The hums of spinning washing machines and the tumble of the industrial dryers fill the laundromat with constant noise. The mother hauls another load of laundry from the washer and tosses it unceremoniously into the dryer. She fishes another dollar of quarters from the bottom of her wallet, slots the coins into the grooves of the payment apparatus, and pushes the mechanism back. The money chimes as it clinks together, falling into the machine. The dryer rumbles to life, beginning to spin. The mother huffs. She gathers the next pile of clothes, whites, and adjusts the diles on the washing machine.
“Mommy, I bored,” her eldest daughter whines. The mother glances back and sees the girl sitting amongst the corpses of her broken crayons. She catches a glimpse of the baby attempting to climb out of the stroller. She sighs as she unbuckles the baby and begins to bounce her on her hip.
“I know honey, but this is the last load, I promise,” she soothes. The mother digs into her purse with one hand and pulls out a tupperware of animal crackers. “How about a snack?” she asks. The daughter’s eyes light up and she makes grabby hands at the box, boredom already forgotten. She hands her daughter the snack and re-buckles the baby into the stroller.
The mother turns back to the washer. After checking the settings again she goes to retrieve the coins from her wallet. She digs around a bit, furrow growing in her brow as she is unable to locate enough quarters. Giving up on the fruitless search she swipes a couple of dollars from her cash. The woman turns to her daughter, “Stay here and watch your sister, I’m just going over there.” She points to the end of the aisle of machines where there is a change maker on the wall. “Then I’ll be right back.” The older daughter nods and then turns to studiously stare at the baby in the stroller. The mother smiles, she takes her big sister responsibilities so seriously, she thinks.
She hurries down the aisle and feeds her first dollar into the change maker. Four quarters clank into the tray at the bottom. The mother scoops them up, shoving them into her pockets and glances back at her girls. Still there.
“Scuse me, Mrs.,” A voice surprises her. She glances to her left and sees and older woman; short, white, with thick glasses and an expensive looking black coat.
“Sorry can I help you?” The mother replies.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I heard you speaking English with your kids,” the woman begins, “I’m looking for a new cleaning lady, one that speaks English, and I was wondering if you could take on another house.” The words hang in the air like the smoke from her husband's cigarettes.
The mother’s eyes go wide and her mouth hangs open slightly. She is taken aback. Shocked. She has no idea what to say. The sheer gall of this woman’s assumption about her has frozen her in her tracks. What is it about brown skin and black hair that screams ‘cleaning lady desperate for work?’ The silence is stretching out into awkwardness and she wants to say something but is at a loss for words.
“I pay generously if that's an issue,” the woman presses. She's looking at the mother with innocent eyes, completely unaware of the inner conflict that she has caused.
“Thanks for the offer, but I actually have a job managing at a hotel.” The mother replies tightly. The woman's face falls.
“Oh,” she says, “well if you know anyone...” she holds out her card. The mother takes it quickly, spins on her heal and trudges back to her children. She punches the quarters into the machine with more force than may be strictly necessary and takes a deep breath as the machine lurches to life. She turns to her children, their hair and skin lighter than hers.
God, she begs, tilting her head back and staring at one of the fluorescent light fixtures like it’s the face of her savior, please never make them deal with things like that. She wishes with every ounce of motherhood within her, to the lightbulb and the soapy water of the washing machines.