When Daddy Drinks the Laundry

Mother Mary sat quietly in the sunshine across the street from Olivia’s. It did me good to see her in the spring sun. A lot of people were walking past, and Mother sat quietly in the spring sun, her faded blue denim shirt open for the sun on her throat, and her orange and blue shawl off her shoulders and hung around her elbows and waist. There were a lot of cars on the street in front of Olivia’s, I took my time crossing the street and then stood beside Mother Mary where she sat on the sidewalk in the sunshine. I leaned back in the sunshine against the wall of the Land-Re-Mat. The smell of soap and cleanser and fabric softener drifted into the sunshine. I leaned my shoulder against the sunny wall and waited for Mother Mary to open her eyes. I thought she might like a coffee and a slice of Olivia’s pie. I had six dollars in ones and forty-eight cents in change from my monthly check.

The smells from inside Land-Re-Mat were not unpleasant. My heart felt good as I leaned against the wall in the sunshine and waited for Mother to open her eyes so that we could get coffee and some pie. The clock on the tower behind the large church was on 9:34.

I leaned there and watched the people inside the Land-Re-Mat. People murmured, kids laughing, women chatting, guys earphoning and shuffle dancing as they folded their laundry. They pulled wet from washers, dry from driers, they slotted four quarters into slots and punched them in and then the whir and thump of the machines. They chatted and folded into wheeled baskets or hung shirts on the rack.

Peni Arches was shoving through the large cloth sack she used for purse, diaper bag, and haul-all. She was looking for quarters, I could see she had two quarters in change slots in the washer and she was looking for more quarters. She pulled out her thin wallet and opened it and then she slumped against the washer with her yellow and red and white clothes in it. She leaned her head on one arm on the washer. The other arm dangled, holding the wallet. Two kids stood under her hips, holding on to her slacks and the shirttail of her pale yellow mamma smock. One was sucking on his thumb. The baby was in a basket, sleeping, drooling. Peni’s thin wing shoulders shook under her momma smock, and she sagged against the washer with the two quarters in the change slot. The kids beside her looked as if they were protecting her, guarding her. You think some pretty strange things when you see something like that.

I stood away from the wall and went into the Land-Re-Mat.

“I thought I had enough,” Peni said she wiped at her eyes, and her mascara smeared. “Last night I had fifteen in here,” she said. She lifted her wallet. “Greg must. . . .” She did not say what Greg must have. Greg was the alcoholic father of the three kids.

Mother Mary came in, she had a string and played “Cat’s Cradle” with the older boy. Peni sat and held the baby, then nursed her. Mother sat beside her and talked as she turned her hands with the Cats Cradle. Peni just sat and looked down at the floor and fed the baby and said one word at a time. While I waited for the machines, I sat in the chair beside Mother. The little girl played with a cloth doll and a stray carboard cereal box on the floor. The box was a washing machine. When I stood up to move a load, she lifted the lid of the box and took out the imaginary clothes and put them in the doll’s lap. Then she put them back in the box. I gave her pennies and she put them into the box and closed the lid. Then she sat and talked nonsense to her doll.

If I sat beside Peni she would lean away, turn the baby away and look at the floor between us. The worst part of doing what you have to do is people make too much of it.

There wasn’t enough to dry the last two loads. We dumped them in the plastic laundry tub. She would not look at me. Mother and I carried her tub of wet clothes and two bags of dry to the rusty Civic in the parking lot. We buckled the kids in and Peni said “thank you,” and did not look up at us, and she put the car in gear and drove off.

“You have a good heart, Chi,” Mother said.

“We all have hearts,” I said.

“You use yours,” she said.

“Ditto,” I said. The clock on the tower behind the church was on 12:11. We had forty-two cents from my monthly. Olivia’s Coffee was fifty cents. It would be four hours and forty-nine minutes before the Center opened for dinner chow.

“When Daddy Drinks the Laundry” was begun in response to the Ragtag Community prompt “heart”. Its production was interrupted. But it could not be left unsaid, and so was rejuvenated this morning to answer today’s prompt as well.


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