The Laundromat in Apartment 8B
by Kayla Rutledge
When the crisis hit, they closed every laundromat in the neighborhood, including the one we went to on Thursday nights, three blocks down on the left. The owners taped a sign to the door, ripped out from a spiral bound notebook. Stay healthy. Stay home!
“Where will we wash our clothes?” I asked. I was seven and still thought every question had an answer. My mother shifted the bag of clothes on her hip and didn’t answer, red bandana tied around her mouth and chin. To keep me quiet, my father gave me two quarters. I dropped the shinier one down a gutter on the walk home, New York City so quiet you could hear the plunk when it landed.
We were lucky to have a bathtub in our apartment. My mother was in charge of washing the bedsheets, and she dunked them underwater one by one, pulling them out like the huge, sopping wings of a bird. After she had finished, she sat my twin baby brothers in the tub, where they made bubble beards and smacked the water in great gusts over the porcelain side. My father washed the smaller things in the bathroom sink — my brothers’ matching shirts and pajama bottoms, his own elastic boxers and the masks Mama wore when she went shopping for groceries. When he was done, his hands smelled like flowers.
Pretty soon the neighbors started calling. Most of the apartments in the building had only showers or shallow sinks that couldn’t soak more than a dishrag. Miriam in 12C got her period for the first time, and her mother came the next morning to use the tub, pouring vinegar in the hot water until the whole apartment turned sour and made our heads ache. Mr. Fawcett from 2E came to wash his little dog’s bed, which stunk of pee. He was too afraid to take her out to do her business, even just on the stoop. The neighbors had whispered conversations with my parents, their words muffled through masks. After they left, we would spray the bathroom down with bleach and wash the welcome mat, just to be safe.
One night, I woke up, the city too quiet to sleep, and saw the bathroom door open across the hall. In the triangle of light, I could see my mother, sitting on the tub and soaking her feet in the water. My father was laughing quietly, scrubbing away at something in the sink. I realized he was washing her socks, washing them in between his thumbs and hanging them to dry on the towel rack. Something inside me straightened out and began to fix itself then. I thought about Mr. Fawcett, asleep with his little dog in her bed beside him, and Miriam’s mother, her hands tucked under the pillow, raw from scrubbing. Oh! It is hard to be afraid when someone loves you enough to wash your socks, one by one, in the sink.
Kayla Rutledge is from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the recipient of the 2019 James Hurst Prize for Fiction from NC State and the 2020 Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Prize in Creative Writing from UNC-Chapel Hill. She has work published and forthcoming in Cellar Door, Manqué Magazine, and To the Well and is an incoming graduate student in the MFA program at NC State University.
The Roadrunner Review nominated “The Laundromat in Apartment 8B” for a 2021 Pushcart Prize.