NOTE: I went for my occasional pen-name for this story—-jeff
Leader of the Laundromat
by Mike Mayak
The young man in the brown suede jacket sitting on the row or green plastic seats in the laundromat sat talking into his cellphone.
“Hey, Honey,” he said. “I just put the clothes in and I’m sitting here, gonna either read a book or work in the notebook.” He patted the small duffel bag on the seat next to him. “Yeah, I’ll be glad when we get the washer downstairs fixed too, honey. Then I can put the wash in, hop upstairs and do my reading snuggled on the couch next to you. I’ll have this done in about thirty minutes and come home and use our dryer for free. I’ll call before I leave. Love you, too! Bye”
He put the phone in his jacket pocket and didn’t bother tapping it to shut it off.
A few minutes later, the taller man in the sweater approached him.
“Hey, sorry to bother your reading but do you have any of those detergent pods? I left mine at home.”
“Huh? Oh sure. Yeah.” He fumbled through the duffel bag and pulled out a plastic bag printed with the logo of the grocery store. “Help yourself.”
Thanks,” said the man in the sweater, his mind flashing to all the PSA’s he’d seen about keeping the pods away from kids. After a few more minutes, the man in the sweater sat down next to the young man who was back to his reading.
“I owe you for the pods,” he said extending a hand. “I’m Justin.”
“Mick,” the other man said.
They sat there for a few more minutes and then Mick put his book down and sighed with his eyes closed.
“I hate the washer being busted,” Justin said. “Nice of you to do this for your wife.”
“Husband,” Mick said, eyes open, gauging Justin’s response.
“Nice,” Justin said. I had a boyfriend right out of college, Never made any real commitment though.”
“Mmmm.” Mick said nodding.
“I hope I find somebody who makes my face light up the way yours did when you were talking to your husband. Look, I’m bothering you, I’ll let you get back to your reading.” Justin stood up.
Mick took a deep breath. “My husband passed away…about eight months ago. Really sudden.” Mick stared at his feet. “He had some things wrong with him, but we hoped…”
“My God, I’m sorry…” Justin started.
“It’s okay,” Mick said holding up his hand. “I’m doing all right. We knew each other about twenty years. We got married out in California fifteen years ago. I guess I…well. I pretend to call him up sometimes when I’m away from the house. Like I used to.”
Justin sat down again. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Not really,” Mick said. “I don’t need to talk or anything.”
Then Mick talked. About meeting Paco at work by accident when they were both scheduled for the same shift by mistake, about their first date, about the spilled coffee, about coming out to his parents (his Mom had known all along), about how Paco’s Mom was gone and his Dad had run off somewhere when Paco was twenty, about how a redheaded white guy had gotten the nickname “Paco.”
Justin listened. He’d expected to maybe tear up, but he found himself laughing at some of this sweet couple’s misadventures. Before they knew it he realized both the washers had stopped, their washing finished.
“Wow!” Mick said. “I…I guess I needed to unload. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Justin said. “Listen, would you want to maybe meet up for like coffee or something?”
Mick sat there for a moment.
“I…uh…I don’t think so.” Mick said. “I mean, you’re nice, but I don’t know if I’m ready to date yet. Maybe not ever. I guess I still consider myself married.”
“That’s okay,” Justin said. “Hey, I’d better put my laundry in the dryer before I forget.”
Mick pulled his own laundry out of the washer and put it in the trash bags he had brought along. “A basket is so cliché,” he’d muttered to himself. He didn’t bother using the carts the laundromat provided, he needed the exercise.
When he’d finished taking both bags (wet laundry was heavy) to his car trunk he went back inside and grabbed his book and duffel bag, nodded politely at Justin and walked out to his car.
Mick was in their…his basement at home and had put the wash in the dryer, checked the lint trap and turned the dryer on. He opened the duffel bag and pulled out the little bag with the detergent pods when a piece of paper fell out of the duffel bag.
It was a piece of notebook paper, carefully folded. On it was scrawled a phone number and the name JUSTIN.
Underneath that was written: “For when you’re ready.”
Mick smiled. He stuck the paper in his pocket and headed upstairs. He’d sit in his old spot on the couch and enter the number into his phone.
He’d call it when he was ready.
Such a lovely, poignant story! ❤️