I have a pretty strong tolerance for gross things. I can watch all the various TV shows and documentaries about medical procedures and not get upset by the sight of blood. I can watch horror movies where the lead character has his limbs unnaturally removed and still keep my appetite. I thought I was invincible when it comes to the ultimate gross-out, but that theory was proven wrong earlier this week.
Just like every Tuesday morning for the past couple of months, I was at the laundromat. I tend to bury my nose in a book when I'm there, to avoid eye contact and thus an inevitable long-winded conversation about the nutritional benefits of Moon Pies (its happened) with any of the creepy patrons who happen to be doing their wash at the same time. I had just sat down after switching my laundry from the washer into the dryer, and was just about to open my book when She came and sat near me.
She was, for lack of a more polite adjective, unappealing. Her long, matted brunette hair was tangled up in a hot pink elastic, her grey t-shirt had a faded image of Tweety Bird screen printed on the front, and her baggy teal-green sweatpants had lost their waist-elasticity a long time ago. She settled down into a chair a few seats away from me, unwrapping a piece of hard candy as she did so. After popping the candy in her mouth, she proceeded to rattle it against her teeth with her tongue while breathing loudly through her nose. An odd odor began to waft over in my direction, smelling strongly of body odor, morning breath, and cigarettes. I glanced over at her, annoyed mostly by the clacking sound she was making with the hard candy, and then faced forward again to read my book. No sooner had I removed my bookmark when She spoke.
"Whatcha readin'?" she asked in a raspy, wet voice, amid the candy-clacking.
"'The Stand', by Stephen King. I'm just getting to the good part at the end, too," I said, barely looking up and hoping she'd get the hint.
"'The Stand'? Never heard of it. Whatchit's about?"
"It's about a plague that kills just about everyone on Earth," I said hastily, not wanting to get more into an explanation than that. I was just getting to the good part at the end, and I wanted to read in peace. She remained silent for a moment, so I resumed where I had left off when she interrupted me.
"A plague, huh? Interestin'," she said to herself quietly. She fidgeted in her chair for a minute, positioning herself to face me, still rattling the hard candy against her teeth. She picked up a tattered magazine from the rack to her left, and held it up in front of her face. I could feel her looking at me over the top of the magazine, and every so often I would look up and turn to face her. Each time I did she would quickly raise the magazine to cover her face, trying to hide the fact that she was staring at me. When I would begin reading again, I could see in the corner of my vision her magazine slowly drop a few inches, and she would begin to stare at me again with her large brown eyes beneath overgrown eyebrows reminiscent of Bert from "Sesame Street".
After thirty minutes of this frustrating routine, I had read only a few pages from the constant distraction. My laundry was finally dry, so I put away my book, grabbed a cart to take my laundry out of the dryer, found an empty table and began folding. She continued staring at me until her own laundry was done drying, at which point She gathered her laundry up and began folding on the next table over that faced me directly. Fuck wrinkles, I just want the hell OUT of here, I thought to myself, and quickened my pace. Shirts first, pants next, boxers and socks last. I was folding together my last pair of socks when She cleared her throat.
As I would soon come to regret, I looked up.
There she was, head cocked to the side, holding a pair of stained white control-top underwear. She smiled and batted her eyelashes, and licked her lips as she folded them slowly and deliberately.
My jaw dropped, and I suddenly felt like I had a bull rider desperately holding onto my violently bucking and lurching stomach.
I snapped my mouth shut, and quickly looked down . DON'T vomit. You will NOT throw up.
I grabbed my laundry and shoved it into my laundry bag. She cleared her throat again as I walked as fast as I could out of the laundromat. I kept my head down the entire time, for fear that if I accidentally made eye contact with her again that I would barf all over my freshly laundered clothes.
I can handle watching a graphic televised autopsy, but not that. Can you blame me, though?
I need to find a new laundromat.
P.S. There is still plenty of time to make your submission for the contest!