That’s what the sign says. When asked, Karol confirms, “Yes, anything. Read the sign, dipshit.”
I normally wash my veggies at home, but these greens need professional help. The kale is dirty and limp, the broccoli is buggy. I load the nearest machine and add off-brand detergent. I set the gigantic dial to fruits/vegetables and deposit quarters. After a thirty-minute cycle, the greens are clean, plump, and crispy.
Back home, I chop my cleaned veggies. I realize I’m surrounded by other dirty things. A blackened skillet, a permanently stained Tupperware, a blender with gunk stuck in every crevasse. I return to Karol’s. I set the dial: miscellaneous hard objects. After forty-five minutes, each item shines anew.
I smile and laugh. “This is amazing,” I exclaim to the woman next to me. She scowls and moves her body in front of her washer, trying to block my view. She’s cleaning a stack of envelopes emblazoned with words like Final Notice and Past Due.
Karol lowers her newspaper and says, “Don’t bother the other customers, dipshit. People could be washing their unmentionables.”
“Sorry, I didn’t realize.”
“That’s no excuse,” Karol says. She mumbles something else—probably calls me a dipshit again.
I take my polished kitchenware home, and I scramble to find other washables. I pull down dusty curtains. I roll up my white rug with its deep wine stains. I grab muddied camping gear.
Toward the back of my coat closet, I stumble upon the box you gave me. I used to look inside regularly, but now I’ve almost forgotten what it contains. Mom’s wedding ring. The poem she wrote Dad for their thirtieth. Her hospital bracelet. Lots of photographs, mostly of us kids. Mom was often the behind the camera rather than in front of it—a family historian unable to catalogue herself. The photos are yellowing. They need cleaning.
I go back to Karol’s Cleaners. Karol lowers her paper again, but she doesn’t call me a dipshit. She sees the box in my trembling hands. “Remember, we clean everything,” she says. Her voice is gentle.
I set the dial to my name and climb into the washing machine. The drum aches under my weight, but it begins to spin. Water gushes. Thick foam rises.