by Quinn Cain
It has been five years since the passing of his wife, yet Ron Clementson still does her laundry. He doesn’t like the way her clothes smell when they sit in the closet too long without being worn, dust creeps in and the fibers become stale. Every two weeks, he walks down four flights of stairs to the basement of his apartment building, and does two loads of laundry. The first load is usually composed of a few personal items, mostly sweatpants and socks, while the second load is far more intricate.
Sunday evening is Ron’s favorite time to do laundry. The machines are usually empty because everyone else has already finished their chores, and he is able to bring down his radio and listen to Billy Joel, his wife’s first crush. He plays it loud, but not loud enough to mask the humming of the rotating drums in the background.
The first load is fairly straightforward. Ron approaches the washing machine, opens the door, and with one sweeping motion lifts his sweatpants and socks out of the basket, and into the empty compartment. He pulls three quarters out of his right front pocket, and inserts them through the slot along the metal panel, turns the dial to Normal, and presses the Start button. As the water begins to fill the machine, he pours a half a cap of green colored detergent to the indicated line, and closes the lid. After this, there is nothing left to do but wait. Once the cycle has expired, the same process is done when transferring to the drying machine. It doesn’t really matter what setting to place the timer at, as long as the clothes come out dry. Ron finishes his first load of laundry before starting the second, folding promptly after drying to completion.
Ron takes his sweatpants and socks up four flights of stairs to his apartment, where he spends a few minutes opening drawers and closing cabinets before making his way back to the closet. With the now empty laundry basket, Ron makes his way to the back of his closet. Placed above him are four neatly staked piles of clothes, which he places in the basket and promptly steps back out into the light. A sudden rush of delight greets him as he casts his gaze across the brightly colored fibers crawling on top of each other in the basket below. He makes his way back down the four flights of stairs, with speed and purpose, eagerly waiting to begin his second load of laundry.
The first load usually tends to take around an hour and forty-five minutes, so it is usually well past nightfall as Ron begins his second rotation. In the past five years, only one time had there been another person doing laundry this late, and Ron knows for a fact that person no longer lives in the building. He enjoys the privacy, because it allows for a more intimate setting, one that is loud but silent all at the same time.
This time, Ron is more careful when placing the items into the washing machine. He reaches for his silver Panasonic RF-P50 Pocket AM/FM Radio. He presses softly on the dial and rotates it slightly upwards towards 97.3 FM, his favorite 70s, 80s classic rock station. Gripping the device tightly he uses his thumb to pivot the knob to a volume that is just loud enough to make him forget where he is. Turning back to the machine he lunges out with his left hand and firmly pulls the basket close to him. With a slight grin, he reaches in and picks up a lemon colored sundress with white, lace straps, and shakes out the wrinkles. She wore this dress on their third date.
He remembers because it was the first time he kissed her, and her lip-gloss tasted exactly like lemon. He told her she looked like she tasted, but she didn’t think it was funny so she made him wait until the fifth date before she would kiss him again, and that was just fine with Ron.
He took the dress in his right hand and placed it gracefully on the bottom of the drum.
Next, he looks over to the basket and picks out a small black T-Shirt that reads Fleetwood Mac in gold lettering, suspended over a picture of the band.
She had worn this to every concert she went to, even if it wasn’t a Fleetwood Mac concert. She didn’t care and neither did Ron because she looked good in it and she knew everyone else thought that too. Ron loved how they enjoyed listening to the same music, but now he doesn’t go to concerts because he doesn’t think it’s worth it.
He uses his hands to crumple the T-Shirt into a ball and tosses it in the machine.
He then pulls out a pair of Levi’s Genuine Blue Jeans out of the basket and tosses them over his shoulder. He pulls out three more T-Shirts and drapes them around his neck. He reaches to the bottom of the basket and grabs on to the remaining items, pulling them upward towards his face, inhaling deeply as the scent pierces through his nostrils. The wooden closet has spoiled the fresh scent of the green colored laundry detergent; the kind that his wife had always said was the best smelling kind. Craving that familiar scent, Ron disrobes the laundry from his body and places everything in to the machine. He reaches for the green detergent and drizzles the liquid throughout the inside of the drum, not worrying about filling to a certain line. He then grabs hold of the dial and turns it even further upward to Heavy Duty, signaling the rush of water flooding inside of the machine. Ron watches as the water slowly consumes the clothing within it, starting to bubble as the temperature reaches higher and higher. Ron presses Start, firmly shuts the lid, and takes a step back. He listens deeply to the pounding of the rotating drums, as the beat becomes synonymous with the music in the background. He can feel the machine working—the gears are churning, the belts are pulling, the motors are pulsing. Time is slow, but the machine is fast. Ron stands there with his eyes closed for the remainder of the cycle, hoping it just might last forever.
The timer sounds, and Ron takes a moment to readjust before opening the machine door. He can smell the green detergent filling the air with the distinct smell of clean. He rejoices in completing the first cycle, as he begins to transfer the clothing to the dryer. He turns the temperature up to its highest setting and presses Start as fast as he could. The deep humming electrifies the room and the clothes beat ceaselessly against the metal drum. Ron puts his hand on the top of the machine and can feel the warmth escaping from within. He closes his eyes and imagines holding his wife’s hand tightly, the way he used to hold it each time they sat in the doctor’s office together, wondering what they were going to tell them next. Ron would hold one of her hands between two of his, and squeeze as tightly as he could, using his thumb to stroke the back of her hand. He imagines her warm body between his arms when they used to wait for the bus to take them to the hospital in the middle of winter.
The timer sounds off and the machine crawls to a halt, as the humming, too, begins to subside. Ron leans up from the top of the dryer, and takes a long breath. The clothes inside are still loud from all the heat, as the hot air escapes from the chamber. Ron promptly folds his clothes, and makes his way back up the four flights of stairs, returns the laundry to the place it will sit for the next two weeks, and crawls in an empty bed.
This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Issue. Photography by Jose Ibarra.