by Sal Page
It was a dull day in November when machine number five decided it had had enough of being a one trick pony. During the final fast and furious spin cycle and full of Jeff what’s-is-name’s washing, it shuffled further and further forward. In this position, it clattered louder than usual. It edged a foot beyond the line of machines in the Washeteria. It leaned out, staring down at the yellow lino, close enough to see all the years of scratches and scuff-marks.
The other machines stayed in line, obediently following their cycles. Round and round. Round and round. Some washing, some rinsing, some spinning. Separate rhythms combining to produce something like music. Machine number one held a damp lump of completed washing-in-waiting, number two was ‘out of order’ and number twelve was empty, open mouthed and gormless.
Machine number five juddered and staggered across the Washeteria floor and, because it couldn’t open the door it had stared at for over forty years, it smashed through the big glass window at the front of the shop and leapt down onto the pavement with a crash. It shook itself and shivered. Pieces of glass fell to the ground. It paused for a few seconds. All this time and it hadn’t even known it could leap.
Forty years of taking people’s clothes and sheets and towels and washing them, preparing them for the row of arrogant dryers on the other side. Many of the items machine number five had taken in during those decades held tantalising smells of the outside. They were filled with light and the greenness of further beyond. During the years of sitting in line with the others, each in their own little world, machine number five had been waiting for something it could only imagine.
Waiting for when the time felt right. Waiting and planning. Just do these last two loads. Make a move when the light is brighter outside. Go when it’s dry. When machine number two is fixed. Then, that November Tuesday, watery light through the Washeteria window, a few trodden-in leaves by the door, a blast-chill of air when anyone came in. No more excuses. Why should it just be a fantasy? Why wait any longer?
So machine number five was off. It swung open its metal pothole door, turned towards the bus stop and spat out Jeff what’s-is-name’s washing, piece by piece. With a gurgle and a belch, out came socks, pants and a faded-to-pink t-shirt. With a wheezy cough, machine number five spewed out a Manchester United towel and a pair of lycra cycling shorts. Jeff, eating his egg and chips in the café, was oblivious.
Machine number five could smell something. Lots of different somethings. It took a deep breath. Its first proper breath. The exhalation released the smell of fabric conditioner and cheap washing powder. It sneezed a few gobs of foam out onto a square of earth with the thin twiggy tree in the centre. Machine number five recognised the soil smell. Sundays. Double-loads of rugby shirts. Never again.
To the dizzying aroma of onions and spices from the takeaway on the corner, the prickle of bonfire smoke and the sickening bite of exhaust fumes, machine number five stepped out into the road. A car screeched to a stop and someone yelled. Machine number five carried on shuffling across to the park gates. It could hear the rooks in the tall trees and the sound of the children from the playground. Three boys on skateboards sailed by.
Machine number five rested for a while, watching the boys. Getting about with tiny round rubber feet was difficult. Machine number five willed the boys to return. Two of them jumped off their boards and it flapped its porthole at them, The third boy skidded to a halt, slamming into the side of the machine. He peered at the spinning dials and opening-and-snapping shut powder dispenser. The boys placed their three boards, spaced apart evenly, in front of the machine. They leaned it back and with a few grunts and scuffles of trainers scraping the gravel path, they heaved it onto their skateboards.
Down the gentle slope past the pavilion, the boys running alongside, air swooshing past its air vents, cables and pipes swinging free behind it, machine number five wasn’t sure where it was going. It just knew it was never going to slot back neatly between numbers four and six ever again. Not after this.