I ’ve always thought there’s something lusty about laundromats. Perhaps that’s why I’m so taken by the young woman I notice as I fumble for change to start my two loads. She’s very European — or at least that’s what I imagine. She sits on a low ledge by the window, reading a worn paperback copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. Her nose is large, but it suits her. Come to think of it, all her features are large, except her breasts. Her eyes are huge, brown, and inviting. Her lips are big and painted bright red. She turns a page and then runs her fingers through her short dark hair.
She has on black penny loafers with worn pale pink soles. Her feet are stretched out in front of her, her ankles crossed casually, and she taps her toes together slowly, rhythmically. She wears tapering black pants and a white top with narrow, horizontal black stripes; the sleeves come down to her forearms. On the floor beside her are a coat and a duffel bag. I have difficulty not staring at her. She’s confident. She reminds me of Audrey Hepburn, whom I’ve always loved.
A machine buzzes and she gets up. I can hear the soap granules on the floor crunching beneath her soles as she walks over to the washer. She pulls out her clothes in clumps, throwing them into a basket. Last to come out of the washing machine is a pair of blue panties. I presume they’re hers, and the thought makes me blush.
She crosses to the dryer and fills it. I’m not certain, but I think I see a pair of men’s shorts pass from basket to dryer. Damn.
Back to the ledge she goes, but this time, instead of her book, she picks up the receiver of the pay phone on the wall there. She puts in the coins, leans back against the window, and speaks quietly, smiling throughout the conversation. I want to know what she’s saying, and who’s on the other end of the line, but I don’t dare move closer.
As she talks, she folds and refolds her rough earth-toned coat. I imagine her in Paris with the artsy crowd, though I’ve never been there and have no idea what the artsy crowd is like. She catches my gaze, willingly exchanging glances with me, and her smile deepens; I say nothing, and regret it.
The dryer grinds on for nearly an hour, during which my mind goes wild. I see us making love on the ledge, on the washer as it chugs along, on the gritty floor. The buzzer brings me back to reality.
My wife is in the hospital for tests. I love her very much. I don’t imagine she would understand what I feel for this girl in the laundromat — I’m not sure I understand myself. This stranger makes me think of a life that is not at all mine, one that is glamorous, cinematic, literary — the kind of life I’d like to share with my wife.
She folds her clothes and loads them into her bag. I watch as she puts on her coat, tucks her book under her arm, hoists the bag on her shoulder, and walks out the door.
As I fold my own laundry, I come across the his-and-hers T-shirts my wife bought on our vacation to Disney World. We saved a long time for that trip. I smile.
The hospital is the next stop, then the grocery store.