La Laverie MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

   As I remember it, we were all beautiful. I can see thesmoke twisting skyward from Sara's Lucky Strikes, the blue of Tori's t-shirtdominating her egg-white skin. I am beautiful, too, with gently curling hair,wearing flip flops, swinging smooth legs and scribbling poetry. The dryers runconstantly, buzzing softly; I cannot help but think of poor Corduroy and hisgreen coveralls.

I don't remember any oil on Sara's skin, any blistersunder my sandal straps. Tori doesn't squint, doesn't even need her cat's-eyes.The floor tiles are whole, slick; sunlight fills our faces. Upstairs, someonelaughs, and in the street lie carpet bundles, stained to mud, choking onbottletops. All of it, warmth and sunburn included, was beautiful: we were inParis.

"Let's go to the laundromat, today, la laverie," Sara hadsaid, the words coming thick and slow through a mouthful of crepe. Chocolate andpeanut butter lay in the corners of her mouth.

"Let's," I'dreplied, glad at the thought of clean pajamas and a lighter coin purse. Torinodded through her headphones ("And I will never need umbrellas in therain"), we paid the cheque and left, greasy sacks of bread intow.

There was no one else in the hallway; the rest of the camp was offogling Monet, buying Eiffel Tower replicas with peeling gold, stroking dresses atthe Marché Aux Puces. I slipped into my room and stuffed sport shirts anddenim into my bag. I took off my socks and changed into cutoffs and my May Dayshirt, clothes that didn't need to be clean.

Before locking the door (pushclosed, one and a half turns clockwise, wait for the click), I grabbed the box ofBounce. Together, the three of us dragged our bags up rue Vavin, stepping overpigeons and pausing at window after window, admiring marble pinkie rings, babyshoes, headless chickens, an olive maternity dress.

"If only I werepregnant," sighed Sara. Tori knocked her teeth together and hurried along,destination-oriented as always.

The Americans were taking over thelaundromat. Simon sat on one of the washers, boots smudging the glass as hetapped absent-mindedly; Charlie-from-Miami stood in a corner cluelessly mixingcolors and khakis, obviously missing his mother more than he'danticipated.

We three set to work, shaking and sorting our clothes intotwo wire bins-on-wheels. To save money, Tori and I combined our lace tanks,nylons and fleece; Sara, always in black, ran her own load. Our cappuccinos satsteaming on the cheap orange seats; outside, the noise was quiet, orderly, fullof bells and the smack of the cleaver from the charcuterie across the street.When we bent over, cat calls came from the fruit stand.

We sat on thestoop as the clothes tumbled. I fanned notebook pages; Tori flopped into Sara'slap, absentmindedly picking at her nail polish. We looked up to see the rest ofour school marching by, mechanical, tan, grabbing hands and teetering on newheels. They were off to the cinema, the chapel, Bethillon. We clucked over theirskirts as Tori stripped away flake after red flake, sitting quietly as the streetnoise slowly returned.

Simon came to sit, offering headphones,chlorophyll tablets. ABBA seemed out of place in a laundromat and so I laughedaloud while cradling a speaker to my ear. Charlie crouched next to me and Ibreathed in his hair, blond, buzzed close to the bone. He smelled like cigarettesmoke and Lion bars. The five of us sat talking, winking at the hairdresser nextdoor. The tiny man, veins snaking inside his elbows, had called me chérie,twirled a dustbin full of red-black hair, given us change for the spincycle.

The five of us sat, comfortable against the hum of the machines. Idon't remember our conversation. Perhaps it included the crab at the tabac onBout Mich or the best place for profiteroles, Paul Abbott, the VelvetUnderground. Maybe we discussed the AP envelopes waiting at home. Simon fiddledwith his backpack straps; Sara showed us her scar.

The dings came loud andsharp, no more than ten seconds apart. The street was darkening, and so wedecided to bypass the dryers, trudging home with our heavy sacks. In the lobby, Ifound my other friends, smiling and red-lipped without makeup, singing loudly.They had brought me an ice cream.

Parisian law prohibits hanging anythingfrom a balcony, so I draped cargo shorts over the radiator, hung tie dye from thereading light. My towel covered the mirror, and the windows were lined with rowsof dripping cotton, neatly suspended from wire hangers. The room smelled likeBounce for a week.

On Sunday, the clothes still hadn't dried, and so Iwore wrinkled slacks to church. My sweater sleeves were tricolored, sky blue atthe shoulders darkening to navy at the cuffs; they neededwringing.

Afterward, wrinkled or smooth, our old lives continued. Simonand I shared corn flakes for breakfast. Tori and I swapped t-shirts, and Saracame along to the disco. Still, I spent the rest of the trip with my ice creamfriends, prowling bookstores, buying mustard cravats, lightingcandles.

But Sara's handwriting marches like so many spiders across a pageof my address book, and Tori's phone number is written on a shirt sleeve. Simonsends me postcards from California, calls me "honey" and says "seeya soon."

On the last night, I bumped into Charlie on the stairs.We were in front of a window; streetlights lit his hair from behind. I scribbledmy fax number and email for him; he inked his address onto my wrist, dodgingfreckles. He is always online, a constant presence as I research the globalvillage and women's baseball, when I write to my Aunt Adaire. Perhaps, one day,my connection will be slow and I will say hello. To remind him who I am, maybe Iwill begin with ABBA: "Dancing queen, play it on your tambourine ..."Maybe he will smile.

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