I had been expecting the heating element in my dryer to die since I purchased the unit over a year ago. There was no reason for it to die, but I always managed my expectations, with the dial set on "Goodbye."
The technician who came to repair the dryer introduced himself as a plumber. He only repaired laundry machines under protest, and he moonlighted as a barber. "Hair is my real passion," he revealed.
As he unscrewed panels and fiddled with wires, the technician told me a story about his last client.
"This guy's toilet was jacked," he said. "We had to go out to the back yard, dig up the septic tank and crack it open. Lotta garbage in there, like. He started digging around and pulling out these plastic things. Hundreds of them, like. He kept calling them one-fingered gloves. He didn't know what they were. Obviously, his wife had been balling some other guy who kept flushing used condoms down the toilet. Must've been going on a long time. There were a lotta condoms in that tank. No matter how closely he inspected them, though, he couldn't figure out they were condoms. I didn't have the heart to tell him about his wife. I just pretended they were one-fingered gloves. Well, shit. I don't know what's wrong with this piece of junk. Definitely a problem with the heating element, I think. I'll be right back. Sign here. You have to pre-pay."
I signed a document. The technician left and never came back.
I called customer service. An outsourced Indian informed me that everything was on back order. No ETA. He would call me in a month or two with an update.
"Goodbye," I said, and went to the laundromat.
Three walls of industrial dryers enclosed a cluster of washing machines. All of it looked new and unused. I wasn't sure what to do. I knew what a laundromat was, but I had never been to one.
I asked the attendant behind the counter how to proceed. She finished folding a shirt, then gave me a once over and warned me not to cause trouble.
"I just want to dry some clothes please." I showed her my laundry basket.
"Do I have to call the police? I will." She pointed out the window at a pig truck parked in a handicapped spot. I could hear the cargo's purposeful oinks and grunts.
I began to search for a dryer. It was hard to choose. They all looked the same—same brand, same size—but surely some dryers worked better than others, and I suspected one dryer worked better than them all.
Closer inspection revealed minor differences. Some dryers, for instance, had tinted windows. Others were distinguished by intricate 8-bit displays or no displays at all. One didn't even have a coin slot.
I asked a patron how I was supposed to use a dryer with no means of payment. She was counting change. "Nothing in life is free," I reminded her.
The patron eyeballed at me as if I had struck her, shielding her pursed lips with a scarf.
"Leave that poor old bitch alone!" barked the attendant.
At some point I passed out.
I felt refreshed when I awoke despite the smell of the floor. Standing, I gathered my clothes and selected a random dryer.
There was a pig in it.
The pig was pink and hairless and fit snugly in the drum. It stared at me through the glass portal in the door. When I tapped on the glass, it blinked and twitched its snout.
"There's a pig in the dryer," I announced.
I couldn't tell if it had already gone through a cycle. It looked clean, but the interior lighting was poor.
"Is anybody using this dryer?"
The pig nodded.
I approached the attendant. "There's a pig in the dryer."
"Again?" she snapped. "Goddamn it." She stormed across the laundromat on heavy heels. "That's not a pig! That's a hog!"
"It is? What's the difference?"
She yanked at her frayed, silver hair with angry fingers. "Son of a whore. Come with me."
I put my laundry on a table and followed her back to the counter. She fumbled through a closet and pulled out a machete. "One of us needs to kill it," she said.
"Kill it?" I glanced over my shoulder. "The pig?""It's a hog!" She presented the machete to me handle-first.
"What am I supposed to do with that?"
"Jesus Christ. Look, they're watching us right now." She gestured out the window at the pig truck. There was nobody behind the wheel.
"I don't see anybody."
"You're not supposed to see them. They see you, okay? Now go kill that thing before all hell breaks loose." She shook the machete and pushed the handle in my face.
I took it.
Slowly I crept back to the dryer. The pig knew what was going on. Oinking softly, it cowered in the drum.
Its eyes were wet and seemed human.
We stared at each other for a long, dreamlike moment. A tear escaped the pig's eye and flowed down the white hairs of its pink face.
I dropped the machete.
"It'll be all right, maybe," I whispered, and opened the dryer door.
Shrieking, the pig leapt out of the drum, knocked me over, and tore across the laundromat towards the exit door. It leapt in the air, achieving an impossible height … and bounced off the door, skipping backwards and taking me out at the knees as I tried to stand up.
"Get it!" shouted the attendant, cowering behind the counter. "Kill the dirty freak!"
Most of the patrons fled the scene. Two of them continued to fold sheets and clothes, taking the commotion in stride.
The pig laid beside me on its back, hooves akimbo, breathing heavily. I said, "We gotta get out of here."
The pig turned its head, blinked at me … and clamped onto my forearm like a rattler.
The attendant screamed.
I didn't know how to react. I had been shot with bullets twice in my life, and I had been through opioid withdrawal more times than I could count, but nothing compared to the pain of having my arm gnawed on by this dubious monster.
For the first time in a long time, I had not properly managed my expectations.
At some point I passed out.
The police had canvassed the laundromat by the time I awoke. My arm had been treated and bandaged. An officer took me aside and interrogated me. He seemed more concerned with my laundry than the disturbance.
"Well?" he said.
"Right," I replied.
"You said you came here to dry your clothes."
"That's right. That's what people do."
"What about washing your clothes?"
I cocked my head. "Washing my clothes? I don't wash my clothes. I dry them."
"You don't wash your clothes?"
"I dry them."
"You should wash them, too. That's what people do."
"Not me." I paused. "Not me," I said again.
The officer leaned over and smelled me.
I said, "Where'd it go?"
"Where did what go?"
"The hog, I mean."
"Oh. I don't know. I guess it got away."
I told him the story that the technician told me, passing it off as my own. I took a few artistic liberties and pretended not to know that the one-fingered gloves were condoms. The attendant heard me. She cackled and hissed as another officer recorded her information.
Trying not to pass out again, I gathered my clothes and said, "Goodbye," as if to exhume desire from the grave.
D. Harlan Wilson's work has appeared in the pages of The Cafe Irreal seven times previously, and his story "Giraffe" was included in our print anthology, The Irreal Reader — Fiction and Essays from The Cafe Irreal (Guide Dog Books 2013). He can be visited online at www.dharlanwilson.com and www.thekyotoman.com. Comments on his book Three Plays (Black Scat Books 2016) were a part of Our Year of Reading at the Irreal Cafe.