I travel back in time a few years. I’m a university student again, working two jobs with a full time academic schedule. I’m living in an historic 19th century building. The unit overlooks the water. As a bonus, my dining room is a solarium. And I have a balcony. The views at sunset are truly breathtaking.
I’ve just moved from a much worse neighborhood and I like my new haunt – at first. There are fewer junkies huddled in doorways. The air is not as thick with the smell of chronic. Some of the get-out-and-vote signs are written in English.
Most of the residents pay their own rent.
The building has some amenities on the ground floor. There’s a florist, useful for buying flowers when an elderly, Section 8 neighbor finally croaks. An on-site daycare is run by a Vietnamese harpy and is probably unlicensed, so it’s great for the working poor. A breakfast joint serves as a second home to the vast number of alcoholic divorcees who have taken up residence. The gym is open seemingly at the whim of the super, who is a capricious, fat fuck.
Doing laundry here is a major drawback. The machines are in the belly of the building and down a poorly lit hallway that leads to a nondescript wash room. Inside, broken areas of floor tile are filled with sandy grit. Rusty ceiling pipes rattle nosily overhead. Large sections wall are gradually collapsing due to years of neglect. And as the devil tested Job’s endurance for pain, management found it wise to outfit the 180 unit building with four machines.
All of dubious sanitary quality.
Getting to them entails packing my rolling laundry cart full of clothes and parading it down the hallway to the elevator for all the lecherous creepos to see. The trip needs to be repeated about forty minutes later to swap the loads. Then I need to trek back down sixty minutes after that to retrieve the “clean” laundry. For those of you who can’t keep track, that’s three trips per load. Between loading baskets, walking across the building, and waiting for the elevator, this could take up the better part of an afternoon. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to find all of the machines in service.
I make most trips in a hurry, loading and offloading with purpose. Refuse to acknowledge, do not engage, and definitely avoid eye contact.
Do not fucking conversate.
A few weeks after moving in and I’m loading clothes in an empty laundry room. When I turn around, a squat, mentally challenged woman is beside me. I jump, startled by her presence.
A frumpy thing, she wears a stained sleeveless shift. The cottage cheese of her upper arms spills out brazenly for all to see. Her hair is unwashed, strands coiled wildly at unnatural angles to form a crest upon her head.
She’s the DeviantArt caricature of Ursula.
And she pays me no mind. Instead, she shuffles about, mumbles incoherent words to no one in particular, and haphazardly loads machines without regard to balance.
I’m not sure if she’s someone’s ward or if she’s functional enough to be independent. But there are machines open and I take no further note of her.
It’s a busy, chaotic world and I’ve got papers to write, classes to sleep through and jobs to work. I’m nearing the end of my undergraduate studies and feeling pretty good about a little break from all the aging hippies, bleeding hearts and capitalist swine in my life.
But a few weeks later, I find myself sharing the elevator with Ursula to the laundry room. She’s in her yellowed shift today and she’s in rare form.
She begins quietly, her mumbling sounds gradually forming themselves into recognizable words. The speech patterns are hard to discern, but I think I can make out a little. She’s going on about how “he needs to leave her alone.” I pause, not sure if “her” refers to herself, another person or an entirely fictitious personality. Maybe she’s just saying random words and they’ve incidentally strung together to sound like an appeal.
She is fucking crazy after all.
Another minute of this and I’m convinced she’s trying to make a point. The elevator is slow to move and unconcerned if it gets to our floor anytime soon. Ursula is working herself into a frenzy and I find myself wondering if she ever had to wear one of those self-harm prevention helmets. I allow a brief moment of imagining her running headlong into the closed doors before us, collapsing onto the floor in a sobbing heap of tortured humanity.
Instead, she starts pounding on the doors in advance of their opening. We’ve arrived at the basement level and by now, she’s frothing mad, both fists pounding away while she growls unintelligible words. It feel like I’m in a Pentecostal church.
She rushes forth as the doors part for her, spilling into the hallway in all her rage.
It’s like a scene from The Shining.
Unleashed in the basement, I watch her tear down the hall. Stunned, I press the button to go back to my floor. My laundry can wait for another day. I glance down and notice that Ursula left her soiled linen with me. She had forgotten it in her fury. The well-used pillow case that doubles as her carrier is overstuffed.
Its small gaping holes between stitches like so many poorly mended wounds.