I’d snuck into the laundromat just before closing, a habit I’ve picked up to avoid The Racket. Half of the fluorescent lights had already been switched off: the empty space flickered with a sickly, thin light, and the floors — usually thundering with running children, reality TV shows, and hundreds of machines churning — now merely buzzed with the rocking of my two dryers. In the corner, two African men were enjoying a quiet disagreement in French.
I’d just taken a load of darks out, and began folding tank tops.
“That’s a pretty shirt,” a little voice said.
I looked down at two huge eyes peering at me from under the table. You’ve got to watch out for the six-year olds. They tend to be the exact height that falls into the adult blind spot: not close enough to the floor to be observed as a potential tripping hazard, and just short enough to miss eye contact. Also, they’re speedy.
“Oh. Hello. Thanks.”
“Is it for your little girl?”
“Heh, no, I don’t have a little girl.”
“Do you have a boy?”
“Nope, no boy.”
She considered this, clearly perplexed.
“Do you think you might get pregnant soon?”
Gah. “Uh . . . well, I guess I might.”
A smile overtook her entire tiny body: she had to wrap her arms around her shoulders to contain it. Then she ran a lap around the laundromat, stopping briefly to squirt her water bottle at her brother in the other room: a chase scene commenced, with alternating screaming and crying, a brief disciplining from one of the French men, and finally she returned, panting. Awkwardly, I had come to the underwear portion of my laundry; I debated just stuffing them back into the laundry bag. She stood there patiently for a moment, observing with those big white eyes.
“Your towels are almost done.”
“That’s your shirt, too? All of your shirts are so small! They look like children’s clothes.”
“Heh. Well. I’m small, I guess.”
“Is your husband at home?”
Jesus. The longer I talked to this kid, the further I descended into a goddamn mid-life crisis.
“Nope,” I explained patiently, “I don’t have a husband.”
(Do I look so old? Wasn’t I six too, just like five days ago? Couldn’t I still travel and live on a commune and change the world in some way before thinking about all of this?)
(These freaking six-year-olds.)
“You don’t have a husband,” she verified, as if maybe she hadn’t heard me correctly or understood.
She cocked her head, looked at me sweetly. “Aren’t you afraid of being alone forever?”