Spring 2011, Volume 10

Fiction by Jeffrey Ihlenfeldt

The Getaway

The crust of soap crystals broke free and tumbled toward the back of the washer lid.  The man wiped the paste of powder and bleach from the rear crevice with the heel of a cotton sock, then dropped it into the machine.

“You taking everything?” he asked as he shoved the coin tray forward.  He wedged his apartment key between the white button and the edge of the lid.  Warm water splashed into his open palm.

“Just enough to get by,” she said and started the second washer.

“Seems like everything to me,” he said.  “Two washers.”

“I have more than you think,” she said.  “It’s important to separate things though, colors and such.”

One by one, he passed her the clothes from the basket.  She dropped them into the half filled machine. 

“Remember that movie last week?” he asked, as he dropped the empty laundry basket onto the floor.

 “Which one?” she asked.

“What was it called?” he said.  “The Getaway?  Yeah, that was it.  The Getaway.”

“What about it?” she asked.

“The woman stayed with him in that movie, you know,” he said.

She closed the washer lid and placed a beige laundry bag on top.

“Was that Kim Bassinger?” she asked, as she opened the bag and dropped a handful of t-shirts into a third washer.  She fished four quarters from her pocket.

“No, not her,” he said.  “This was the other version.”

He reached in front of her and poured a capful of pine-scented liquid into the water.  The sleeves of his wife’s orchid shirt drifted down.  She picked up the rumpled newspaper and sat in one of the vinyl chairs.

“Ali McGraw,” he said.  “That’s who it was.  It was the first one.”

“Oh.  You mean the violent one…bang bang shoot ‘em up,” she said, pointing her index finger toward her husband and cocking her thumb.

“They were both shoot ‘em ups,” he said.  “But Ali McGraw—that was her.  She was some devoted wife.”

“I never thought that about her,” she said as she scanned the local page.  “I never really thought she was devoted to Ryan O’Neal.”

He placed his arm across the top of the third washer as it started to churn.  His skin vibrated.

“Ryan O’Neal?” he said.  “That was a different movie.”

“Maybe,” she said.  “Same woman.  She never convinced me that she loved anybody.”

“That’s Love Story—a whole different thing,” he said.  “In The Getaway she stayed with him.  He robbed banks, she stayed with him.  He went to prison, she stayed with him.  Love Story?”

The rinse indicator buzzed.  He twisted the cap from the pink jug, poured a stream of softener onto her clothes, then sat in the chair next to his wife.  He licked his fingers and turned the pages of the previous June’s issue of People.  His lips puckered at the flavor of lemon and glycerin.

“Maybe she was just weak,” she said.  “Maybe that’s why she stayed with him.”

“You’re being too tough on her,” he said.  “And you’re missing the point anyway.  Staying isn’t showing weakness.”

“It’s not thinking for herself that makes her weak,” she said.  “Of course, it’s only a movie.”

She folded the section of the newspaper and waved it in front of his face.  She tapped her finger beneath a story line.

“Look at this if you want the real story,” she said.  “Here’s a guy who beat his wife until she dropped into a coma.”  She pulled the paper away from him and stared at the article.  “Can you imagine that?” she went on.  “Can you imagine what it takes to do that?  Can you imagine how many times his fist had to pound against her flesh…and him hearing her cry…and feeling this woman’s skin and bones every time he made contact?”

“So there are bastards in the world.  What’s that got to do with Ali McGraw?” he asked.

A woman from the far end of the laundromat wheeled a wire basket between the man and the row of running washers.  On the bar attached to the basket, she had neatly hung an assortment of sport shirts, nylon socks, and underwear.  The man thought it strange that the woman would hang underwear, although the socks somehow made sense.

“Wait a minute,” his wife said as she dropped the paper to her lap.  “This guy in the movie.  Her husband.  Isn’t this the same guy who beats her up?”

“He slaps her a few times,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said.  “He beats her up.  And she stays with him. I don’t care if it is Alec Baldwin, she’s weak to stay with him.”

“It’s Steve McQueen, not Alec Baldwin,” the man said.

“He’s not worth it either,” his wife said.

“McQueen’s got blonde hair—and he’s more rugged,” he said.

She shook her head and turned the page of the newspaper.

“She slept with another guy,” the man said.  “He was behind bars…the big house too, not some little county jail…and she was in bed with another guy.”

The woman with the wire basket slowly ran her palm along the shell of the empty dryer.  She dropped a handful of stray lint into the trash bin.  Then, she placed her laundry, item by item, into the dryer.

“Doesn’t sound like love to me,” his wife said.

“You don’t understand,” he said.  “You’re not seeing it right.  She slept with this guy to get McQueen out of prison.  It’s pretty complicated, their love.”

“Now here’s the way it is,” he said, and his eyes followed the path of the woman as she wheeled her empty basket to the back table.  “They really do love each other,” he continued.  “Even when he slaps her, it’s a matter of love.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she said.  “Kim Bassinger, all gorgeous and fawn-like, getting smacked around by what’s-his-name.”

“It’s Ali McGraw,” the man said, and she may be fawn-like, but she’s tough too.”

The tub of the first washer stopped spinning, and the man lifted the lid and scooped the clothes out into his basket.

“Part of the problem is that neither one of them communicate very well with each other,” he said.  He wheeled the basket to the door of the first dryer.  “Look, at first she decides not to tell him the price she had to pay to get him out of jail.  And she does pay a price,” he says.

“Of course she does,” the woman said.  “She gets slapped around by her husband.”

“But don’t you see?” he explained, as he untangled a ball of floral bed sheets.  “That’s small potatoes next to what she’s already gone through.  She’s tougher than you think.  Getting slapped by Steve McQueen is nothing compared to the pain that brought them together in the first place.”

The man stuffed the laundry into the dryer and closed the door.  He dropped some coins into the slot and the drum began to spin.

“Don’t forget the static sheet,” she said.

He yanked the door open, tossed in a pink sheet, and restarted the dryer.

“That’s love,” the man said.

“What’s love?” the woman asked.

“Ali McGraw,” he said.  “She sacrifices for him.  That’s love.”

In the middle of their conversation, the second washer began to knock and rumble.  The woman lifted the lid and studied the load.  After readjusting her jeans, she lowered the lid.  The washer began to spin and hum.

“Okay,” she said.  “If Ali shows her love for Steve by sacrificing for him, then how does he show his love for her?” she asked.

The man stared at the string of sheets, spinning in the dryer and rumpling together—one upon the other.  He noticed how much brighter the whites were against the dull gray of the dryer drum.  He thought about what a convincing TV commercial it would make—the bright white against the gray.

“He sacrifices himself,” the man said, as he followed the sheets.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Himself,” he repeated.  “Completely.”

“Like some kind of Christ figure?” she asked, her eyes growing.  “Are you telling me he’s some kind of Christ figure—the strong silent version?” she asked.

“You’re not seeing it right,” he said.  “There’s nothing religious about him.  And I’m not talking about physical sacrifice.  I’m talking about sacrificing who he is.”

“His spirit?” she asked.  “His soul?  The kind of Christ who dies for your sins, but smacks you around in the process?”

“Look at it this way,” he said.  “Yes, he does slap her around after he finds out she slept with this creep.”

“To get him out of jail,” the woman interrupted.

“Even if it was to get him out of jail,” he said.  “So he discovers she slept with this guy, even if it was to get him out of jail, but he also discovers something else.  He discovers that he can’t hold onto her the way he is.  He can’t love her and hurt her at the same time.  So he’s the one who has to change.  Ali McGraw is the same way from beginning to end.  She doesn’t change at all.  But McQueen, he has to give up everything he is—everything he knows to keep her.  That’s what I mean by sacrificing everything.”

“Maybe she doesn’t change because she’s always sacrificed,” she said.

The man watched the third washer as it continued to fill, covering the last load of his wife’s clothing.  He leaned in closely to the spraying water, his face nearly disappearing into the tub.

“In the movie, she stayed with him to the bitter end,” he spoke into the tub.  Drops of lukewarm water splashed onto his cheek.

“What kind of ending is that?” she said.

A pair of his wife’s underwear sank beneath the foaming water.  The machine hummed against his belly.  It was the same sensation he had felt the previous summer—when they caught the train from South Road Station to Boston.  He wished he could explain to her how it felt, the murmur inside, but he did not have the words.

Moving the copy of People from his chair, and sitting beside his wife, he cautiously dropped his arm along the molded plastic of the chair back.  The tips of his fingers grazed her shoulder.

“You said you’d only take what you needed,” he said, but she could not hear him above the rumble of the washers.  She leaned toward him, and his fingers lost touch with her skin.

“You’re only taking what you need, right?” he said, but now his voice, more forceful than he had intended, lost what tenderness he had hoped to bring to the question.

He rose from his chair and walked to the spinning dryer.  He opened the door and tested the rumpled sheets between his fingers.  He thought he felt a slight dampness at the edges and let the dryer continue to spin, but he knew they would soon be finished. 



BIO:  Jeffrey Ihlenfeldt's work has appeared in various publications including Verdad, Louisville Review, Southern Humanities Review, and City Primeval. He has been writer-in-residence at Ledig House International Writer’s Colony in New York, The Artists’ Enclave at I-Park in Connecticut, and Artcroft Center for Arts and Humanities in Kentucky. He received his M.F.A. from Goddard College and is currently Associate Professor in Writing and Literature at Harrisburg Area Community College.