Doing Laundry with Aphrodite
Marcus was a wrestler known for his toughness. He didn’t wear a cup, and only donned headgear because they wouldn’t let him wrestle without it. To compensate, he wedged a razor blade, along the top of his ear. If an opponent gained the upper hand, if he was sloppy enough to allow that, the blade would remind him what for.
Aphrodite was a goddess, famous for her magic girdle. She wore it on dates, but barely used its power. To make things interesting, she pressed a six-sided die into her cleavage before she left the house. If it popped onto her plate during dinner, which happened more often than you might think, she would let the pips guide her. A six, and she willed her girdle active. Anything else, and that boy was history.
As you might imagine, and since this is a story, it happened that Marcus met Aphrodite at the Laundromat. He was pulling his jock strap from the dryer, and saw her lift the girdle from the washing machine well.
“What is that?” he said in his plain-speak manner.
Aphrodite turned. Her mouth pursed.
“This here’s a jock strap,” Marcus said. He smiled a goofy smile that almost always put girls at ease. Girls, he had found, loved his wrestler body, the bulges and concavities, the way the sheets changed shape beneath him like the surface of some mysterious moon. “It helps me wrestle.”
Aphrodite glanced down at her cleavage. She wasn’t wearing a bra, nor had she brought her die. Her nipples pressed against the material of her tee, which depicted the Mona Lisa in shades of gray. She lifted the girdle and shook it out. Golden threads sent the fluorescent lighting scattering.
“This is my girdle,” she said. “It helps me to wrestle too.”
“Ha, that’s funny,” Marcus said. “And I know what you mean. I have a sister. We used to wrestle best two falls out of three on the mat in our basement. She won nearly every time, said she trained with her boyfriend in the back seat of his car. Her name was Daisy. I called her Daze.”
Aphrodite frowned. Her nature was love, and she saw it in this boy. “Why do you say ‘was’ when describing your sister?”
Marcus’ smile went down for the count. One. Two. Three. “She’s dead,” he said looking straight through Aphrodite’s face. “I killed her.”
Blood drained from Aphrodite’s cheeks. She considered donning the girdle over her jeans. No boy would harm her so long as she wore it.
“It wasn’t like that,” Marcus said. “You don’t have to be afraid. I was driving, and no I wasn’t drunk or nothing. Alcohol’s no good for wrestling. Weed’s bad too.”
“What happened?” Aphrodite said.
“I wasn’t paying attention to the road. Daze was telling me how she had her eye on Felix–he’s another wrestler–and I turned on the seat to tell her how dumb that was, because you have to meet a person’s eyes when you say something like that, and, well, meantime we were coming up on a curve. Did I say it was night? I should’ve been slowing down. And, well…”
“Were you hurt?” Aphrodite laid the girdle onto the washing machine’s enameled surface. Water trailed down its side.
“Me?” Marcus said. “I never get hurt. I walked away from that wreck with barely a scratch, went down to the Get Go, and called 911. Daisy was gone. I knew after one look. The windshield was all busted red like a starburst.” He breathed deep. “I use that sometimes when my opponent gets control. Coach says focusing on something painful spurs adrenalin.”
“I imagine that makes you a god among wrestlers,” Aphrodite said. “My name’s Aphrodite, by the way.”
“Marcus,” Marcus said. He started to shake her hand, but realized he was holding the jock strap. He gave a sheepish grin. “I don’t know about being a god, but I am undefeated this year.” He tapped a knuckle against his temple. “Knock on wood.”
“You intrigue me,” Aphrodite said. “Would you like to go to that coffee shop next door?”
“Starbucks?” Marcus said. “Nah, I don’t do caffeine or sugar, especially in those buckets they call cups.” He dropped the jock strap onto his laundry basket, and reached into the dryer for another armload. The heat was almost painful against his skin. “There’s a GNC down the way if you want to hang out.”
“Sure,” Aphrodite said. She opened the face of the dryer next to Marcus, and laid the girdle carefully within.
“Is that all you’re washing?” Marcus said.
“Isn’t it enough?” Aphrodite said. She smiled demurely and closed the glass door.
“Aren’t you afraid someone will steal it?” Marcus said. “It looks expensive. I can wait around if you want.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Aphrodite said. She leaned in until their shoulders touched. “It’s not real gold.” Her hair brushed his cheek. “And my name’s not Aphrodite, it’s Rose.”
“Well, how about that?” Marcus said. He lifted the laundry basket. “You want to know a secret too?”
Marcus lowered his voice. “I’ve been thinking of wearing a cup next time I wrestle. I don’t know how the other guys will react. Most of them kind of idolize me.” He glanced at the jock strap mostly buried in underwear and wife beaters. “What do you think?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Aphrodite said.
“Thanks,” Marcus said. “It’ll be a relief in some way. A guy gets tired of having his jewels squeezed, you know? It’s not worth the aggravation.”
Aphrodite nodded. “Being idolized is overrated.” She pressed the start button.
“Hey, you forgot to put in your coin–”
The machine started up.
“What the heck?” Marcus sputtered.
Aphrodite smiled. “There must have been some time left, don’t you think?”
Jeremy watched moths batter the porch light. The steady plink of their bodies provided a counterpoint to his pulse.
“God must be an idiot,” he said.
“What?” His date locked the entry door, and eased the screen door closed. Her name was Rachel he remembered from the online profile. Her favorite food was chocolate mousse.
“Why does God, or Evolution for that matter, create a creature that’s drawn to destruction? It doesn’t make sense.”
“Are you saying that I’m your destruction?” Rachel said. “We haven’t even held hands.”
“Moths,” he said, irritation creeping into his tone. He despised women who could not keep up.
Rachel glanced up. “Don’t you think we’re to blame? Moths were never created to deal with porch lights.”
“They can’t adapt?” Jeremy said. “I sprained my wrist once, and wrote with my left hand for a month.”
“I don’t think it’s quite the same thing,” Rachel said. “Shall we go? I made reservations for nine.” She breezed past Jeremy, down the steps to the concrete walk.
Reservations, Jeremy thought. There’s another thing that makes no sense. “Coming,” he said. He beat her to the car, and opened the door.
“Thanks,” she said, but it didn’t sound genuine. You never knew with modern women. He scuttled around to the driver’s side and climbed in. He placed his hands on the wheel.
“Let’s kiss,” he said. “There’s no use going out if we’re not compatible.”
“And a kiss will tell you that?” Rachel looked irritated now. “What about conversation? Getting to know each other? What about the mysterious potential?”
Jeremy turned the key. The engine coughed. “I’m a practical guy, I guess.”
“I see that,” Rachel said with a pointed look to the dashboard. Her expression suggested that a Ford Fiesta with 130,000 miles was not what she meant by reliable transportation on her profile.
“All right,” Jeremy said. “I’ll buy dinner, you pay for drinks. Fair enough?”
“Depends,” she said. “How much, and what do you drink?”
“Beer,” he said, and, “More than usual tonight, I suspect.”
“You’ve already decided?” she said. “I’m going to end up driving us home, aren’t I?”
“Not necessarily,” he said. “You could take a cab.”
The restaurant was fancier than he liked, with sturdy white tablecloths and a wine rack along one wall. Cha-ching.
“Reservations?” the hostess asked. She was a perky blonde with very red lipstick. For an instant, Jeremy considered hitting on her. The impulse passed.
“Cavelli, for two,” he said.
“It’s under Johnson,” Rachel said. Jeremy frowned. “Sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t remember your last name.”
I can barely remember your first, he thought. They followed the hostess between clattering patrons to a small table in the back. He sat.
Rachel cleared her throat.
“Oh,” he said. He moved around the table and pulled out her chair. She sat and unraveled her napkin.
Jeremy returned to his place. “I would’ve held your chair,” he said. “You gave me a look when I opened the car door.”
Rachel shook her head. “I can open my own car door, thank you, but politeness dictates that a man hold a lady’s chair at a restaurant, especially on a first date.”
“I’ll make a note,” Jeremy said. He unfolded his menu. The cheapest entrée was twenty bucks. “No lobster,” he said. “I can’t afford lobster.”
“That’s fine,” Rachel said. “I’m in the mood for the grilled chicken salad.”
Jeremy found it on the list. Fourteen bucks. “That’s fine,” he said. He read through the children’s menu, but decided on a steak. He had enough saved up, and it didn’t look like this was heading for a second date.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” Rachel said. “I’m having Zinfandel.”
“Beer for me,” Jeremy said.
A waiter took their drink orders.
“Do you like sports?” Jeremy said.
“No,” Rachel said. “Your profile said you work in retail?”
“That’s right,” Jeremy said. “Shoes. Buy two pair, get the third free.”
“I like shoes,” Rachel said. Her smile was lopsided. Jeremy decided it was cute on her.
“I had a lady come in the other day,” he said, “and she says she’s looking for something comfortable, but she can’t find anything in her size at the other stores. So I ask her what size she wears, and of course it’s a seven. Long story short, I show her a couple styles, she picks one she likes, and I bring out a pair of eights in a seven box. Of course, they fit perfect, and she’s a happy camper.” He laughs. “Then there was this lady…”
An hour later, they had finished their main course. The waiter asked if they were up for dessert. Jeremy looked inquiringly to Rachel. Four beers had loosened him up.
“I’ve had enough,” Rachel said.
“Bring the check,” Jeremy said. He realized belatedly that he’d been the one laughing at his stories, not Rachel.
They paid the bill, and Rachel grudgingly let Jeremy drive. They listened to the radio instead of talking.
Jeremy pulled the car alongside the curb.
“Do you want to come in?” Rachel said. Her teeth glinted in the half-light from his dashboard.
“Yeah,” she said. “I know it wasn’t much of a date, but you never know. At least you have a job.”
“That’s true,” Jeremy said.
“I have vodka in the freezer,” Rachel said.
Jeremy turned the ignition off. “Deal.” He hurried around the car and opened her door. This time she didn’t scowl.
Three drinks later, they were kissing on the sofa, a comfortably plush piece of furniture that nearly filled the wall of the two-bedroom ranch.
“I have to work in the morning,” Jeremy said.
Rachel leaned back. She pulled at her blouse. “You can’t drive. I’m drunk.” Her lips were smeared. Jeremy wondered if he had lipstick on his own mouth.
“Seriously,” he said. “If we’re going to take this to the next level, we’d best get moving.” He grabbed the bottle off the coffee table and poured the rest into Rachel’s mug. Vodka was a lot like her, all tease and no taste.
He coaxed her to her feet.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” she said.
“Don’t forget to wipe your mouth.” The bathroom was at the end of a short hall. Her towels matched. The bedroom was right next door.
Afterward, he left as quietly as he could. He was still hopping on one foot, working his shoe onto the other, as he opened the doors and let himself out. The air was cold and wet, the sky sprinkled with stars.
He rubbed his forehead. All this for a night of mediocre sex. When will I learn? A steady plink drew his gaze to the porch light. A few of the moths had worked their way inside the glass and died. How stupid can you be? he thought as he dug the keys from his pocket and started for the car.
Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania, home to not one, but two international pyrotechnics manufacturers. His fiction has appeared in various places, most recently Apocrypha and Abstractions, Cease, Cows, and Bluestem Magazine. He edits the annual Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink, and the twitterzine, trapeze. He blogs about that process at stephenvramey.com
–Art by Diana Cretu