There's something different about the laundry room tonight. Something deliberate, almost propitiatory. As though I were a priest performing some sacred rite in this sanctum of white, glass-faced gods.
It hits me as I start to load the clothes into the dryer. No one else is using the laundry room! I don't mean just that there's no one else here, putting their clothes into the machines or waiting for them to be done. I mean that they're all empty - the washers, the dryers - all waiting with their mouths open, staring vacantly at each other.
This has never happened before. There's always someone else. It's a big building, after all. Even when I'm down at 1 in the morning (trying to avoid the long waits for the dryer) there's always at least one other load of clothes being processed. But today there's nothing. That's why it seems so eerie in here. It's the silence, the complete lack of any mechanical noise. As though the air had returned to some earlier innocence.
I tell myself it's not surprising. It's summer after all, most students have gone home. The building's almost empty. Besides it's a weeknight and it's late. Still, there's something sinister about the quiet. As though I were the last person left alive in the city. Perhaps even in the world. All of mankind wiped out by aliens or disease or some other unknown calamity and here I am, with my thin sheet of fabric softener and my cheap plastic basket, doing laundry. Seen through the lens of this apocalypse my actions seem useless, absurd. The last doomed gesture of civilized man. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but with five quarters rattling in a slot and Permit Press turned off.
I'm being silly, I know. But something about the blankness of this suddenly unpeopled room makes me want to stay here, waiting. As if the room might disappear behind me if I went away now. I pull a chair from the corner, sit down. I'm not sure just what I'm waiting for. My dryer cycle to get over? Someone else to come and relieve me? Stranded in my vigil I watch the one running dryer, the metal cylinder turning and turning endlessly while my clothes, trapped inside, assemble and disassemble, rise and fall. A collection of images, vaguely human-shaped, flickering behind the glass.