Mommy pushed her dead weight against the doorframe, feeling the pressure of the wood against her spine, focusing on the light, biting pain.
It was a moment of silence, of respite, when Millie left for the school bus and Mommy had a couple moments before heading down to the laundromat to work. She used to stay at home and keep the house clean, neat, and tidy for Daddy, but with the economic crash, she started working, and she realized she liked it.
She never kept a job long, but it was out of a string of bad luck, never a fault of her own. Things just always happened to fall apart the right — or wrong — way.
And now, after Daddy had run off with some floozy, the house was completely silent, suspended in time like the dust floating through morning light.
Mommy stared at the phone hanging on the wall in the hallway.
It was the second day since Daddy disappeared, and Millie was saying the visitors had kidnapped him, that they should call the police. Mommy knew instead that the right sweetheart came along to steal his love for good this time. Not that that was a crime — in a way, that freed Mommy up.
She felt guilty thinking that.
She knew the strangers had not kidnapped Daddy because, well, Millie had said the strangers got him, but the strangers were still there, clogging up the motel parking lot like a blood clot threatening a stroke on the town.
No, this was only the fourth or fifth time he’d fallen for some blue-eyed flirt idling through town. She was used to him coming home late. She had stopped tracking his activity.
She should have seen it coming, honestly — they got married out of high school, and the nagging thoughts in the back of her mind were stifled by the pride of being one of the few remaining high school-sweetheart couples.
She got herself moving. Couldn’t stand there forever.
She moved into the kitchen, eyeing the dishes from several nights ago. She did not have the heart to clean them. Daddy’d gone all judgmental on her, over time, increasingly unhappy with the meals she cooked even when they were his favorites. She felt a fear looking at those dishes, a fear that Daddy would come home and ask why the hell they weren’t done, what she’d been doing on her lazy ass. But Daddy had finally up and left. Even little Millie couldn’t anchor him.
Mommy sighed, and went upstairs to change into her work uniform. She saw her pudgy body in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, and imagined herself in her high school cheerleading uniform. Not quite the same effect, now.
She didn’t even bother putting on her makeup today.
Nobody to impress.
The drive to the laundromat was quiet. She usually listened to the radio, but Mommy was not in the mood for old country crooners today. She listened to the sound of the wind, punishing the car for moving so unnaturally fast, buffeting a steady rhythm against its surface.
Four minutes, and she was at the laundromat.
The job was ridiculously easy — something a fresh high school dropout would eagerly jump on, but a job that would drive any other, more responsible adult insane. The machines operated themselves — the owners just wanted someone on the premises to make sure nothing illicit happened on their property.
She was basically a security guard, but the opposite of glorified — unappreciated, invisible, and unnecessary.
Agatha was waiting at the door when Mommy pulled up. Mommy silently cursed her for being so punctual and on-schedule. She knew without looking at the car’s clock that she was a couple of minutes late; Agatha was always there exactly at opening.
“Hi Agatha!” said Mommy, her voice traveling across the laundromat’s empty parking lot.
“Mornin’,” came the disgruntled reply.
Agatha was sixty-something, the grandmother of ten grandchildren, with an eleventh on the way. A shawl obscured her neck, giving the impression that her head was in a nest of some sort, accentuated by her beak-like nose. The woman had hard lines in her wrinkles, and bright eyes. Her brow was heavy enough to cast deep shadows when she was dissatisfied, and today was one of those days.
“I’m sorry, Agatha,” Mommy said, “Millie was taking her sweet time this morning. First day of the new semester.”
“Humph,” grunted Agatha. Nothing more.
Mommy unlocked the door under Agatha’s watchful eye.
She entered the laundromat — a large space with three aisles of machines and a desk in back, where she would sit, ready for customers with questions or technical issues.
Mommy left Agatha to her business, retreating deeper into the business to set up shop at the desk. Her crochet bag was still there, something she did to pass the time when the hours got particularly dull. That turned out to be most of the time.
A machine whirred to life somewhere in the rows in front of her, the first of a constant hum that would fill the space throughout the day.
Over the morning, more women came in, and a couple men, depositing or picking up their laundry. Nobody said hi to Mommy, or even approached her, but she knew they were there when another machine would add its hum to the din. Each had its specific sound, and some Mommy could recognize by the specific way they clanked.
Time crawled this way for hours, and Mommy added some new inches to her crochet bag before a hand slammed on the desk in front of her, startling her.
She looked up and saw a man with oily black slicked back hair, and deep, startlingly black eyes. He wore a bright Hawaiian shirt, which popped against his pale skin and dark features.
“Norma, right?” the man asked.
Mommy felt deeply unsettled. Behind the man was another man, stocky, his mouth hanging open. She realized she had been imagining the wrong thing all this time whenever she heard the insult “mouth-breather.”
“Yeah, that’s me,” she said. She almost asked how he knew her name, but then remembered the name tag she wore as part of her uniform, hanging around her neck. Completely unnecessary in a town as small as this.
“You’re Dave’s wife.”
Mommy nodded, watching the mouth-breather behind the slick man wandering, inspecting the washing machines.
“Is he okay? I — haven’t seen him lately,” she said.
“Dave?” the man asked, “Yeah, he’s fine.”
“Millie said he was kidnapped,” Mommy said, immediately wishing she could catch those words as they left her mouth. Probably not smart to say to the people Millie suspected kidnapped him.
The man laughed the deadest laugh Mommy could have possibly imagined.
“Must’ve looked that way to her. One of our friends dropped her off at yours after Dave fixed the electricity at the motel.”
“…Where is he?”
Mommy looked the man in the eye, and she saw nothing. There wasn’t amusement, or malice, or remorse. No discernible emotion.
She had to break eye contact with him, looking down instead. Her name tag was hanging backwards, a blank white card. She flipped it so that her name showed.
The mouth -breather turned, acknowledging her for the first time, “He said he don’t love you anymore.”
Mommy felt cold, real cold. Her blood was ice; her head pounded. Before she could tell the offending strangers to get out, they turned and walked through the aisles of the laundromat.
They didn’t even use one of the machines.