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While Waiting for the Rinse Cycle

Jennifer Vickers


Their small, dark faces peer up at me.  Large somber eyes gaze into mine, unblinking.  I smile.  They continue staring.  A staccato outburst of Spanish breaks the spell, and their little legs carry them quickly away to the safety of mother’s skirt.
            I return to my book and once again lose myself in the lust-filled wanderings of the playboy oil tycoon, Kane Madden, as he falls helplessly in love with beautiful Adriana, the devoted nun who cares for his dying alcoholic father.  After benzene rings and retroviruses, trashy novels are divine!
            Say!  That noise!  From which machine does it come?  Mine?  Yes, mine!  The wash cycle is complete!  I dash towards it – hurdling small children, an old man’s outstretched legs, and a myriad of laundry baskets.  I make it – and with time to spare.  Time to watch the clothes whir by  at dizzying speeds – and while the lid is up!  At Mom’s and Dad’s the clothes stop spinning when the lid is raised.  This could be dangerous.  It slows, it stops, and begins to fill – ever so slowly – with cold water.  The hot water came out fast; why is the cold water coming out slow?  I watch and wait; the water is almost deep enough, but now the clothes are falling off the sides.  Now the water level is perfect as I prepare to add the crowning touch, the joie de vie, the zenith of any Laundry Holiday: fabric softener.  Liquid gold, a century of springs, apple blossoms, fuzzy bears, sunshiney mornings, baby bottoms!  And it also prevents “static cling!”  Having never suffered “static cling,” I consider that a most magnanimous and foresighted gesture on the part of the manufacturer.  The directions advise “1 capful.”  I add three.  More of it must be better.  Ibuprofen, Midol, fabric softener – take whatever it says . . . squared.
            Contented, I close the lid on my fragrant apparel and stroll back to my blue binyl seat where Kane and Adriana are locked in a passionate embrace.  (What will Mother Superior say!)  The chapter ends, and I saunter over to the washer and wait for the load to finish.  As I lean on the humming machine, I peer down into the dark space between washers.  Lone socks, buttons, lint balls, and safety pins like amid the dank dust and dirt, but all rather resembling coughed-up fur balls.  We had a cat once, his name was Googie Whithers.  He used to slink around the baseboards carrying this old orange oven mitt in his mouth, just like a dog.  We had a dog, too, until he ate the mudflaps off Mom’s Honda.
            I really need to visit the restroom, but I’m a fraid to leave my clothes; the rinse cycle may come on while I’m gone.
            We had parakeets as well.  Our neighbor’s Weenie Dog ate Pepe.  Peetey flew into the ceiling fan, only it didn’t kill him.  It just knocked him unconscious and shaved the feathers from the top of his head.  He was never quite the same, and his feathers never did grow back.  Colonel Mustard hung himself in the drapery cord, and Uncle Dave fell into a pot of hot soup.  Melody developed a large tumor, and Dad put her to sleep in a bag of Raid.
            I can’t wait to smell my clothes!  Funny, though how they never smell as good once they’re dry.  I’m just waiting for the Nordic god in my lab to notice how irresistible my clothes smell, drop on bended knee, and propose.  After all, any girl whose clothes smell that good must make a fabulous wife.
            As I toss springtime fresh clothes into the vast dryer (plus a roll of dryer sheets), I remember a 1960s nostalgia show on television.  Young men strapped on helmets and knee pads, climbed in these dryers and went for a circular ride.  And they weren’t even drinking beer.  Nowadays, I think young men put small animals in there.  Dogs.  Probably poodles.  Beer drinking poodles.
            I recognize the new arrival at the last washer as my professor.  A bit disconcerting, to see him here, sorting socks.  What keen and wondrous things his mind must hold!  How often I’ve studied him from the safety of the second row, and yet how unfamiliar he seems in here.  Hands that hold a stub of chalk as if it were a cigarette now sort colors.  But those eyes that twinkle beneath beetle brows and the face adorned with creases and crinkles are still the same.  He was a young man once, probably handsome and brave.  Perhaps he was lonely, or had sorrow.  I wish I could know; I wish he would tell me.  But one doesn’t ask about those things.  One smiles and nods and says, “How do,” never slowing to hear the reply.
            As I ready to leave and gather my things, I cast a final glance about for stray socks or wayward panties.  None found, but my eyes meet those of the professor, whom I leave with a smile and his wisdom still a secret.
            Oh, well.  At least my clothes smell good.