When My 13 Year Old Decides to Do His Own Laundry

by Caroljean Gavin

His hoodie hangs lopsided in the darker half of the entryway closet, plush, full of its own thread, but fraying at the cuffs. Cyan, now somehow with splatters of red. I’m trying to name that particular shade of red. Scarlet Defiance. No. Crimson Tantrum. Or Cherry Juice Dripping Off the End of a Finger While Watching Cartoons. Candy Apple at the County Fair. It is Flame of a Slow Moving Tricycle. What other red could it possibly be? Schoolyard Fist? Bloody Nose? The Pain Hurts Too Much to Keep It Inside Vermillion? It is red, that’s what it is, red and exhausted and I have questions. Where have you been? Who do you smell like? What burned through your pocket? Why won’t you tell me what you need? Are you ok? The hoodie hangs in a shrug.

My T-shirt tightens into my ribs. It is not a hug. The legs of my boot cut yoga pants catch a ceiling fan zephyr and try to elope with it. My flip-flops roll their soles, throwing me off my ankles. My underpants sacrifice their own elastic and start to slide. My skin is dry and a little hive-y and my clothes have questions. What are you doing? Asking the wrong fucking questions is what you’re doing. How long has it been since we left the house? Will we ever brush up against a stranger? Feel their hot grip on our weave? Why did you stop climbing tall buildings, smoking cigarettes, and staying up until morning just to drunk watch the sun rise up over the bay? That oatmeal baby doll dress still talks about you. Those black tights you used to rip into holes and ladders. Those knee-high boots you threw up on at the end of the party. I remember those things. The Nine Inch Nails shirt with the after-curfew taco sauce stain. The jeans with the bent zipper pull and Nate’s fingerprints all over it. The flannel button up with the giant, sharp paperclip waiting, snug against the collar, for when my mother yelled at me, for when I needed to feel something, even pain when she’d scream at me in that peach sweatshirt with the puffy paint daisies she put on there herself.

The closet laughs at me with its open door. Coats and jackets shaking like loose teeth. I pull the chain beside the bulb, but the light won’t go off, and it won’t go off, and it won’t go off.


Caroljean Gavin‘s work is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2021 and has appeared in places such as Milk Candy ReviewBarrelhouse, and Pithead Chapel. She’s the editor of What I Thought of Ain’t Funny, an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg published by Malarkey Books. Her chapbook, Shards of a Stained-Glass Moving Picture Fairy Tale is forthcoming from Selcouth Station Press. She’s on Twitter @caroljeangavin