went back to her wash and fold table, pulled out another basket.
“Thanks. Haile, gimme the soap and I’ll get set up. You can read if you want to,” the girl was economical with her movements and seemed to have an internal rhythm as she quickly sorted the clothes into three machines. The boy had given her a baggie of powdered detergent with a plastic measuring cup zipped inside.
Halie was staking out three chairs over by the window by splaying out the two backpacks and sitting down on the third. Bibbi thought she heard him exhale with tiredness if not exhaustion. Or maybe it was just resignation to a chore that couldn’t be put off any longer. Bibbi was no judge of looks, but she did notice this boy did not have any visible tattoos or piercings – not even an earring, unusual in this day and age. He squinted a bit: gang-banger or just near-sighted?
Bibbi noticed there were kids clothes going into the machines – not baby clothes, but certainly the loud pinks and purples of little girls. These kids couldn’t be parents could they? Bibbi looked more closely at the girl. A sheen of sweat was making her face shiny, but the complexion was pale – no make-up, and her lips were dry and bitten. She looked like she didn’t care much about her appearance or cared about something else a whole lot more. Her hands were red and rough, cuticles ragged and nails chewed to the quick.
“Mercy, will my stuff be ready in time for work? “ the boy asked gruffly. Despite the barking tone to his voice, he seemed slightly afraid of this gamey, sinewy girl.
“Yes, Halie, you won’t be late. Why don’t you run over to that bagel place and bring us some breakfast. She turned to Bibbi. “Missus, you want anything? My brother is going to get us a bagel.”
Although Bibbi was a little suspicious, her hunger overrode her misgivings of giving these strangers five bucks. Besides the girl was still here. “Thanks, doll. Let me give you some cash. I’ll take a garlic with a little bit of butter.” She pulled a fiver out of her smock pocket and gave it to Halie who had one hand already pushing open the door.
“We’re cutting it a little close. My brother needs his stuff clean to go to work,” Mercy said out loud. Bibbi got the impression she was saying it more for her own benefit rather than conversation. Although Bibbi spent most of her life at the Wash Whenever, she learned early on not to give too much thought to the patrons and their little dramas. As a small business owner she felt a bit of an obligation to keep an eye on the neighborhood. As an old Italian lady of a certain age she also felt a moral charge to stave off the “bad elements,” as her borderline racist parents described it.
Like most racists, Bibbi didn’t think of herself as one. She’d keep her eye on this pair of gypsies.