Kyle Tomley was an awkward character and always had been. Not necessarily on any spectrum, or having any disability; just not quite right. His mum called him her special little soldier, yet he was as far from the makings of a soldier as you could get. Thin and frail, thick lens glasses due to his poor eyesight, an odd facial twitch, and a weak immune system. He averaged one cold every month. If there was a sneeze in the air, Kyle would catch it. He had a few friends and they were all comfortable to call themselves geeks or nerds. They liked games conventions, comic books, steam trains, and online computer gaming; being the social event of the week. Four nights a week to be precise. Kyle had just turned thirty years old, was still single, and was a failure when it came to the opposite sex. He’d only ever had one girlfriend; when he was nine. He didn’t understand women and they didn’t understand him.
Routine, organisation, and his job played a large part of Kyle’s life, and when the local software company he worked for went bankrupt, his world was understandably destroyed. As always, he turned to his mum for advice.
“What can I do, Mum?”
She had advised to get another job quickly, but as Kyle couldn’t drive it narrowed down the search considerably. He lived in an old and somewhat backward village, which meant finding a job that met his skills involved two buses and a train to get to a big town. He considered working for himself, online, and beefing up his gaming webpage, but that would take too long to get running. He needed to pay the bills now. So he looked for work locally. One job vacancy: Laundrette Manager. Yes, the village still had a laundrette. Kyle wasn’t keen, but there was no other option. He made the call, got the interview, and asked the necessary questions… awkwardly.
The owner, Mrs Newman, had obviously liked him as Kyle got the job. How he managed it was beyond him, he’d mumbled nervously through the whole thing. But he got it. Likely he was the only person to apply. Unfortunately the job title had left out one important detail… Night Manager. Kyle couldn’t fathom why his village needed a laundrette, let alone a twenty-four hour one, but apparently it did. The biggest problem and main thing on Kyle’s mind was his online gaming night being cancelled. Well, the others would still play, but his level seventy paladin would get left behind for certain. Dammit!
Unsurprisingly, Kyle’s first night on the eleven ‘til seven shift was quiet, only one person all night. His friend Tony had popped along to say hello. Tony sat for thirty minutes and talked about a film that was being made; a film based on a game he had played and completed four times over the last ten years. The rest of the night would likely be spent staring at the room and thinking. Mostly thinking he wished he’d bought a book, or tablet, or his laptop so he could beef up his website. He hadn’t thought it through properly. This was the ideal job whilst you planned and prepared for another job.
In the centre of the room were twelve large washing machines, back to back as two rows of six, and there were six big tumble dryers lining a wall facing them, twice as big as his tumble dryer at home. The other area of wall space was taken up with three fold-down ironing boards and a forty inch wall-mounted TV. The TV was the thing that would keep Kyle sane, but he was fully aware that if the machines were running there would be no chance of hearing it. Fortunately he had the graveyard shift, so noise was an unlikely problem. Unfortunately the batteries in the TV controller didn’t work. He’d bring two AAA batteries with him tomorrow night and get the TV working. And speaking of sanity, Kyle remembered the last night manager… Jack or John Fullerton, if his memory served. He had been discretely taken off in a van one night, and not heard of again. Yes, it was in the local newspaper. Great! The hours were awful, the pay was barely minimum wage, and the prospects were, well, pretty bad. Kyle stared at the selection of kitchen chairs placed around the room… his choice of comfort for the night. Most were padded, but they had chunks gouged out. Who does that? Surely it doesn’t happen by accident. Kyle felt depressed and wanted to quit, and probably would have, but he knew his mum would expect that. She’d expect him to last a few nights, have a meltdown and move back home. No! He was a big boy now, so he’d stick it out.
His mobile phone had 24% battery when he’d arrived, and after Tony had left and Kyle had given up rubbing the controller batteries in an attempt to give them some life, his phone was the sole sense of entertainment from 1am until 1:48am. And then it died. Tomorrow would be a better night. He’d be prepared. Now, what to do for the next five hours and twelve minutes?
Kyle was contemplating getting into a tumble dryer to see if he fitted inside. He knew he’d try it eventually, so why not get it out the way now.
And then he heard The Voice. “Hey, big boy!”
Kyle checked his phone. No, that was dead. The TV was off, so not that. The door hadn’t opened since Tony left over an hour ago. Where was it coming from?
“You’re new here, right?” came the voice again.
There was someone hiding behind a washing machine. A woman. The voice was a woman’s voice and it came from the washing machines. Kyle walked over to the machines, walked around them, and stood confused. There was nobody there.
“You’re quite handsome,” said the voice. A woman’s voice; probably about forty years old and with a sexy husky type of tone.
Kyle crouched and stared at the washing machine at the end of the line. The ones facing the TV. Was there a recording device in there or something? Had Tony planted something as a joke? No, he wasn’t that kind of guy. As pranks go, this was too advanced for Tony. His idea of a joke would be to hide Kyle’s lunch. Kyle looked at the chair with his backpack on and decided to check it and make sure his lunch was still there.
“My name’s Martina,” said the washing machine.
Kyle fell backwards. Sitting on the floor, he stared at the washing machine for a few seconds. The voice had come from the washing machine, that was for certain, but… how? It must be some kind of joke. Yes, he was the new guy. He looked around the room for potential hidden cameras, imagining a group of people in a room laughing away at his expense.
“You’re better looking than the last guy. Younger too,” Martina said.
Kyle couldn’t see any cameras or devices that could be producing the voice, and the sound was too clear and real to be coming from anything like that. It was definitely coming from the washing machine; he was in no doubt about that. Not inside the drum, or from the soap drawer, but from it as a whole, as if it were a person talking, but without moving lips or a facial expression to go with the words being said.
Kyle felt like an idiot. “Hello?”
“Oh good, you can hear me then,” Martina said, in a relieved tone. “I was starting to worry.”
“Is this a joke?” asked Kyle.
“Is what a joke?” Martina asked.
“Err, you’re talking to me. Is this a joke? Am I on TV or something?” Kyle smiled nervously.
“The TV hasn’t been working for six days. It needs new batteries in the controller.” Martina’s voice was confident and matter of fact.
There was an awkward pause. Kyle searched for a logical explanation, but there was none. This machine was definitely doing the talking. “You’re a washing machine,” Kyle said, unsure of what to say.
“Yes. And you’re a human, male, I’d say mid twenties.” Martina’s seductive tone was pleasant to hear, and Kyle felt a little flattered by her age guesstimate.
“Thirty. I’m thirty.” Kyle felt more awkward than normal. He didn’t do well in social situations, and apparently it wasn’t because of conversing with another human, apparently it covered communicating with, well, anything.
“And you look good for it.” Martina was flirting. Was she flirting?
“Thanks,” Kyle said. “Err, how is this possible? I mean, you talking to me.” Kyle was still looking for a hidden device, but there was none. Martina was a talking washing machine. This was the factual truth.
Martina sighed, as if thinking on the question. “How is anything possible? How are you able to talk, to make noise, to construct words through sound? How are the stars held up in the sky? What measures time, when did it begin, and when will it end? And if God made the universe then who or what made God?”
Kyle thought on Martina’s words. “I don’t believe in God.”
“Then what made the universe?” she asked. “There can’t have been something which suddenly just sparked and came to life from nothing, right? So if no God, the universe must have simply always been there. Try and get your head around that.” Martina certainly made some thought-provoking points.
“I guess,” said Kyle.
“Well, in answer to your question, that’s how. It’s the great unexplained.” Martina’s voice was calming. Pleasant.
“Anything is possible.” Kyle couldn’t believe he was having an in-depth conversation with a washing machine. Not just any old washing machine too, but one he’d just met.
“Even the impossible is often proved possible,” Martina added.
Kyle nodded his agreement.
“Now, the TV doesn’t work, so we’re in for a long night,” Martina said. “Do you have any tricks or stories you can tell to keep me amused?”
Kyle wasn’t the ‘party tricks’ kind of guy, and his stories were the things that usually spurred women to find an excuse to leave. No, he wasn’t going to mess this up, Martina seemed nice and although she was just a washing machine, she was clearly a female washing machine, and Kyle was holding a pretty good conversation so far. “I-Spy?” he asked.
“Okay,” said Martina in a surprisingly enthusiastic manner. “But be warned, I’m very good at this.”
Kyle’s competitive side was concerned. She obviously had a limited visual range, and who knows how long she had stared at and examined the same area before her. She would know every little nook and cranny. I-Spy might have been a big mistake.
“I’ll go first,” Kyle said.
The next night, Kyle had come prepared. Batteries, laptop, phone charger, a chess set, and his favourite board game… Risk. After his thrashing at I-Spy last night, Kyle was reclaiming some masculinity, and what better way of showing how manly you are than invading and holding Asia? Five access points, difficult to conquer, but worth seven extra armies. Tonight was a night to impress.
It wasn’t surprising that Martina was where Kyle had left her… last on the row of six. She was the cleanest and best looking of the washing machines on the row. Actually, the best looking of all twelve washing machines in the room. Kyle had worn jeans and a t-shirt yesterday, and Martina was all over his looks and how young and smart he was. Tonight he had upped his game; cream Chinos and a chocolate brown shirt. He was dressing to impress. And impressed she was. Within the first five minutes of Kyle’s arrival, Martina had complimented his clothes, hair, and his strength at being able to carry a laptop and a board game at the same time. Kyle played it cool. It was nothing.
Tony came by at eleven thirty again, and Kyle got rid of him as quickly as possible. This was going to be an epic night. A night to impress. And Martina was. So impressed in fact that when Kyle played three cavalry cards, deployed his troops in southern Europe and took Africa in one turn, Martina made a low sighing noise that sounded quite sexual. She couldn’t help herself, and even though her dice roll, which Kyle had rolled for her, was better than his, she was a victim of his superior tactics. He had totally schooled her at the game and in less than three hours she was out and he was victorious.
“You were very forceful then,” Martina said, in her sultry tone.
Kyle played it cool; nothing needed to be said. He carried on packing up the game.
“You knew what you wanted and you took it,” said Martina. “I like that in a man.”
Kyle raised an eyebrow and nodded in the best James Bond way he could muster. He opened a bottle of fizzy orange Lucozade and took a manly gulp.
“It made me wet,” said Martina.
Lucozade spurted and frothed out from Kyle’s nostrils and he began to choke.
“Are you okay?” Martina sounded both sexy and concerned.
“Yep,” wheezed Kyle. He coughed a few times and wiped the orange from his top lip with the cuff of his shirt. “Chess?” he asked in a squeaky tone.
“Oh yes,” said Martina in a way that didn’t fit the question. A way that made Kyle wonder if she knew what chess was. Kyle might have won at Risk, but Martina was dominating the seduction. Kyle took a moment whilst he set up the chessboard, a moment to think about what was happening here. Was he on a date? This was too weird. Martina was a washing machine. A very sexual and seductive washing machine. She was in control, experienced, and with a hint of Italian in her sultry voice. Well, she was an Indesit.
It was a good game and Kyle was victorious once again. When he played chess with Tony, Kyle played it to win, but it was different with Martina, he found himself purposefully losing some unneeded pieces just so he could hear her say, ‘I take your pawn.’
“We should play again. But this time spice it up a bit,” Martina said.
“What did you have in mind?” Kyle was aware that he was now speaking in a slightly lower and more seductive tone himself. He was one step away from going full Clint Eastwood. He’d need to rein it in a little.
“When I take a pawn, you undo a button,” Martina said. “And if I take your bishop, you remove your trousers.”
Kyle nearly mentioned that there were two bishops and only one pair of trousers, but he stopped himself, realising that the bishop she referenced and the way she referenced it might have been more suggestive and less about actual game rules. Either way, Kyle found himself agreeing. And what unfolded went down in Kyle’s mental history book as one of the strangest yet most erotic things he had ever done. Chess was no longer a game for old Russian men with beards.
Kyle sat opposite Martina, in his pants, and realised that she had learned a great deal from that first game. Had he been hustled?
“Now, open my door and put your clothes inside,” Martina said in a commanding manner. Kyle did as he was told.
“Now touch my drawer,” she added.
Kyle touched Martina’s soap drawer. He tried to make it sexy and used the back of his hand.
“Slowly,” she said.
Kyle slowed it down a little and Martina made some noises of appreciation. Kyle pouted his lips and closed his eyes as Martina’s moans intensified.
“Open it,” she whispered.
Kyle opened her soap drawer. She sighed and moaned. Kyle stroked his hand over the glass door and up the side of the metal casing. Martina liked that a lot.
“Turn me on,” Martina gasped.
Kyle looked a little confused, unsure what it was he had been doing, but then realised that she meant it in the literal sense. “I haven’t got any soap powder.”
“Are you dirty? Are you a dirty boy?” Martina asked.
“Yes. Very,” said Kyle. He pushed his face against the soap drawer and started to blow gently. The laundrette door opened and a fat man carrying two bin bags full of clothes walked in.
Kyle panicked and scurried on all fours away from Martina and towards the other end of the washing machines. As the fat man moved, so did Kyle, keeping low and on all fours, he shuffled as quietly as possible to the other side and out of the fat man’s sight. The fat man stood looking down at a laptop, board game, and Kyle’s other belongings. There was no explaining his way out of this. There was no way of getting out of here unseen either. Kyle tapped into his newly found confidence and stood up. He walked around the washing machines and to his things, smiling at the fat man and giving him the typical greeting nod. The fat man stared back in disbelief.
“This one’s out of order,” said Kyle, opened Martina’s door, took out his clothes and started to get dressed.
The fat man slid his bags across the laundrette floor and to the washing machine at the other end. He loaded his clothes inside whilst glancing over at Kyle. Kyle finished getting dressed, picked up his things, and walked out.
Kyle waited across the street in between the fish and chip shop and a collection of large bins, crouched low, uncomfortable, and staring at the laundrette. His laundrette. The fat man didn’t leave for over two hours, and Kyle’s shift was nearly over. When the coast was clear, Kyle hurried back to the laundrette, flipped the Opensign to Closed, locked the door and rushed over to Martina.
“I’m so sorry,” said Kyle, crouching down to Martina’s level.
“You scared me. You just left and I didn’t know where you were.” Martina sounded upset.
“I know. I’m sorry.” Kyle rubbed his hands over his face. “Did he use you?”
“No. He used the two on the end,” Martina said, some calm returning to her voice.
The thought of someone else using Martina upset Kyle. A strange feeling of anger came over him. “It won’t happen again. I promise,” Kyle said confidently.
“Do you? Do you promise me, Kyle?” Martina asked.
Kyle put his hand on his heart. “Yes. I promise.”
Kyle couldn’t sleep. His mind ran wild with images of men dumping their load in Martina, forcefully and without a care. Kicking her if she misbehaved. He got up, got dressed, and headed out with purpose. He needed to see Martina; even if it was Mrs Henderson’s shift. He needed to see Martina now!
Kyle arrived at the laundrette in the late morning. The room was alive with people, feeding clothes from bags into machines, pulling them from dryers into baskets, and… who was that man? A good-looking man had just finished putting soap powder into Martina’s drawer and had slammed it shut with unnecessary force. Where was Mrs Henderson? There she was, the fat cow, sat on a chair and reading a book. Had she not seen the man? It was her job to keep watch and to protect the machines from such ruffians. Kyle stared at the man through the window, stared through gritted teeth, his eyes widening as the man treated Martina the way he did. The man, tanned skin, probably foreign. Kyle wasn’t racist, but he was finding things he disliked about him, his looks, and the fact that he shouldn’t be in the laundrette. He probably shouldn’t be in the country. What was going on? Kyle never thought that way. Right! If Mrs Henderson wasn’t going to do anything about it, Kyle would. He forcefully rapped his knuckles against the window.
The man looked around at Kyle. Kyle waved a finger, pointed at Martina and mouthed the word, ‘NO!’
The good-looking foreign man frowned, confused, and looked about to see if it was indeed himself who was being glared at by the strange man at the window… the angry man whose face was red with rage.
Kyle put two fingers to his eyes and then pointed at the man… I’m watching you! And with that Kyle stormed off. Something needed to be done, something to protect and keep the laundrette safe. Kyle was the night manager, and if the morning manager couldn’t cope, Kyle would have to step up and take charge.
Kyle wasn’t taking any chances, and as his shift started that night he locked the laundrette door and turned the sign to read Closed. Hardly anyone came in anyway, and he didn’t want another awkward and embarrassing episode like last night.
“I hate daytime.” Martina’s first words as Kyle sat in front of her.
“Something bad happen?” Kyle asked. He already knew the answer. He knew the way she was treated in the day.
“No. It’s just the wait. It’s too long before we can be together again,” Martina said.
“I know what you mean,” said Kyle. “Anyway, we are alone now, and I have locked the door so we can be together uninterrupted.”
There was a silence. “Are you okay?” Kyle asked.
Martina sniffed as if she was near to crying. “I know it has only been a few nights, but I… I think I love you, Kyle.”
Kyle paused. He could sense Martina’s emotions. They washed over him and filled him up inside. “I love you too.”
“I want to play with you, Kyle,” Martina said, in a slow and sexual manner.
Kyle smiled. He knew what she meant. Oh yes! He slid his hand into the backpack he’d brought with him and produced the chess set. “Chess?”
“You read my mind you naughty boy.” Martina’s voice practically purred.
Kyle set up the board quicker than ever. “I’ll go first.” Kyle’s words were confident, just how Martina liked it. Martina had unleashed his inner man.
“Ooh,” sighed Martina, as Kyle slid a pawn slowly forward across the chessboard, gazing at her longingly the whole time.
Things happened that night. Strange things that Kyle hadn’t experienced before. Good things. Naughty things. And it’s true what they say about women getting in the way of friendships; Kyle hadn’t even noticed Tony when he came by at eleven thirty. And fortunately, Tony hadn’t noticed Kyle either.
Martina’s voice was quiet, no more than a whisper. “Wake up, lover boy.”
Kyle opened his eyes. He ached all over. He must have fallen asleep in front of Martina, on the cold hard floor. It was daytime, bright, sunny, and there was a knocking on the door.
“Someone’s here,” whispered Martina.
Kyle looked up to see an old lady with a shopping trolley looking at him through the glass of the laundrette door, squinting as she tried to take in what she was looking at. Kyle was naked.
Kyle cupped his manhood in his hands and ran over to the door. He nodded at the sign. “We’re closed!”
The old lady didn’t look at the sign, she had a close-up view now and was trying to get a better look at Kyle in all his glory. “What?” she asked.
“Fuck off!” Kyle snapped, removed a hand and waved for the old lady to go away.
And then Kyle saw her… Mrs Henderson, the morning manager, crossing the street to begin her shift. She had a key. Kyle had to act quickly. What to do? He grabbed hold of the nearest tumble dryer and started to move it towards the door. Well, he attempted to, it was a beast of a machine and only budged slightly. Kyle groaned out loud and then relaxed his grip, defeated.
“You’ll get arrested, you know,” said the old lady from the other side of the door. Kyle was in a panic and the old lady was an unwelcome annoyance. He gave her the middle finger and the old lady gasped with shock. Shock, or due to Kyle being in full display. He was past wasting time trying to cover up.
“You can do it, Kyle.” Martina’s voice giving Kyle the boost he needed. Determined and fuelled by Martina’s love, he grabbed the tumble dryer again and roared out loud as he pulled it away from the wall and towards the door. Mrs Henderson arrived beside the old lady as Kyle shimmied the tumble dryer from its corner to corner, walking it the short distance to the door. Initially slowed by what she was looking at, Mrs Henderson snapped out of it and quickly fumbled for her keys, but it was too late. Kyle pushed the tumble dryer up against the glass door and collapsed.
“My hero,” said Martina.
“Open the door, Mr. Tomley.” Mrs Henderson glared at Kyle.
“We’re closed,” was all that Kyle could muster. Out of breath he slowly sat up. “Go away, Mrs Henderson. You’re not needed today.”
Mrs Henderson reached into her handbag and took out her mobile phone. Kyle stood up and walked back to Martina.
“Will you get in trouble?” Martina asked.
Kyle shook his head. “No. And I’m not leaving you. I promised I’d stay, and they can’t make me go.” Kyle placed a hand on top of Martina.
“You make me so happy, Kyle,” said Martina.
“I’ve phoned the police,” said Mrs Henderson from the laundrette door.
The situation was difficult and Kyle wasn’t certain how things would pan out, but at least he had found the time to get dressed and make himself more presentable when PC Wilton and PC Allan arrived. He rested a hand on top of Martina, closed his eyes, and sighed.
“Wish me luck, baby,” he whispered. He had gone full Clint Eastwood.
“Good luck,” said Martina, softly.
Kyle walked over to the laundrette door. There was now a collection of six passers-by stood with the two policemen, the old lady, and Mrs Henderson. The old Kyle would have felt intimidated by ten people staring at him, and some of them with expressions of anger, but the new Kyle was confident. Martina’s love gave him the necessary self-belief. He was the one in charge here.
“Can you open the door please, sir?” PC Wilton was a big man, and the obvious negotiator. PC Allan mumbled something on his walkie-talkie.
“You’ll need to talk with the owner, my boss,” said Kyle. “I’m doing the day shift today. She’ll understand.”
“I need you to open the door please, sir,” repeated PC Wilton.
“Didn’t he hear you?” asked Martina.
“Didn’t you hear me?” asked Kyle.
“Yes, sir. We’ve already spoken with your boss, and I am asking you for the last time to open the door.” PC Wilton looked around at PC Allan, who gave him a nod.
“No, I’m not going anywhere until I see Mrs Newman. She’s the owner, not you. She’ll understand.” Kyle made sure his tone was forceful and wouldn’t be questioned. He wasn’t about giving off the wrong impression.
“Well said.” Martina’s voice came from the middle of the room. “If they want to force you out, they’ll need to call in the fire brigade and blast you out.”
Kyle was in charge here. This was his laundrette and he wasn’t going to get bossed about by outsiders. “Either get Mrs Newman, or call in the fire brigade to bash the door down, but I’m not opening it until I speak to her,” Kyle said.
Mrs Henderson passed the door key to PC Wilton, who unlocked it and tried to force it open, but the tumble dryer held it in place.
“If you try to come in, I’ll get all the machine’s going and foam the place out.” Kyle looked nervous. “I have suds!” Kyle added.
“That won’t be necessary, sir,” said PC Wilton.
Kyle backed off to Martina. “I don’t think it’s working. What can I do?”
“Fight for me, baby. Fight for your love,” Martina said. Kyle nodded and gritted his teeth ready, psyching himself up for the inevitable battle.
PC Wilton produced his police baton and extended it ready.
Kyle closed his eyes and placed a hand on top of Martina. “I love you. Remember that. No matter what happens, I love you.”
PC Wilton smashed out the window with his baton and started to climb through the door.
“Die for me my darling,” whispered Martina.
PC Wilton was inside the laundrette and it would only be a matter of time before the cuffs were on. Kyle wasn’t going down without a fight. Some things were worth fighting for, and this was one of them. The laundrette was his chessboard, and he was the king.
Martina’s voice echoed in Kyle’s ears. “Die for me.” He let out a mighty roar and charged across the room at PC Wilton.
PC Allan’s taser found its mark, Kyle made a noise that was part squeal and part whimper, and then collapsed. He twitched and moaned through gritted teeth, a wet patch forming around the crotch of his cream Chinos. PC Wilton leaned over Kyle and slapped on the handcuffs. Checkmate.
Three days later, an advertisement was placed on the notice board of the village supermarket. Laundrette Manager Required. Manager… the term excited Harry Pullman, fresh out of college, and out to impress. Like so many young men, he wasn’t blessed with good looks or confidence, so this could be the exact thing he needed. He jotted down the phone number. If being a manager of somewhere didn’t attract the ladies, what would?