Wash With Like Colours

Wash With Like Colours

September, 2012

He had something I’d always coveted. Call it confidence, courage, chutzpah, or whatever you want, but this guy had it in spades.

He used to come into the laundromat every Saturday with a single basket brimming with whites: white shirts, white underwear, white towels, white trousers…everything was white, and all the same shade of white, too: that ‘sun on freshly fallen snow’ white, and nothing ever appeared to be dirty or stained in any way, either.

At first I thought he had to be one of the pompous jerks that everyone runs into sooner or later. The kind of guy who is just looking to be noticed, wanting to hear that he’s some kind of gift to mankind, always looking to hear and see himself reflected back in the eyes and words of other people. But even as I quietly rolled my eyes at him, I couldn’t help but notice that women reacted to him immediately; they were drawn to him. When he came in, there was a quiet flurry of activity – hair was smoothed, lipstick touched up, and clothes straightened or tucked in.

He was immaculately clean and groomed, but never seemed to be particular about it in an OCD kind of way, and his clothes were that perfect mix of casual and dressed up that you generally only see in magazines. He wasn’t movie star handsome, but he carried himself as though he were Brad Pitt, or George Clooney, yet he was easy to approach. Easy to talk to.

He had a way of nicely deflecting the attention he didn’t want – without ever making any of the women he wasn’t interested in feel bad, or rejected. And he had an amazing ability to focus in on the one he did want with an ease that never came across as creepy, or stalker-like. He listened more than he spoke, he smiled and laughed engagingly, and his presence was relaxing and simple. I never once heard him say anything stupid or meaningless to impress any woman he ever talked to. He didn’t dig deep for ten dollar words like ‘contretemps’, or ‘embrocation’, or – that old “Look at me, I’m college educated!” standby, ‘zeitgeist’. He spoke easily, naturally, and matched his speech to theirs – he quite literally spoke their language without being a smarmy jackass about it.

And he always – always – left with the one of his choosing, her arm tucked companionably through his, as they took themselves off to a coffee shop or whatever while their clothes tumbled in the dryer.

It’s hard not to covet skills like that.

Me? I’m not nearly that good-looking, and though I own this laundromat and actually do pretty well for myself, I have a tendency to be interested in women who are looking for a bit more of a high-profile boyfriend than a laundromat operator. I still cannot recall one of my last dates without cringing: I met her online. She was a good-looking woman, the kind that if we’d met at a nightclub, she would have dismissed me immediately in favour of some chisel-jawed Captain America. But online, you have time to ponder, time to read a guy’s profile and not be immediately dismissive. She sent me a message saying that she was “intrigued” and that we should meet.

We went to a fairly upscale restaurant, and I did all the gentlemanly things: I held the door, I pulled out her chair, I offered flattering, and true, compliments about her outfit. She smiled a lot, leaned across the table to give me a view of her rather ample and well-displayed breasts, and she gave me the distinct impression that she found me extremely attractive and worth her attention.

At one point, halfway through our meal, she leaned forward, trailing one manicured finger lightly over the back of my hand, a touch as light as a feather and full of promise and, with a flirtatious smile, asked me to tell her about my profession which I had listed in my profile as “entrepreneur”.

I told her.

She sat back in her chair, taking her cleavage, the promising touch, and flirty smile with her.

“That must be really interesting,” she said. “For you.”

Yes, that’s really how she said it. The date ended directly after dinner – which I still paid for – and she caught a taxi outside the restaurant without so much as a thank you.

I already know that part of the problem is me. I’m a work in progress OK?

So, anyway, Mr. White – that’s the name I always call him in my head – sometimes it’s ‘Mr. Clean’ when I’m feeling less than generous – continued to come in every Saturday, dump his pristine clothing into a machine, and pick up the prettiest girl there. I continued to admire and envy him.

But, about six weeks ago, the routine changed.

Mr. White had come in as usual but, unlike every other Saturday he’d come in, there was only one woman in the whole place. She was sitting in the corner, in one of the plastic chairs, reading. She was dressed completely in layers of black that looked as though she’d put them on the dark after sleeping on them first. Even her hair was black, obviously dyed, and it hung in messy clumps and snarls, long enough to obscure her face as she looked down at her book. The only bit of colour about her was the bright red scarf around her neck.

I don’t know what she was reading that first day, but it must have been good because Miss Black (I know, not very imaginative) never even looked at Mr. White, not even a quick glance when the front door binged-bonged as it opened. He noticed her not noticing him and made a bit of a production about starting his laundry. First he deliberately fumbled with the cap of his detergent bottle and sent it rolling across the floor. Then he talked to himself as he placed each item from the basket carefully into the washer, and even hummed a little too loudly as he put his quarters in. She kept reading. At first, he smiled good naturedly and simply waited, leaning on the machine in a way that he knew looked attractive, sure that she would look up and see him. She didn’t. Then he opened the washing machine mid-cycle, supposedly to check its progress, and let the lid drop back down with a loud bang.

Miss Black didn’t even flinch.

Finally, he walked over, sat in the chair nearest to hers, and asked her point blank how she was enjoying her book.

“Quite a lot, thank you.” she replied politely, only lifting her eyes up for the barest moment before lowering them back to her book.

Mr. White stared at the top of her head for a moment, clearly bewildered by her lack of interest. He scratched at his neck, the first truly awkward thing I’d ever seen him do, cleared his throat, and gave an odd sounding little laugh, clearly trying to decide if he should walk away or keep trying. Miss Black read her book as though he weren’t there, and not in an obviously self-conscious, “I’m deliberately ignoring you.” sort of way, but as though he actually weren’t there at all. Mr. White stood, letting the metal feet of the chair scrape loudly over the floor, and went back to his machine. A little later, as he fed his quarters into the dryer, I noticed that his hands shook just slightly.

I wrote the whole thing off as an anomaly, but next week, it happened again. Miss Black was the only woman in the laundromat the entire time that Mr. White was there. And even more odd were the clothes Mr. White brought in: they were still neat, clean, and ironed looking – but they were also very faintly pink, as though they were just beginning to blush from embarrassment. Miss Black sat in the same spot, still dressed in layers of black clothes, and still with the red scarf, although that seemed somehow less vibrant than before.

Mr. White poured nearly a quarter bottle of bleach into his wash, all while watching Miss Black with a wary look on his face. For her part, she never looked up except to attend to her own laundry – all black of course – and again seemed not notice Mr. White’s existence at all.

The next week was more of the same, and the only differences were the colour of Mr. White’s laundry and his level of unease and wariness. The bleach hadn’t worked on removing the faint pink stain from his clothes, if anything the clothes seemed even more obviously pink. Her scarf was definitely more faded, too. I watched them both carefully, especially Miss Black, to see if maybe she was somehow slipping that scarf into Mr. White’s wash. If she did, she did it by means of sorcery or something because she was perfectly quiet and minded her own business while in my laundromat. I also thought I noticed that her way of dressing seemed tidier than before, that her hair seemed a bit neater and more orderly, her clothes a little less severely black and definitely less messy looking.

Mr. White, on the other hand, was beginning to look less than immaculate. His hair appeared a little mussed, his self-confidence seemed a little less sure, and his posture had something of wariness and uncertainty in it. I have to admit, I felt a little bad for the guy.

As the Saturdays went by, it became even more obvious that something was going on between Mr. White and Miss Black. His clothes were becoming positively dingy looking, as though they’d been soaked in dirty grey water and put on wet.

The girl, however, was becoming prettier somehow, and more put together. Now I don’t hold with all that nonsense that girls have to be whatever standard of “pretty” is currently fashionable – I’m no jerk – but in this case it was simply a fact: she looked prettier. She was slowly shedding the messy black layers and adopting a more tailored look that suited her. Her hair was neatly brushed and had been cut into flattering layers that framed her face and played up her lovely eyes. Her combat boots looked polished, and the laces were tied in neat and symmetrical bows.

The last time I saw Mr. White was two Saturdays ago. He looked baggy to tell you the truth – his clothes, his skin, everything. Everything he was wearing, once so perfect and clean, was now ill-fitting and looked as though it had been scoured with bathtub cleaner and a wire brush. His hair was unkempt and, I suspect, unwashed. His eyes were bloodshot and set deeply in bruised looking sockets. In the laundry basket were the most pathetic and grubby rags I’d ever seen. I wouldn’t have used them to wipe up a spill in the laundromat – that’s how bad they were.

This time he didn’t bother to put his basket of rags through the wash, he simply stood at the machine, staring blankly at the instructions on the underside of the lid. He never once looked at Miss Black, who sat in her corner as she always did, reading her book.

I think he might have been crying, but when I walked over to him, meaning to offer some words of comfort or encouragement, he turned abruptly and left, leaving his basket full of rags behind. At the end of the day, I tucked his things – basket and all – into a large plastic bag meant for storing freshly cleaned quilts and tied it securely. It’s still here, too, waiting for him to return.

Miss Black stopped coming that day too, and I haven’t seen either of them since. I don’t believe I’ll ever know what really happened, or how, and each possible explanation I’ve come up with sounds crazier than the one before.

Since then, though, my luck with women has improved. I’m not drowning in social engagements by any means, but I don’t feel quite so shy or awkward any more. Maybe some of Mr. White’s charismatic behaviour rubbed off on me, or maybe it’s that I’ve started to worry less about impressing my dates and that I spend more time just enjoying their company.

Tomorrow is my third date with a woman I met online. This time, I was upfront about who I am and what I do. She and I get along well, and I could see us getting more serious. I hope we do, because there is something familiar about her, and something in the way she looks at me with those lovely eyes…


Credit: Photo by AlishaV on Flickr from her “Spring 2010” set. Used in accordance with CC BY 2.0 licence.


1 Comment

  1. Just finished reading it. So good. So intriguing and cliched and it draws the reader in without fully every explaining what’s going on. I loved it. I like the way the guy starts out as a douche, but then you do kind of feel sorry for him at the end. And very symbolic with the red scarf.
    Great story (to be published in your future collection of short stories, n’est ce pas?)