SHORT STORY: Dirty Laundry

‘JEREMY!’ yells Cynthia. ‘GET YOUR UNDERPANTS OFF THE TABLE!’

Cynthia’s a very fussy housemate. If she catches me peeling prawns in the kitchen, she’ll screw up her face and say ‘that is sooooo gross!’ If I fart in her presence, she’ll bang on about it for weeks. Now my undies are on the table? Shit, that’s news to me. If she has her way, I’ll probably be sentenced to death.

I walk into the kitchen and see my boxers dangling off the edge of the polished IKEA table. ‘Um, how did those get there?’ I ask.

‘How should I know? They’re your underpants, aren’t they?’ She scrunches them into a ball and throws them at my head.

‘Yeah,’ I say, catching them. ‘But I didn’t put them there. You know me, Cynthia. I’m not a complete slob.’

‘Well, if you didn’t put them there, who did? There’s only two of us living here.’

She has a point. But I’m clueless. How did those silken monstrosities get on the table? I’m pretty sure they were in my wash basket this morning.

Cynthia storms down the hallway and slams her bedroom door. She thinks I’m full of it. I don’t blame her. Maybe I really did put those boxers on the table without thinking. Maybe I’m losing my mind.

In any case, Cynthia probably won’t be around much longer. It’s no secret that she’s planning to move in with her friend Julia. Julia is like a carbon copy of Cynthia: same fake tan, same jewellery, same terrible taste in pop music. They’re the best of friends, and they have long conversations behind Cynthia’s closed door about God-knows-what.

On the way back to my bedroom, I see a single green sock lying on the hallway floor. My sock. This is starting to worry me.

When I was in high school, I used to have nightmares about being naked in public. I had about a thousand of them. Apparently it’s based on a fear of public humiliation and exposed vulnerability. At least that’s what one dream interpretation website says. Sounds like me. I’ve always been secretive. Right now my biggest secret is my huge crush on Lori Underwood.

Lori’s a girl from work with ginger hair and black stockings. I don’t know her too well, but she intrigues me. There’s just something about her. Maybe it’s the way she doesn’t say much, the rumour that she plays bass in a local noise band, the way that she always writes in a little green notebook. We both pull weekend shifts at Café Delightful, a coffee shop in Paddington run by a surly middle-aged owner. We talk sometimes, but whenever I get close to really finding out anything about her, some pest guy comes in and orders a skinny decaf mocha.

I wake up the morning after the underpants incident with the whole sorry event almost faded from my mind. I clutch the pillow, ready to close my eyes and squeeze in another few precious minutes of sleep. Then I notice something.

My wardrobe is open, and the contents have spilled all over my room. And not just on the floor, either. There’s a scarf hanging from my ceiling fan, a sweater on my desk and a pair of jeans dangling from the guitar I never play. I throw my covers off the bed and stare at the awful mess. My alarm clock goes off, but it’s too late. I’m alarmed enough already.

It’s a Tuesday, which means I have an International Journalism lecture. I take a shower, determined to deal with this clothing fiasco the same way I dealt with my first magic mushroom trip: by acting normal and waiting for it to end.

I walk to the bus stop and hail the next bus. As I touch on with my go card and smile at the driver, I see my green sock on his till.

‘That’s my sock!’ I say.

‘What’s it doing on my till then?’ asks the bus driver, who seems to have only just noticed it himself.

‘I don’t know,’ I say, grabbing it. He gives me a weird look and mutters something about young people and drugs.

I sit next to a businessman with a serious newspaper in his lap and an even more serious look on his face. He looks so grumpy that I suspect he thinks having fun is a childish activity for unemployed people and Satanists. As the bus rolls down the street, I look out the window and see a bunch of t-shirts hanging from a tree branch.

‘Shit!’ I gasp, drawing a severe look from the businessman.  I recognise the designs. They’re my t-shirts.

A few seconds later, I peer out the window again and see the same bunch of t-shirts have shifted locations to a residential fence. I hold back a scream. I wonder if anybody else can see it, or if it’s like a ghost that haunts only me.

‘Hey, I say to the businessman, trying to sound casual. ‘Did you get a load of those t-shirts before?’

He doesn’t reply. I keep to myself until the bus gets to uni.

When I get to campus, I realise I badly need to use the loo. I race into the male toilets and lock myself in a cubicle.

There’s a guy in the cubicle next to me. He’s talking on the phone while he defecates. Always a charming move. ‘Yeah, yeah mate,’ he says. ‘That’s all sweet.  I’ll call the boys up.’ I hear a flush, and as his cubicle door swings open he yells ‘Fuck me! There’s a bunch of clothes here.’

I pull my pants back up, throw the door open and see that my laundry basket has shifted to this dunny. My socks are draped over the faucets, my t-shirts are clogging the sink. I see the back of the guy from the next cubicle as he walks out the door.

I’m going crazy. That’s the only explanation. I take out my mobile and dial a crisis line.

Twenty minutes later, I’m still on hold, and I realise I’m late for my lecture. Normally I’d just skip the lecture, but I decide to give the whole pretend things-are-normal-thing another go.

I walk into the lecture theatre, trying to be as quiet as possible so I don’t disturb the students taking notes. The lecturer’s showing us footage of a white-haired man in a suit, presumably talking to reporters. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson – President of Iceland says the caption.

I look for a seat. All of a sudden I hear the President mutter: ‘there’s something on my head’.

The whole lecture theatre roars with laughter as I notice my boxer shorts have appeared on the President of Iceland’s head. He pulls them off and looks at them in disgust.

‘Nice gag!’ someone yells at the lecturer.

Then I notice something else:

The clothes I was wearing have vanished.

I’m naked in public for real.

I run from the lecture theatre, howling like a demon, covering my shame. People point and laugh. They think this is some kind of joke. They think I’m the kind of guy who does nudie runs on campus.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. I up-end the nearest garbage bin, pull out the black liner bag and wrap it around my lower half.

‘Hey, you!’ a security guard yells at me. ‘Yeah, you! YOU!’

I run away, and he chases after me. I race past the café and the mini-supermarket and the library. Past students relaxing on the grass and students walking to tutes and students having lunch. Pieces of clothing taunt me as I run. They dangle from treetops and litter the footpath. I reach the bus stop and frantically wave at the next bus. The driver speeds straight past me. This could be because I’m wearing a garbage bag, but you never quite know in Brisbane.

The security guard is gaining on me. He’s kind of fat, and he’s huffing and puffing, but he’s getting closer.

There’s only one thing to do: I flee the campus and run down the closest residential street. In my haste to get away, I barely have time to register something large smacking into me at full force.

I open my eyes.

I’m lying on the side of the road, and there’s an angel looking down on me. Well, at least I think he’s an angel. He’s tubby and cherubic, and there’s a pair of wings sprouting from his back.

‘You okay?’ he says. ‘I’m sorry about the truck. I didn’t know THAT was gonna happen. Oooooh boy.’

‘I’m alive’ I say, sitting up. To my utter confusion, I don’t seem to be hurt.

‘Yeah, I didn’t want you to die,’ says the cherub. I notice he talks really fast, like a Disney movie sidekick. ‘So I weaved a little magic to make sure you were okay. This was only meant to be fun and games, y’know. You weren’t supposed to get hurt. That truck wasn’t in my plan. It just came out of nowhere.’

‘Fun and games?’ I say. ‘Who are you?’

‘I’m Cupid.’

‘The love guy?’

‘Yeah, the god of desire.’

‘Aren’t you supposed to have a bow and arrow?’

‘Hey man, this isn’t The Hunger Games. No, usually I make people fall in love in an indirect way. Arrange chance encounters, that sort of thing. But sometimes I get kinda bored so I decide to make things a bit more interesting. You’ve heard of Sir Lancelot, right? You know how he jumped into a cart reserved for convicts and murderers just to win over Queen Guinevere?’

‘No.’

‘Okay, well, I arranged the cart.’

‘Right,’ I say. ‘So basically you put me through hell today just because you were bored?’

‘Well, yes,’ says Cupid. ‘I probably went a bit far, didn’t I? But don’t give up on finding love. You’re closer than you think!’ And he disappears into the air before I can strangle him.

I stand up, the hot sun starting to burn my bare skin. The pair of jeans I put on this morning lay on the footpath in front of me. I pick them up and see my phone is ringing from inside one of the pockets.

‘Hello?’ I say.

‘Oh my God!’ Cynthia screams down the line. ‘Oh! My God!’

I roll my eyes. ‘What is it this time?’

‘Don’t give me that attitude. I wanna know why your clothes are all over my floor!’

Your floor.’

‘Yes, dickhead. Your dirty clothes are all over my carpet. You’re a pervert! You should be locked up in jail.’

‘Look, Cynthia,’ I say. ‘I don’t quite know how to explain this, but Cupid played a joke on me. This morning, my undies were on the President of Iceland’s head.’

‘WHAT?’ yells Cynthia. You can’t even take this seriously, can you? I’m trying to have a very important conversation with you, and you’re cracking weird jokes. Fuck you. I’ve already told the landlord about this, and I’m not sticking around a second longer. Julia’s coming to pick me up IMMEDIATELY, so don’t even bother coming home until I’m gone.’

She hangs up.

I duck behind a tree, rip off the garbage bag and put my jeans back on. A little further up the road, I find the shirt I was wearing this morning. I put that back on too.

I then notice a trail of clothes stretching out in front of me. Belts, board shorts, jackets and countless other items make a path of some kind. I follow the path, picking up each item of clothing one at a time until it leads into a cul-de-sac.

The final item – that single green sock – rests on the doorstep of a dumpy house. I cradle the big bundle of clothes in my arms and knock on the door.

A few seconds later, somebody opens it.

It’s Lori.

‘Jeremy?’ she says, giving me a bewildered look.

‘Hi, Lori’ I say. ‘My washing machine is broken. Mind if I use yours?’

‘Um, okay,’ she says. She looks confused, but she lets me in anyway.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Whether this is the start of a wondrous love affair or Cupid is an even bigger jerk than I anticipated.

Only one thing’s for sure: I’m using her machine to wash my dirty laundry.

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