The Laundromat

By Michelle Railey

4 June 2011

I swear this really happened.

Yesterday afternoon in hot, sunny downtown Indianapolis, I sit outside on a break from work to enjoy the fresh air, however tempered it may be from the potent combination of soap and fabric softener wafting from the laundromat across the street. A young woman exits said laundromat and crosses the street, walking directly toward me. She is eating a fudgsicle and tugging a rather impish looking toddler with her.

“Hey. You know anyone with a baby?” She stands over me, looking down, where I sit on the curb. Her demeanor is chipper and it’s impossible to miss the brightness of the toddler’s eyes, the sweetness of his smile. I answer an embarrassingly slow negative: the question has surprised me. Normally the questions from strangers are of the “You got a cigarette/quarter for the payphone?” or “What kind of work is in there/They hiring?” varieties. There are very seldom exceptions.

“Well, the thing is, my baby just died…”

“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry.” Horror. Pity.

“Yeah. Had to go identify the body today.” She says this in the exact same tone of voice I would use to say “I could use a coke.” Now, a stoic or even matter-of-fact expressionless I could have understood; anything other than the vaguely pleasant, rather casual method of delivery of what appears to be, to her, a small detail of her communication.She doesn’t really pause after this shocking sentence, but continues: “Well, I had just bought all this formula and now I’m stuck with it, so I thought if you knew anyone with a baby…”

Here, she pauses, bites off a piece of the fudgsicle, hands it to the toddler, who pops it into his mouth, stretches his arms over his head, stands on his toes, falls back on his heels and then covers his eyes with the upstretched arms just enough to peep disarmingly out from under, at me. Throughout the whole moment, he smiles his gift of a smile with immaculate little baby teeth, sticky face, and impossible good-natured perfection.

“Anyway,” the mother says, “I’m only charging 10 dollars a can, ‘cause I have to make my money back, so I just thought…” Shrug. Fudgsicle. And she and her toddler amble off away while I’m still sotto voce-ing between “so sorry” and “good luck” and some version of “how can I help?” and “what?”

Prospect Street is not well-named.



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