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lather; rinse; repeat

Artwork by Aldwin Li, staff artist

Fluorescent lights tattoo my wrists as I wander into the laundry aisle, allowing my outstretched fingers to brush bottles and buckets of powder and detergent as I pass—hard plastic, casing sweetly-scented substances that ache in the beds of my fingernails. I raise my hand to my nose and inhale. This breath tastes of lavender; the next, clean linen; the one after that, something experimental, exotic, tropical.

Why am I here? I wonder as I walk. The white porcelain tiles beneath my feet are freshly mopped, courtesy of the cleaning lady who vanishes around the arrangement of wine bottles a few aisles down. My sneakers squeak. I have plenty of detergent at home, stashed in the storage spaces on the balcony and in the kitchen and left haphazardly beside the laundry machine. I have too much. Even if I were able to wash my clothes more than once a month, I would not be able to use it all.

It is a waste, to keep the dust company—inutile, unneeded. Can I not want? Except the memory of flowers on my tongue fades as soon as I exhale. It drifts from my mouth like an abandoned rubber duck in a sluggish stream, carried aimlessly along the current.

I reach the end of the aisle. As soon as I step out, the smell of detergent wipes itself from my lips. I turn easily on my heel and stroll back the way I came, walking the same path, retracing the same footsteps. Cyclical: the endless rolling repetition of birth, of a trip to the supermarket, of the three-year-old bloodstain on the hem of my favorite black shirt. I watched it turn over and over in the washing machine to no avail. I could not feel my hands scrubbing at the seams. Red under my nails, red in the water.

So what of it? The fabric is dark, the material woven of cotton and crime, and red is invisible against black. It is a secret only I could ever know. Or perhaps it faded the first time I washed it, and the only mark that remains is uncertainty.

I slide my hand along the shelf, dip it in, retrieve a jug. Hyacinth, this time. I need more laundry detergent.


Aldwin is a wannabe artist from Hong Kong about to be dumped in the deep end of his first-year English literature course. On his quest to become a writer-artist he unfortunately has yet to retreat into a mountain hermitage, perfect his craft and forget that everything exists. He has attended programs at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp and Iowa Young Writers' Studio, but for the most part he is a self-taught dabbler. (Becoming a mountain hermit will have to wait.) He seeks to express through art and writing and help others do the same, almost as much as he has a slightly unhealthy addiction to self-deprecating dry humour. In his free time he does anything, from performance martial arts to creating fictional languages to playing jazz piano. He probably needs to drink less coffee.

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