Volume 28, Number 3

The Agitation

Ken Poyner

When I think there are enough washing machines, someone drives up in a red ramshackle truck, one fender barely hanging on, the rush of a circus clown in the lion’s pen, and pushes off yet another washing machine. That would be someone who thinks there are not enough. I can take his word for it.

I am waiting for there to be a quorum. But I do not know how many washing machines make for a quorum. I would think this many would be enough, but I do not know everything. Obviously, the man now driving with a lightened truck quickly away believed we were at least one short. But he may have other motives. Perhaps his washing machine had simply just worn out.

Most likely, the washing machines themselves will decide when a quorum has been reached, when there are enough in attendance to make decisions that the remaining washing machines will honor. They will appoint one of the less dented machines, and that machine will draw itself up into a mounted version of a manufacturer’s ideal showroom model and report: there is a quorum. But for now, they have divided themselves into front loaders and top loaders and sit in their own frowning and white-paneled subjective like-member caucuses. Before a congress with a quorum can decide, it has to be decided what comprises a quorum.

But I do not think they are debating what comprises a quorum. I do not hear the clothes baskets clanging, nor the spin cycle compromising. I do not see the lids flapping nor hear the hose attachments hissing. Each caucus has its back to the other, and the only thing that stops the unanimously querulous, grinding washing machine doors is the arrival of a new, previously unobserved machine: will it top load or front load?

I think about the quorum. Can I determine what number makes a quorum with my own independent mathematics: deduce the number out of my own effort, without the opinion of the assembled washing machines? Or is the number of the quorum not a point of decision but an established and known fact that I do not know. Or is it an agreement? Is it waiting to be handed defiantly to me, like the unchanging truth of mechanical lizard hearts: matter-of-factly on a folded piece of stock paper, by one washing machine that sticks out its water softener tray casually and provides to me—a presence less than mechanical—my education on quorum numbers while on the edges of its paneling it is backing away?

The washing machines’ metal shimmers of dry desert heat, and I stand farther back. Red ones, black ones, white ones, beige ones: all huddle in their inward facing circular caucuses, presumably considering all the things that will be settled when the pedantically awaited quorum is reached. Great things can be done. Issues put to bed. Process concluded. Dishwashers detained.

I have faith.

But my faith may be only that the necessary number will be reached, not that, once achieved, the quorum which will have then a command of the possible, will be able to prod its potential into progress. Dolt that I can be, sometimes I think too much of opportunity and not enough of the use of that opportunity. The desires and thoughts of a washing machine are beyond me, and I do not know how disenchanting the needs of any one machine or caucus of machines might be. I put my faith in the number in order to achieve it; but, achieving it, am I then nothing more than one step closer to preparing to set another goal?

The washing machines tilt forward their lids or open askew their front doors, each nodding to each in a respect that does not extend much below the soft metal that houses their more eclectic machinery. I am to them invisible.

Another lilting truck pulls up, but there is no washing machine teetering in the back, no recently un-hosed and hoisted cleaning service unit sitting in the truck bed. Out from the flaked onion-paint driver’s side, a woman of no light, no charm and with nothing to recommend her to even the most celibate of memories, steps ungainly, but steadily, away from the barely quivering four wheeled conveyance. She walks in the shortest of unprincipled steps to the squat passenger side door, squarely opens that brooding door, and takes out, with a brazen bend and a bottom braced jolt, a heroically yellow and overflowing basket of laundry. She turns to look sensuously at all the stunned washing machines. Her hair flips in the wind just as it would in better writers’ stories, and she looks down the length of her seemingly once broken nose, sweeping her head side to side in survey. Anyone can see her breath willfully burdening the air around her.

Why yes, she has a reason to be here.