I made it to the laundromat at 8:16 pm. The last wash is at 8:30 pm. It’s a Friday night and it’s dead. All the people that are walking past on the sidewalk outside are on their way to the dive bar a block away—not coming to do their dirty laundry. Who wouldn’t want to do their laundry on a perfectly cold Friday night?
I have about two weeks’ worth of laundry to do. I scavenged as many quarters as I could from the bottom of my backpack before I left the apartment and threw them all into a Ziploc sandwich bag that I reuse every time.
My oversized laundry load somehow squeezed into the medium sized washer. I choose quick-wash, you know, to save time and money. 16 quarters. I start counting down in my head as I insert one quarter after the other, acutely aware of how much lighter my once half-filled quarter bag is becoming.
As I insert the last coin I realize that I still have two left. How lucky? As I decide whether I’m going to trust the general public and leave my clothes here alone for 27 minutes, two little girls—about six and eight years old—are running around in circles. The older one is eating a slice of pizza. The one who appears to be the six-year-old is wearing a fluffy pink sweater with pink sequins embroidered into it spelling the words, “all is love.” The words are in the shape of a smile with two little sequin hearts above it for eyes. She is also wearing dark skinny jeans, pink sneakers and her hair is tied on the top of her head with a large, pink sparkly bow. I decide to stay, and I sit on one of the three empty benches towards the front door. I am listening to the sound of a Spanish telenovela playing on the television that is in the top left corner. Although I can’t understand a word any of the actors are saying besides the couple of times they’ve said “mucho,” I can tell that something intense is unraveling on the screen.
The little girl is still running around me. She jumps onto the bench next to me. She’s reaching for the top of one of the washers and next thing I know two books come crashing down on me. She steps down off the bench, her hands full of a stack of about 10 books, and walks to the bench across from us to set them down. I help her by grabbing the two books that slid through the open spaces of our seat. She turns and looks at me, grinning that toothless smile of a six-year-old who just lost her two front teeth. She walks towards me slowly and I hand her the books. She says, “thank you,” in the tiniest but sweetest voice. I smile back. She returns to her pile of books.
I turn around to make sure my laundry is still on its spin-cycle and that the bag I brought to fold my laundry in isn’t missing. Not only is the telenovela Spanish, but so are all of the advertisements. I just watched one for Crest mouthwash and the only word I knew was, well, Crest. My four years of Spanish in high school would definitely come in handy right about now.
The little girl quickly loses interest in her books, and comes back over to my bench to step up and put them all away. What a sweet little girl I thought. Her older sister—I’m assuming they are sisters—is now finished with her pizza slice and has joined in on the fun, running around the laundry mat together, laughing and screaming (with their inside voices) playing a game of what looks like ‘tag you’re it!’
I start to become antsy as I sit here. I’m looking forward to going back home. A friend of ours surprised us with the game of LIFE, one of my all-time favorites. I remember being a little girl like the ones I am watching, but instead of running around a laundromat, I’d be sitting on my floor playing LIFE alone because I wanted to get married and have twins so I could put three little blue and pink pegs in my car. My laundry is just about finished, but it will still have about 30 minutes to go in the dryer. What a drag.
I look up and notice that mirrors are lining the blue painted walls in the corners of where the wall meets the ceiling. As I look at myself, I notice the little girl is looking at herself too. I don’t know if she realizes that I am looking at her in the mirror, too, but as she watches herself she starts to do a little dance. She kind of reminds me of me. However, I start to think, I can’t even stand being here for a lousy 45 minutes, meanwhile this little girl probably spends hours on end in this place. But, she seems happy and cheerful. This laundromat is her Terabithia.
I get up to switch my laundry into a dryer. When I sit back down, my bench is taken by the little girl. I decide to sit on the bench that is across from her, the one where she sat before. Now that I’ve switched perspectives, I can see why she was reaching for the books above the washer. There is a small hand-written sign taped to the half-wall next to her that reads, “Free Books,” with a big marker-drawn smiley face next to it.