The hypnotic way the clothes danced in the dryer and the clicking, hissing and spinning of the washers made me sleepy. I could tell the clothes were getting dry by the way they tumbled. When the wet clothes would reach the top of the dryer, they would fall hard to the bottom because of the weight they carried, but as the laundry got dry, they would float around like butterflies- Free.
“They ‘bout finished,” I announced, looking up at Momma’s sad face. She had a heaviness about her like wet laundry. After putting the last folded towel in the basket, we headed for the door. Daddy would be arriving any time to get us.
In walked Miss Ruby. My grandma, who always spoke in King James Version, told me that Miss Ruby was a woman of ill repute. I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was Miss Ruby was nice to me and Daddy. Every time he would take me to her house, she would give me a coke and a coloring book to occupy my time while she and daddy went into the other room to talk. Always smiling and laughing, Miss Ruby looked like the porcelain dolls I saw in magazines, with painted blue eyelids, and lips and hair as red as her name. I liked her just fine and smiled when she walked in. Momma, on the other hand, wasn’t as happy.
Grandma once said about Momma, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She talked about Daddy like an introduction from the Bible; Cain was the son of Adam, and my daddy was the son of Bitch. I never knew my dad’s mom and never knew her name until then.
One thing I knew for sure- this day, my momma was mad. Her sky-blue eyes turned dark as she dropped our freshly folded laundry on the floor. She cocked her hand back and like lightning, struck Miss Ruby’s cheek, making it blood red- redder than her lipstick. Miss Ruby called out the name of my dad’s mother and grabbed Momma’s golden curls and pulled her over to a washing machine. She crammed Momma’s head in and repeatedly slammed the lid. Someone belted out an eerie, high-pitched scream. I think it was me. Momma punched Miss Ruby’s stomach and while she was bent over holding her belly, Momma somehow regained her head and composure from the washing machine. Momma pulled Miss Ruby’s hair and oh my god, it came off in her hands. All of it! Miss Ruby put both hands on her head and screamed. My eyes were as big as dryer doors, staring at her fiery red hair in my momma’s hand, being held up in the air like a trophy. Momma was totally insane. She was foaming at the mouth and growling like a mad dog.
All my thoughts were in King James Version: Miss Ruby shalt not hurt Momma. Momma shalt not kill Miss Ruby. HELL- hath arrived at The Corner Laundromat. I shalt not puketh on the clean laundry. What does “ill repute” mean anyway?
I became fixated on Miss Ruby’s head for a minute. She had mousey brown hair all tightly pinned to her head with a million bobby pins. I was more confused now than ever, but I snapped back into reality when Momma’s clinched fist connected with Miss Ruby’s face, sending her head sideways and her body tumbling backwards into a washer. Miss Ruby slid down the washer and landed on the floor. Momma cocked her foot back to give Miss Ruby a final kick in the face when I screamed, “MOMMA!”
The world stopped spinning. My stomach did not. The scent of dirty socks, bleach and blood agitated my stomach like the final spin of a washing machine.
As I raised my head from spilling my guts on the floor and with a sour taste still in my mouth, Momma was kneeling by Miss Ruby. She was propped up against the washer. Momma retrieved one of our towels from the floor and gently pressed it on Miss Ruby’s bleeding face. She put Miss Ruby’s hair back on her head and smoothed it with both hands. As Momma gently touched Miss Ruby’s forehead, she whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Miss Ruby replied, with a nod, “Me too.”
The door of The Corner Laundromat chimed as Daddy walked in. Momma told me to sit with Miss Ruby. She floated to her feet, extended her hand to Daddy and gave a Come-Hither gesture. Momma said with a smile, “More Dirty Laundry.”
What a sight to see in The Corner Laundromat that day; Daddy, standing there with a puzzled look on his face, Miss Ruby propped against a washing machine like a rag doll and Momma looking like dry laundry.
Paula is from Shelby North Carolina. She is currently seeking her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing. Paula is also in the process of writing a memoir of her life. When she’s not studying or writing, you may find her on a road trip adventure or spending time with her family and friends.
If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine.