* — August 30, 2016
Delicate, Colors, White
macinate, 2008

EVERY MONTH, THE MAN brought the sky and three dollars.

“Usual?” the boy asked.
The man put the sky on the counter.
“Double wash?” the boy asked.
The man laid down three dollars.
“Double wash?” the boy asked.
“Double wash and iron,” the man answered.
The boy took the three dollars and pointed the man to the corner. In the corner were a bookshelf, a heater, a table, a chair and no one. The man tapped his fingers on the counter staring at the creased sky. The sky was black, the blackest out of all the clothes that were brought to the Laundromat. The man looked at the boy, nodded, pushed himself from the counter and walked to the corner. The man slumped down into the chair. The boy put the money in the cash register.
People always spill on others’ shirts. That was what the boy’s mother said. That was why the boy’s grandparents had started the Laundromat. Grandmother told Grandfather that the Laundromat was always. Always, people clean their clothes. Always, even when raining, snowing and thundering, people come and will come out to clean their clothes. Washed, pressed, dried and ironed, the clothes become dirty again, because as Grandmother said, people always spill on others’ shirts. Twenty-six years ago the boy’s grandparents opened the Laundromat, and a few years later his mother bought it from them. She paid half less for the place and never saw them again. People will always ruin your clothes, the boy’s mother said. Always, sometimes, often but it will never be never, she said.
The man rose from the chair and stared out into the street.
The sky was black, the blackest out of all shades of black.
The boy put the sky into a basket.
The man was looking at something.
The boy took off his shirt and put it inside a washing machine. Every day, early in the morning, the boy washed his shirt. The whole day the boy was half-naked. Shirtless, the boy said almost nothing, wrote down whoever’s name and contact information and took their clothes and money. Late at night, before his mother came back from her full-time shift at the restaurant a block away from the Laundromat, the boy put on a clean shirt. The next morning when she put him on the stool behind the counter and left, he took his dirtied shirts off and put it in the washing machine. If he could wash the purple and black on his body, he would. The boy shut the lid and pressed delicate.
The man was staring at an old lady.
The boy took one of the baskets and dumped the clothes into a washing machine and pressed white.
The man dropped his head.
An old lady was wearing a dark green coat. She was trying to grab. Something and somebody. She reached out her tiny trembling hands for sleeves or tails of coats. She opened her mouth but only her breath came out. She caressed her neck perhaps trying to save the warmth and breaths left inside her. The old lady looked around, left, right, behind and down but never up. Her feet were bare. For a long time, her feet had felt the cold concrete of the city and had forgotten the warm texture of a carpeted floor. For a long time, her feet had walked the streets of the city and had forgotten a way out of it. The old lady bent over, picked up a penny and put it in her hat. Leaning against the wall, she held out her dark green hat.
“The last time I saw her, the coat and the hat were emerald,” the man said.
The boy dumped another into a washing machine and pressed color.
“They are dark green now,” the man said.
“She should wash them,” the boy said.
The man turned to face the boy.
“Yes,” the man said, “she should.”
“What color was the sky?” the boy asked.
“Everything and anything but black,” the man said.
The boy dumped another into a washing machine and pressed color.
The man sat down back in the chair.
The boy grabbed the basket with the sky.
The man’s fingers were black as burnt match heads.
The boy’s fingers slipped and the basket fell on the floor.
The man got up.
The boy grabbed the sky and stuffed it back into the basket. Long and large. The sky could be a cape or an overcoat or a poncho. The boy could imagine himself wrapping his body with such long and large clothes, clothes that had the color of everything and anything. On Monday, it’d be sky blue. On Tuesday, it’d be yellow. On Wednesday, it’d be cotton candy pink. On Thursday, it’d be green. On Friday, it’d be red. On Saturday, it’d be ivory or pearl. On Sunday, it’d be purple. Grandmother was right, though. The boy’s dry cracked hands became slippery. His dark skin became darker. The boy coughed. People always spilled on others’ clothes, even on the sky. People ruined it. People must have spat, trampled and threw things on the sky. The sky was greasy, stained and no color of everything and anything could be seen but black. The boy put the basket on the washing machine.
The man was looking out into the street again. He tapped his fingers on the glass. He was looking at a young girl staring at her cell phone. She seemed to dial a number but then put the phone back into her pocket. The girl bit her lips, took the phone out, dialed again but shoved it back into her pocket. Trembling, she tried to get up but her legs were shaking badly. She could not stand. The girl fell back onto the bench and she clasped her purse and stomach. The man muttered:
“A dead baby in her purse,” he said, “there’s a dead baby in her purse.”
The boy looked at the large sweater that she was wearing.
“That isn’t her sweater,” the boy said.
“No,” the man said.
The boy dumped the sky in the washing machine and pressed delicate.
“Those are not her clothes,” the man said.
The boy’s mother always gave him a shirt that was too large. That was because she said wearing clothes that were a size larger was better than wearing smaller ones. The boy’s mother said that her parents had always bought her clothes that were too small. Even now, her parents mailed her clothes that were too small to wear. Grandparents wanted her to come back home. The boy’s mother never did.
The washing machine tumbled and rumbled.
“Did someone spill on the sky?” the boy asked.
The man looked at the boy.
“Did someone step on it?” the boy asked. “Did someone spit at it?”
“Does someone spill, step and spit at your clothes?” the man asked.
“People always spill on others’ shirts,” the boy said, “they always ruin it.”
The man pointed out to the street.
A tall man was screaming at a man in a suit. The man in a suit lowered his head and bowed. The tall man seemed to grin but also frown. The man in a suit kept his head down. The tall man’s mouth was wide open. Whatever came out of his mouth weighed down on the man in a suit. His back bent over lower and lower. The tall man threw some papers at the man in a suit, turned his heels and went into a building. The man in a suit knelt down on the pavement and collected the papers. The building, like the tall man, was high and lofty and loomed over the man in a suit.
“His pants are dirty now,” the boy said.
“Once more,” the man said, “once again.”
“He should wash them,” the boy said.
“Clean,” the man said.
At night, the man with large hands came back to the boy’s and the mother’s apartment. Only by early in the morning, the man with large hands and wearing workers’ boots left the house. From night to morning, the man was awake. The boy’s mother was quiet. The boy was kept awake. The man spilled alcohol on the boy’s shirt. The boy’s mother spilled smears of blood on the boy’s shirt. Worthless, the man said of the boy’s mother. New beginning, the boy’s mother said of the man. Watching the sky dark and darkening, the boy waited for the morning when the man was gone, and his mother was moaning, and there, lying somewhere floor of the house, the boy imagined himself at the Laundromat.
Originally published in No Tokens Issue No. 5. View full issue & more.
*

Yeji Ham is a Korean-Canadian writer. She received an MFA in Literary Arts at Brown University where she taught fiction workshops to undergraduate students. She is the recipient of Frances Mason Harris ’26 Prizes in Fiction. Currently she is working on Doraesol, her first collection of short stories.