photo of woman trapped in front-loading washing machine

Rinse Cycle by Len Kuntz

One night I come home from work and my wife won’t answer when I call out her name.

I try not to panic.

I look around for a note, even though she’s never left me a note in her life. I think: If I were my wife and I were hiding, where would I go? Our house isn’t that big. I check in all the potential spots, coming up empty.

When I phone the police, they say I have to wait a full twenty-four hours. I say, “That’s bullshit.” The officer sounds bored. “I get that a lot,” he says, hanging up.

Around midnight I realize there’s one place I haven’t looked.

Our laundry room is a cramped space, as if the builder had originally planned a closet but added a dozen square feet at the last minute.

The light is one of those glaring, bare bulbs you click on by pulling a chain. Mounds of clothes, sorted by whites and darks, sit on the floor. Then there’s the gleaming milk-colored washer and dryer.

A soft rumbling sound tells me the washer’s on. When I bend down, there’s my wife staring at me from inside the machine. Part of her face is smashed against the glass, turning her nose into a pig snout. Her lips are thick gummy worms and her cheeks are popped full of air, but her eyes are open. She’s alive.

I yank on the door and find it’s locked. Locked from the inside.

My wife shakes her head. She doesn’t seem at all threatened, her hair floating like seaweed, willy-nilly.

I shout, “How did you get in there?”

She points toward the top of the appliance. It’s set on RINSE CYCLE.

I shout, “Yeah, but are you all right?”

She gives me a Thumbs Up.

I shout, “Just hold tight, I’ll get something to break you out of there.”

She shakes her head No.

“What’re you talking about?”

She waves me off, waves Goodbye.

“I don’t understand.”

She points at me, then puts her palms together, pressing them against her cheek. She wants me to go to sleep.

***

In bed, I make sure to keep my eyes shut and not roll over on my wife’s spot or reach out to see if she’s there because I want this to be a dream.

I doze off near dawn and when I wake, there she is, wearing a white towel, her hair wet and wavy.

“Help me understand,” I say.

She sits on the edge of the bed, smelling of detergent. “Baby,” I say.

“Remember how I told you there were a lot of dark things in my past?” she asks.

I nod.

“And then you asked if that’s why we don’t make love?”

I nod again.

She drops the towel open, slides under the blanket and pulls me against her bare skin. “I know I can’t clean myself on the inside. I can’t erase what happened, but,” she says, putting my palm on her pubis, “I’m ready now.”

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online literary magazine Metazen. His work appears widely in print and online at such places as Connotation Press, Boston Literary Magazine, Ofi Press of Mexico City, and others. Len’s story collection I’m Not Supposed To Be Here And Neither Are You debuts from Aqueous Books in 2014. You can find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.

Lead image:  “trapped” (via Flickr user katiew)