Black Towel

Jamie loved the shower. He would spend all day in there if he could, but usually took a short shower of only five minutes because he had to get to work. But even in that time, the hot water, pulsating jets, and steam clouds turned his bathroom into a dreamy somewhere else. It was like being inside a piece of music. Dance music, melodic but also trancey. In the shower you could just let go of every part of yourself, and have no cares in the world. He felt so light, floating free.

He opened the shower door, stepped out, and pulled his towel off the rail. Now the dread began. As lovely as the shower had been, coming out still felt terrible. He couldn’t say why. He had a sudden fear and loathing of the world. What a stupid way to feel. Like everyone else, he better just get to work.

He began to dry himself. Halfway through, he stopped. Was this his towel, he wondered? It was white. Didn’t he have a black one before? He wondered if it was his housemate, Eddy’s. He couldn’t ever remember buying a white towel. Never mind, it got him dry.

As Jamie was dressing, he noticed that the towel was quite grubby. It had dark stains. Like most single guys, he didn’t change his towel as often as he should. He knew that. His logic was that these stains were from water: the same stuff that would be used to wash it. Water is water – what difference does it make if it’s from his shower or from the laundry? Still, maybe its time to give it a wash. He threw it into the laundry basket, and took the basket with him to work.

Community Services seemed to get busier each day. He stayed late to finish a chart showing the effects of income inequality. The rich-poor gap was getting bigger – not just financially, but also in terms of physical and psychological health. On his way home Jamie went to the laundry. He heard voices in the back room. He loaded the machine, but as he filled the dispenser, the manager came running out.

“Oh, I didn’t hear you come in,” he said. “What are you washing?”

“Just my usual stuff.” Jamie wondered why he was bothering him.

“But is there something I can help you with?” The manager seemed eager.

“Not really. It’s just my jeans, shirts, underwear, and, er… towel.”

“Towel!” The manager’s eyes lit up. “Towel!”

“Yes,” said Jamie, about to push the start button.

The manager stopped him. “Oh, towels are hard to clean properly. Let me do it for you.” He was sweating slightly.

“That’s very kind of you,” said Jamie. “But I don’t want to pay the extra. I’ll do it myself.”

“Oh, no extra! Just good service!” The manager opened the machine door and pulled out Jamie’s stuff. He held up the towel. “See those dark stains? You won’t get them out. Let me wash this for you.”

Jamie was flummoxed. “Em… ok, thanks.” When the machine started hissing, he went for a drink and came back 34 minutes later. He knew that’s how long the wash took. The manager was waiting for Jamie. “Oh, you’re back. Super. Your wash is done. And here’s your towel.” He held out a neatly pressed white towel, the sort you get at hotels. Wow, thought Jamie. Good job.

“Excuse me,” said the manager. “I have some business to take care of.”

As Jamie waited for his laundry to dry, he wondered how the manager had washed and dried the towel so quickly. He was about to step into the back room to ask him, but saw through the doorway that he was busy. He was putting stained white towels into a bag, while a pile of fresh ones sat next to them. Jamie decided not to bother, and left. In his car mirror, Jamie saw a dark van emerging from the laundry’s rear.

A few weeks later, a black towel appeared in the bathroom. It must be Eddy’s, thought Jamie. They never really saw each other, as both were busy working multiple jobs. There was always less money, and more bills to pay. It was getting harder to survive these days. They were friends but fought often, and were both in bad moods. Jamie caught Eddy one morning, and asked if that was his black towel.

“Why? Do you want to use it?” he said.

“No, I was just curious. I don’t remember seeing it before.”

“I got it from the laundry. Someone left it in a machine. The manager said it was a good towel, and told me to take it. But it’s pretty low grade – the colour’s coming off. It’s going grey.”

Two weeks later, the black towel was gone. This was unusual, as towels stayed in the bathroom for months. Jamie asked Eddy about it. “Oh, it turned into a white towel,” he said. “But it still had dark stains. So I took it back to the laundry. The manager washed it for me. It turned out great.”

Eddy felt that something wasn’t right. Black towels shouldn’t become white towels. He went to the laundry to ask the manager about it. While he was finding a car space, he saw a dark van parked at the rear. The same one that had pulled out behind him last time. As he approached the back of the laundry, he overheard the manager’s voice. “That was twenty this week.”

Another voice said, “All black to white?”

“Yep,” said the manager. “One hundred percent cleaned.”

“Ok, good job. Here’s $2,000. Do you think you can handle more?”

“Maybe five more. But that’s it. I can’t push a black towel onto every customer.”

“But you may have to. The powerful people who blacken these towels need to stay powerful. They use witchcraft to bypass karma, and transfer their stress and sins through these dark spell cloths. They have accumulated more stress and sin than ever, so we must expand the operation. Soon we’ll give you your own special towel.”

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