by Melissa Llanes Brownlee
THE LAUNDRY ROOM of the apartment you lived in when you were four, you were so tiny, in your cute little jeans, lined with purple roses your mother let you have from the Ben Franklin, your cute matching purple T-shirt making you smile as you played in the driveway with your Chinese jacks because you were by yourself with no one to play with until one of the neighbor boys, so tall he blocked the sun, a halo around his blonde head casting a shadow over the multi-colored rings arrayed before you, said hi and asked if you wanted to play and you were so happy not to be alone, and you went willingly with him into the laundry room, and he ran his hand along your flowers, and you knew, you knew, you knew something wasn’t right, but you were frozen, your tiny body, your little hands, your purple flowers dropping to the ground
your mother strips all the bedding from all the rooms, all of your clothes, all of your sisters’ clothes, fills garbage bags, drives downtown to Hele Mai Laundromat, drags you with her to help, it’s your fault after all, you brought home the ukus, your shining brown hair will be washed in kerosene, washed in bleach, washed in detergent, because lice shampoo is too expensive, you will have your hair chopped short, you will have your scalp rubbed raw, you will have your hair torn out as your mother pulls out every egg she can find, her anger fueled by this, you will have to put all of the dirty uku laundry in the big washers, run the water hot, put in the detergent and the bleach while your mother scolds you from the side, yelling at you for getting dirty ukus from those dirty kids, you will not cry in the laundromat, you will not cry in the laundromat, you will not cry in the laundromat
you needed a dress for church and you knew your roommate had done her laundry, you were the bad roommate, borrowing money and clothes and food, no door between your rooms, and she must have hated you so much, but you thought she would never notice, you were so poor you barely had enough money from the scholarship you were on and you figured she wouldn’t mind helping you out now and again, which turned out to be always, and you needed a dress for church so you found the black one you always borrowed from the school dormitory’s laundry room and put it on but you didn’t borrow your roommate’s dress, did you, you borrowed your dorm mother’s dress, and that’s stealing now, isn’t it, but you were only borrowing, and now you have detention, and now you have to stay at your auntie’s house but you don’t care and you don’t say sorry because your auntie has a pool and let’s you eat whatever you want and you are just fine where you are
Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, Milk Candy Review, Lost Balloon, Cotton Xenomorph, and Atlas + Alice. She is in Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2022, and Wigleaf Top 50 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press.
She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.