Dimitri was hiding behind the washing machine again.
Beth-Ann slipped her quarters into the slots and pushed them in. As the water filled, she dropped her clothes into the washer. She scooped detergent into her plastic measuring cup. And she ignored Dimitri. Pretended she didn't know he was there; pretended she couldn't hear him breathing behind the washing machine.
Beth-Ann sprinkled the detergent on her clothes and closed the lid. She counted her change for the dryer, for later. She told herself to stop stalling, that she could count her change upstairs, in her apartment. She told herself to hurry; she had timed her wash to start at the beginning of the nine-thirty television shows and was going to miss all of the opening sequences if she didn't hustle.
She bit the edge of her thumbnail. She reached back into the box of detergent and grabbed a little cluster of soap crystals with the tips of her fingers. She flung them casually behind the washer and walked quickly to the elevator.
There wasn't much room behind the washing machine. Dimitri's back pressed hard against the wall, and his drawn up thighs pressed hard against his stomach and chest. His arms were wrapped around his bent knees, hands clasped together. The toes of his running shoes bent backwards against the machine's back panel. His neck curled forward, keeping his head from touching the black rubber water hoses. Remaining in this position for long periods of time caused Dimitri to breathe loudly.
It was dirty behind the washing machine. And dusty. Balls of lint-grey ones, yellow ones, baby blue ones-lay on the concrete floor in the small space between the machine and the wall. White paint chips were scattered like confetti. One lonely black sock, riddled with dust and lint, rested on the ground. An abandoned-looking cobweb was spun between the washer and dryer, down near the floor, only a few detergent crystals snared. Behind the washing machine, Dimitri inhaled dust, and it made him wheeze quietly.
He pushed himself up, feeling the cracks in the wall pass against his back, until he was standing. He stretched his arms and neck. He twiddled his toes inside his shoes. He brushed the front of his shirt off, creating a small cloud of dust and lint and paint chips. He side-stepped to the right, and came out from behind the washing machine. He crawled into the dryer and waited.
Beth-Ann returned to the basement during the commercial break between the end of the nine-thirty shows and the beginning of the ten o'clock shows. Half-hour programs were for washing, hour-long programs were for drying ( the timing was impeccable. Beth-Ann had exactly three minutes and thirty seconds to go downstairs, stuff her wet clothes in the dryer, place the coins, start the machine, and dash back upstairs again. After that, she would have an hour to stretch out on the couch with a bag of vinegar chips and a bottle of Pepsi, free to flip back and forth between the worlds of warriors, barbarians, and Texas rangers. So intent on making it back on time, she nearly forgot about Dimitri.
But as soon as she saw the washing machine, white and dormant and waiting to be emptied, Beth-Ann remembered.
She felt suddenly conspicuous, as if it was she who was hiding and not Dimitri; as if behind the washing machine was a normal place to dwell and she was strange for walking around in large and open spaces. She listened intently. No breathing.
Beth-Ann placed her hands firmly on top of the washing machine. She pressed her toes against the floor. As her body rose, so did her heartrate; she was prepared to be startled but still felt scared. She wondered if it was better to know, or better to be snuck up on. She felt a wave of pleasant sickness crawl across her abdomen as she strained to look over the dial panel of the machine.
But there was nothing behind it. No blue Dimitri eyes, bright like a Husky's; no dark and straight-combed Dimitri hair, black like a crow's feathers. Only dust and lint and hoses and one black sock. Beth-Ann couldn't help but feel disappointed.
After deciding the sock was definitely not her's, she began to hurry. She opened the washer and grabbed a large clump of cold, wet clothes. Holding them against her chest with one hand, she bent and opened the dryer door with the other.
Beth-Ann screamed, a short, high-pitched yelp. She dropped her clean clothes on the floor. Her heart beat in her throat, and she could feel the pulse in her temples without touching them. Maybe getting snuck up on was better.
Dimitri was curled up inside the dryer like a folded sock, lying in a ball with his arms wrapped around his bent knees. His body filled the entire drum. He turned his head a little to the side, and through the mixed-up mess of arms and legs and hands and feet, his eyes met Beth-Ann's. "Oogah?" he said quietly, sweetly, as if asking if she was okay.
"That wasn't nice," Beth-Ann scolded, making the best angry face she could.
"Come on. Get out of there. I want to do my drying."
Dimitri shifted his body around in the dryer. His head popped out of the opening and he pushed the rest of himself out, falling gently to the floor on his back. He blinked in the light.
Beth-Ann immediately began throwing her wet clothes into the dryer. Damp shirts and soggy pants whipped by Dimitri's nose and chin. He kept an eye open for bras and underwear.
"You're in my way. Move it!"
Dimitri stood up and stretched his limbs. He said, "Here, let me help you."
Beth-Ann stared at him angrily, her brown eyes piercing him. She ran her fingers violently through her long brown hair and held a tuft of bangs aloft. Her furrowed brow obscured the freckles on her forehead. Her frowning lips looked dry. "Just get out of here," she spat. "Get away from me. Asshole."
Dimitri shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry." He turned and drifted off.
Beth-Ann pretended not to watch him traipsing toward the parking garage.
Beth-Ann lay on her back on the couch, her head propped up against two cushions. She couldn't concentrate on her remote. She stuffed her mouth with vinegar chips, a slow but constant procession, and allowed the commercials and boring parts of the television programs to play out on her screen. She wondered if she and Dimitri were the only tenants in their building home tonight; home instead of out at a club or a movie, like normal people on Saturday nights. She told herself it was still early, that she didn't have to stay in all night. She remembered telling herself the same thing the weekend before.
She pictured Dimitri in the dryer, and tried to recreate the split-second of terror she'd felt in the laundry room. It wasn't the same as the real thing.
Her chip bag was empty. She took a big sip of Pepsi. She brushed the chip crumbs off the front of her shirt with the tips of her fingers. She continued brushing her chest even after all the crumbs were gone.
Beth-Ann left the couch after staring at the news for ten inattentive minutes. She stepped quietly out of the elevator into the basement and saw her laundry basket filled with clothes, dry and folded. Her throat felt parched.
She reached into the basket and took one of her t-shirts from the top of the pile. It wasn't folded exactly the way she liked. "But not a bad job for a guy," she thought. She pictured Dimitri folding her clothes, putting his hands all over them. A chill crawled down the back of her neck and spread to her shoulders. She shuddered and her teeth chattered for a second.
Beth-Ann reached slowly for the dryer door, yanked it open. Empty. Of course, she thought, it was still way too hot to go inside. "Hello?" she sang. "Where are you?" Beth-Ann crept past the washing machine and tip-toed around the side. Steadying herself for a fright, she peeked behind it, but saw nothing. Just dust and lint and the one lone sock like before. "Dimitri?" she called. The laundry room was appallingly still, hideously quiet.
Beth-Ann placed her left foot between the back of the washing machine and the wall. She wedged her left hip into the space. The rest of her body followed. She had to duck under the hoses, and allowed her back to slide down against the wall until she was crouching. Her drawn up thighs pushed hard against her stomach and chest. She wrapped her arms around her bent knees and clasped her hands together. She began to breathe loudly. She felt dust in the back of her throat. And she waited.