It’s Saturday. Cold, blubbery. Whingey.
She thinks: I’ve gotta go to the laundromat. If I don’t go now I’ll never go.
He stares at the pile of dirty clothes. Food stains; semen; coffee; shit; beer.
She thinks: Fuck, it’s raining now.
He thinks: Why is the washing machine busted? Now, of all days?
She piles her shirts and trousers and bras and undies into a black plastic garbage bag; scowls (I shouldn’t be using plastic); drags each item out and shoves them into an old music festival canvas bag. She hears the tv, leaves the bag on the kitchen floor, hovers in front of the news. Protests this afternoon, maybe nearby.
She thinks: Maybe not. They’ll cancel it in this weather.
He thinks: Maybe I should handwash the shirt I need for tonight. Borrow the neighbour’s iron. Wear the jeans dirty – she probably (hopefully) won’t notice.
He stares at the unironed winter shirts in his wardrobe; sighs; lifts the crumpled jeans from the mat.
He thinks: Do I have to go on that date tonight? That friend of my sister’s – she’s fucking fussy.
She switches off the tv. Thinks: Just go, woman! Take your laptop, scroll around Tinder, find a date. Ha! And take your book – Christ knows how many people are gonna be there.
She throws the bag over one shoulder, her purple backpack with her laptop over the other. Locks the flat’s door and tramps down the stairs. Says hi to the homeless guy in the poky foyer. Feels guilty about having no change to give him, but who has coins these credit-card-on-mobile days?
He thinks: Do I get that machine fixed? Or buy a new one? Which is more expensive? Maybe there’s a sale at Harvey Norman this weekend…
He swears loudly, kicks the washing machine, shoves his jeans and shirt and two pairs of boxers in his backpack. In the hallway he swears again, heads back to the laundry and grabs a clump of soiled socks, then tosses his cigarettes into his backpack. Rams his mobile into his back pocket.
And heads outside to his car.
She tries to manoeuvre an umbrella; it gambols in the irate wind with the heavyish bags. She can see the laundromat on the next block, opposite the park, and thinks: It’d better be bloody open.
In the park the human condition swells.
He drives the car the kilometre or so and circles the block again, again. There’s an unruly crowd in the park. He curses them all.
He thinks: Those fuckers have probably taken all the parking spots.
He drives around the block again, sees an SUV pulling out. Speeds up, overtakes a learner and parks in that space.
He thinks: Why does everyone drive a fucking tank in this city now? Are they planning on invading Queensland?
And tugs his hoodie over his head as he yanks the pile of clothes and his cigarettes from the back seat. Swears at the storm: it’s pouring now. His socks (the ones he’s wearing) are already soaked, his Nikes mud-spat.
And he jogs to the laundromat.
And battles with its door.
And gets inside to see all the machines are being used.
She thinks: Dammit, that guy has just got in there before me.
She speeds up, drops the umbrella (it’s turned inside-out anyway) and fights against the wind until reaching the shop’s door.
There are no seats inside.
Just a lot of heat, sweat, angry and bored faces, and the stench of old damp washcloths.
She thinks: Don’t be sick.
She thinks: I should’ve gone to the loo before I left the flat.
She drops the bag of laundry on the floor, sits on it, burrows her butt into the clothes and puts her laptop on her lap. The bloke who pushed past her is leaning against the wall nearby, his arms crossed, breathing angrily.
She glances upwards quickly as the angry-breathing bloke guy says loudly: Is there a queue here, or what?
She can see his expensive runners are waterlogged, the hems of his jeans soused in sludge. His clothes look unwashed.
No one answers.
She bites her lip, grins, looks down. When she looks back up he’s staring at her.
He thinks: Is she laughing at me?
And: She’s got a pretty face.
An older woman with orange hair and orange clothes yells: Two of the machines are busted, so there’s a long wait, mate. There’s a café down the road – why don’t you two go there? I can mind your clothes for half an hour.
He thinks: Us two? Me and who else?
She thinks: Is she talking about me and the angry bloke?
He says and she says: We’re not together; I don’t know him/her; I’m alone; Are you talking to me?
The orange woman says: Sorry – you look like a couple.
Some of the others laugh.
She stands up and says: Thanks, that’s very kind of you. I’d love a coffee, can I get you one?
And after the orange woman says she’d like a flat white she stands and walks to the door.
He thinks: Can I trust her?
And after shoving his pathetic pile of dirty clothes against the girl’s laundry bag (hopefully she won’t mind) he too walks to the door.
She holds it open for him, half smiles, then frowns at the rain, and the crowd stamping along the footpaths on both sides, along the road.
The orange woman yells: Do you wanna borrow my umbrella?
She thinks: Why is this woman being so helpful?
He peers sideways at the girl’s bosom. He thinks: Should I ask her if she wants to have coffee with me?
Under the orange woman’s umbrella he asks her if she wants to join him.
She thinks: I just want a coffee alone. I wanna read my book and surf Tinder.
She thinks: And he doesn’t look my type.
The protesters swarm around them like a swollen tide, jostling, unhappy in the downpour. She’s shivery cold; he’s tense.
For a moment she’s rankled with terror: is this a right-wing protest? It’s difficult to tell – they’re all covered in raincoats and scary hoodies and holding umbrellas high and pointed as if charging to war. There’s a chanting she can’t understand. She tries to remember the tv news – wasn’t this a good protest? But why are the police on edge, some with batons held rigid? And why is it mainly men?
She thinks of that protest at the Opera House last year: mostly she understood the demonstrators’ point, even agreed with it – their country should be free from occupation – but the extremists frightened her, their argument that the militants’ acts were understandable she could not condone.
She thinks: There’s rarely black and white.
He thinks: I’m all for protests and demonstrations, even ones against the law, but.
At that moment a heavy bald man bangs into them, accidently it seems, he’s been born with shoulders like truncheons, and he steps back quickly but doesn’t apologise, he’s yelling again and scrutinising the mob, searching for his mates presumably, and he forges forward and melts into the crowd.
He says: Hey, watch out!
She says: I think he’s broken the old lady’s umbrella.
He thinks: She’s not coming with me.
She says: Let’s find that coffee place.
She smiles and says: Quickly.
He nods, moves ahead and turns to tell her he can see a café on a quieter side street. She’s disappeared. He realises he’s lost her already; but in an instant she materialises, shaking her head and laughing, her eyes fluttery with fear, the rain splattering her face and hair and he takes her hand and leads her as he presses through the swarm and makes it, finally, to the other side.
It is a much quieter street.
They walk swiftly but silently to the café.
Neither releases the other’s hand.
He thinks: I’m gonna cancel that dinner tonight.
She thinks: Maybe I won’t search Tinder today.