Social distancing is hard to do properly in an apartment building. How do you stay 6 feet away from someone when your door isn’t 6 feet away from your neighbour’s door? How do you stay 6 feet away when your door is less than 2 feet from the door to the stairwell? How do you stay 6 feet away when the laundry machines aren’t 6 feet apart?
I had to do laundry the other day. I managed to avoid other people entirely. The experience was emotionally odd enough that I started narrating in my head on the way down to put in the wash. Honestly, add a few flickering lights, a worried grandmother, and make me 16, and I’ve got the perfect start to a young adult, post-apocalyptic novel. Here is what my overactive internal monologue was saying as I did laundry:
I scoop up a handful of quarters and pocket them. I put the jug of detergent in the basket along with the clothes. I stand close to the door, listening. The hallway on the other side of the apartment is quiet. Good. I crack the door open, and see emptiness. Good. The door of my apartment is only a step away from the door to the stairwell. I take a deep breath, and take that step, fearful that someone will burst through unexpectedly. No one does.
I pause with the stairwell door cracked open. I listen. Footsteps shuffle on the lower floor. They’re heading away. Good. I slip through the door with my basket of clothes, and proceed cautiously down the stairs, tense. At any moment someone could enter from the parking lot or the door to the first floor, and I prepare for a retreat if I encounter anyone. They say we need to stay six feet apart. That will keep us safe. It’s harder than it sounds.
I reach the first floor. No one is near the security door leading to the parking lot. No sounds from behind the door leading to the first floor hallway. Good. I edge into the hallway and look. No doors opening. No one in the hall. I pick up the pace, anxious to get to the laundry room before anyone comes out of their apartment unexpectedly. I pause again at the laundry room door. I don’t want to go in.
It’s a narrow room, with one exit. If anyone is in there, do I wait in the hallway for them to finish? Do I back six feet down the hallway so they have clearance when they exit? What if someone comes in while I’m in there, and insists on using the machine next to mine? There are only three machines, and one is usually broken. They say six feet will keep us safe. It’s harder than it sounds.
Thankfully, no one is there. One machine is in use. Ten minutes left on the timer. I have plenty of time before they’re back to start my load. If we both return promptly, we have a decent buffer. We shouldn’t meet each other tonight. Good.
I load the machine, and put the quarters in the slot, each one ticking down a second until I’m free from that tiny space. Clink. Clink. Clink.
I finish up, pick up my jug of detergent, and start back for the safety of my apartment, stopping to listen at every door. It’s quiet. I picked a good time.
I reach my apartment and head straight for the sink. I scrub the outside off of me.
I sink onto the couch, safe for another 29 minutes until I have to move the clothes over to the dryer. 29 minutes until I have to brave the hallways. 29 minutes until I’m back in that narrow room with only one way out. For 29 minutes, I’m safe.