Mention of a mangle in comments on an earlier post reminded me of this story.
first published in Where the Wild Winds Blow from the Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
The muffled rumblings behind the door became a clattering cacophony when it opened, releasing the smell of bleach and wet washing. Inside the basement, a single light bulb threw shadows, which danced when the door slammed.
The washing machines hammered and hissed… But at floor level the air was less steamy. Between the machines, something small and round shifted in the shadows.
Maxy Mouse turned to the long-lashed companion behind him. ‘We’ll be all right here.’
A washing machine gurgled.
The little mouse with the big eyes twitched her whiskers. ‘Are you sure, Max?’
‘That cat can’t get down here. The basement door’s kept shut in the daytime, so’s the noise don’t disturb them upstairs.’
Strutting to a hole in the skirting board, he whipped out two tiny chairs followed by a bistro table – which was almost as big as the hole. With a flourish, the table was laid, the candle lit. Miss Misty Mouse sat. Max produced a large wedge of cheese and proceeded to carve.
Among the clattering over their heads, the basement door opened and closed again.
Max tiptoed between the washing machines to confirm the sturdy wrinkle-clad legs descending the wooden stairs were those of Bessie, the laundry-maid. She hummed to herself as she emptied the big top-loading machine and filled it again from another laundry basket. The open lid of the machine trembled above her as the smaller front-loader beside it began a spin cycle.
Reassured, Max returned to Misty. Above their table, water gurgled through a hose to fill the machine. He put a hand to one silky ear. ‘I hear a distant waterfall.’
She giggled. ‘You’re such a romantic, Max.’
A drip landed on the floor nearby. Another followed, splashing Misty. Above them, a connector on the big machine was seeping. Max moved the table further away and, with a bow, invited Miss Misty to sit again. So they didn’t notice the drips falling faster nor the puddle that formed to creep under the washer.
Bessie emptied the front-loader, humming her favourite hymn as she folded the clean laundry into a basket. The thin cotton was almost dry after its spin. She took it to the ironing press, which hiccupped puffs of steam. Instinctively, she avoided these as she brought the press down on a pillowcase to test the temperature.
Steam billowed, reaching out for anything within range, but Bessie had moved again to adjust the dial. As she turned away, the edge of her vision caught the dial seeming to stick out its tongue – an old trick of the shadows. The pillowcase was now flat and dry, and the beast had run out of steam.
She loaded the washer again and went to retrieve the washing powder from the top-loader. Her slippers met water spreading from under the machine. It soaked through the thin soles to her toes. Behind the machine, water dribbled down a hose to pool on the floor. Amos would have to come and fix it.
On the floor, pink eyes gleamed in the semi-darkness.
Bessie’s scream reverberated around the basement as she pounded up the stairs. The door banged behind her. The echoes had faded when the door re-opened and a damp slipper propelled a large black cat down the stairs.
The door slammed again.
Max had been scurrying to pack away his table and chairs, and Misty had tried to help. In her panic, she pushed the table into the mouse-hole at the wrong angle, and it wedged tight.
They turned, to see yellow eyes searching the darkness.