Sunday at the Skin Laundrette
The weekly visit to the perfumed steam. Outside
rain falls biblically, a reminder of the duty to be clean.
Inside no one notices – they’re too busy with the work
of choosing a machine, counting change and making
sure the temperature’s just right, trying not to pour
the powder anywhere but in the slot. Other skin
begins revolving through the plastic portholes. Skin
of fine Thai origin, Kenyan and Jamaican skin beside
the bluish white, the tattooed, mottled and poor
stretch-marked stuff, every kind of hair licked clean.
A fat man doubles over on a bench - he's making
heavy weather of it, separating folds, trying to work
his penis from its shell. It's slow and careful work.
His lungs balloon as he unsheaths his foreskin,
fragile as sushi, then the balls, until he's making
progress, loosening his mass of satin arse. Beside
him a girl unpeels her arm, a glove which comes clean
off revealing sinews. The man squeezes his paw,
fatty and raw, gathers his acreage while the girl pours
a gloss of layers over her hips, pausing to work
around the knees, the difficult toes. The clean
fug of detergents is dizzying as she drapes her skin
over her arm like an evening gown.
Beside her an old woman undresses patiently, making
sure not to tear her cobweb elbows, making
sure the birth mark is preserved. She pauses
at her clavicle and strokes the scar on the side
of her brow, puckered like a wonky zip. She works
at this delicate undoing, unpeeling the skin
which is sheer as moth wing now, until her lean
frame hangs with crushed silk, the body coming clean
at last. So they sit waiting, staring into space, making
lists in their heads, watching the machines. While his skin
tumbles dry, the man examines his heart. The women pore
over their bodies, or carefully lift their breasts to work
out once again where their souls are hiding. Outside
a skin of rain ripples the darkening streets as water pours
through gutters, pounding pavements clean, making
everything a sort of new, while the work goes on inside.
from Sunday at the Skin Launderette (Seren, 2008), copyright © Kathryn Simmonds 2008, used by permission of the author c/o Rogers Coleridge & White Ltd, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN