I wait until the building becomes quiet before opening my door. With a basket on my right hip and a jug in my left hand, I carefully lumber down the empty hall, doing my best not to rouse anyone. I never know if I’ll have enough time.
At the end of the corridor, I set down the jug and unlock a door. The automatic light flickers on and I peer inside. Along the wall, the mouths of two machines gape open and empty. The table is bare. A familiar, putrid smell lingers in the windowless room.
I close the door behind me and begin cleaning the first machine. I spray the inside of the metal drum and scrub around each of the tiny drain holes. I work quickly, yet thoroughly, until the tub gleams and my nostrils sting from vinegar. I insert my quarters, load my laundry, and pour clear detergent and more vinegar into the machine. The machine jolts awake as I press start and I scurry back to my condo.
Thirty-four minutes later, I unlock the door and scan the laundry room again. I am still alone. I am safer alone. I quickly move the damp clothes to the dryer and refill the washer with more laundry. I toss six wool balls into the dryer and press start on both machines. The rumbling grows louder. Perhaps, this time everything will go as planned.
An hour later, I return to the laundry room. The machines are quiet, and the air is warm. I open the dryer door and scream. On top of my clothes lays a translucent white square. I stare in disbelief at this miniature ghost. I know I checked the dryer before loading my clothes. I always check. I seize the dryer sheet by its very corner and fling it into the nearby trash can.
With both hands, I draw a warm ball of clothes to my face. A sweet scent fills my sinuses. For a split second, I am transported back to my childhood bedroom, to my yellow blanket my mom used to wash. Suddenly, an invisible force begins to choke my neck. My skin prickles and burns.
I rewash the clothes, but still the scent haunts me. When I return to the laundry room for the fourth time, tired and swollen, a second basket looms on the table. Unfamiliar colors swirl inside the clear door of the washing machine. On top of the machine, a bottle of detergent drips with blue slime.