The local Laundromat had always been a minefield for Zara. The month of October even more so. She found herself ignoring her laundry until there was nothing left to ignore. Her hamper became so overstuffed, she’d fight her way through almost every door. That night at the laundromat it took four tackles just to get through. Her underwear launched themselves onto the floor, one of her bras believed it could fly and flew. It hooked itself on the head of a person’s wavy cloud of hair.
The man pulled it off their head, processing what was sitting in his palm with a blank expression.
“I am so sorry!...” She shoveled up the rest of her garments into her arms before reaching for it.
The first mine of the laundromat had grown out his hair making him nearly unrecognizable, but the sun that lived in his clear brown eyes was unforgettable.
“Haven’t seen you around for a hot minute now, you been hibernating girl?” He ran his thumb over the embroidery on her bra.
She snatched it back, her lips stretching and pressing together. “No,” She said after a while. “I’ve been busy.”
“Busy is good!” He nodded. “Keeps you off the streets. You still do that online artist thing right?”
Zara tilted her head. He used to do his laundry during the morning on Tuesdays, same as her. He’d linger around, trying to persuade her about the potential charms of “their side” of the city, to explore with him. The phenomenon would always send her high-school friend and former roommate Maggie into a mood that made her a stranger. Zara had about a dozen questions for him. But she had a girl code. A law to upkeep. One could never be certain.
Women’s Law of the Laundromat
2: Don’t act friendly towards anyone, don’t even smile.
She walked to the machines on the opposite side of the room. Immanuel didn’t follow tonight, his eyes were glued to his phone.
3: If you can help it try not to be next to anyone.
From the other side she could hear the news program he was watching.
“It’s October and it’s never been more unsafe for a woman to walk alone. It’s been four months, and the police, If they know anything, are still keeping their silence over the recent string of murders taking place in the city. Mr. Packson, you’re a journalist who has kept a close eye on this case. What do you think?”
The journalist grunted. “What we do know is that the killer likes to target young women, but thanks to the police identifying three of those victims. Victoria Ortega, Magnolia Summers and Patricia Williams, we know it is beautiful women, but still, I would like to say to all ladies, stay off the streets at night. Skip Halloween. And to the men, protect them. Until this crazy bastard is caught, your families will never be safe.”
A shadow fell over his phone. When Immanuel looked up Zara was watching with knitted brows and dewing eyes. She didn’t even notice he was staring until the live broadcast cut to an ad. Once she was caught, she retreated. Tucking herself back into the corner of the room, hugging herself and sniffling.
They were the same size and wore similar clothes, so, the two decided to do their laundry at different times. Maggie was insistent on having the morning Tuesdays, out of all days.
“Why can’t you just give me this?!” Maggie pounded her fist into her hand, the charms on her bracelet violently jingling. She knew such noises would reduce Zara back to a stuttering nine-year-old.
“B-because... th-th-the s-sun is out during the d-d-day!”
“I have work! Night shifts!”
“You changed it back?”
And so, for Zara, her rule number one became:
1: Wash at night.
Zara didn’t notice when he left, until she felt cold.
A man wearing a hoodie entered.
She watched him from her peripheral. Her brows raised at his choice to use hydrogen peroxide on his clothes. She also used hydrogen peroxide- to get out the period stains from her sheets, underwear and anything unfortunate enough to come into contact with her bum. A man had no need for hydrogen, unless his nose bled on his clothes, or he was a butcher.
4: If a guy is sus he’s sus, leave or keep your distance.
Something dropped from the bundle as he loaded the machine, it fell next to her foot. A piece of plastic string with silver charms. Zara froze. The man came over to retrieve the string, the pieces scattered upon his touch. He swore. There was a tattoo on his hand, a winged goat woman with horns that looked like a crown, with a star protruding from it.
Zara tucked herself away inside the bathroom. She remembered overhearing a conversation with Maggie and a co-worker once.
“I told him if he tried it again, I was gonna report him. The sick creep- Did you see his tattoo? It’s like a creepy knock-off of Starbucks!”
“Baphomet.” Zara realized.
5: When proven super sus, report them.
She dialed 911 quietly, she was nearly done when the door was kicked open. He dragged her out by the hair, slapped her so hard the world spun. He shoved her into the machines, the back of her head collided with the glass door of one of the washers and she fell, stunned. She reached a trembling hand to the back of her head and felt something wet.
The door to the laundry mat opened.
The killer swore and fled.
Immanuel walked in looking back, he was carrying a Popeyes family meal. His gaze eventually found her. He rushed over. She could hear him speaking, hear the distant sirens in the distance. She reached out a hand and he scooped her up. Enveloped by him, any fears and reservations she had disappeared.