I feel naked, exposed. It seems that this past year, my insides melted. I want to tear up my pages, redo everything from the inside out. Move, no, stay, everything’s under control.
So I put the quarters in, and there’s a large spark. Nearly a fire, then nothing. Dead. Annoyed, I gather my detergent-covered clothes and head to the nearest laundromat. Seems I’m doomed to revisit the stuffy, bizarre world of fans, wet floors and people who seem to beam out of movie scenes requiring the most colorful extras alive, the land of the rainbow-mashed-potato-background-mix.
Weird, the parking lot’s empty. A scratchy, handwritten sign tells me that the place is closed due to a recent fire. Annoyed, I search for another, realizing that my movie/chilling plan is out.
Second laundromat. Outside, a child sits holding her baby. That’s right, the mother is around 14 years old. Right on cue, up comes an Old West old man with a handlebar mustache. Then my new friend arrives. I’ll call her Ellen. Inch-long black roots peek out from her scalp, leaking into her red hair. Ellen’s eyes are piercing. Blue or green, I’m not sure, but diamond shiny.
“Hey, can I ask you somethin’?” she says, blinking her sparkling eyes.
“Sure,” I reply.
“Can you watch my stuff in the driers? I don’t trust anybody.” She shrugs.
“Sure, where?” I ask.
She points. “I’m just heading next store for a minute.”
“No problem,” I say.
When Ellen returns, she tells all — the way her ex-husband cheated on her.
She describes the late phone calls, the overtime at work, how he never admitted it, how she’s searching for love again. The sparkling eyes are full-on wet.
“I see these kids do anything to keep their man,” she says. “Not me. I’m OK alone.”
She smokes and smiles, showing the gap where teeth should be.
“Thanks for watching my clothes,” she says. “Got my stuff stolen a while back. Man, even the bag. Now that’s low.”
“Good luck finding your true love,” I say, grinning.
“You, too,” she says, chuckling. But there’s a new light buried within her pupils. Hope.
My mind returns to visions of driving alone. When I tell others, I hear this: “You need a plan.” I suppose they’re right, but it’s ruining my fun. Maybe I’m running from being a grownup. Maybe I’m running from the hole that I feel when I muse about “the one,” because really, these types of feelings don’t shout out “lone trip.”
Ever notice how we attract similar people? When I’m feeling morose, without much trouble, I soon attract five gothic kids with white-painted faces and big, black-lined eyes, orphan mouths turned down in a frozen frown. See, Ellen needed a clothes watcher, and I needed to hear her, to be reminded that I’m not alone in feeling restless, that she too wants to just feel safe and loved.
I get lost in head trips, but to me beauty rests within life’s tangible moments — the first kiss, the scratchy love note, warm sheets, crooked trees, the quarter-sized mole on Ellen’s leg. The tiny, tangible details. I believe in these.
Back home, folding, I think about a recent food mart visit. Their air conditioning was wrecked, and everything that could melt was melting, but the worker sweated and struggled without complaint. Short, shifty and red-faced, one customer demanded to pay, and he wasn’t even in line.
All around, a fiery bitch-fest, an inferno. I thought the worker should tell a few customers to fuck off, but I hear that can get you fired. Maybe she figured that for shit-heads one day karma will bite them in the ass. But I, too, had been consumed with myself before I walked in there. Maybe not outwardly, but I was. Why didn’t I stand up for her? I should have.
Past midnight, another day, I’m dressed to kill in my fresh, clean, 15-year-old Adidas pants. So I visit the same food mart, pissed off about a crazy-awful date. When I look up at the worker, a pale young girl with platinum hair, I realize that she’s weeping.
“I shouldn’t be crying in front of customers,” she whispers to me.
“It’s OK, what’s wrong?” I ask.
She can’t figure out the register. Her father’s in the hospital. She isn’t sure how much longer he’ll live.
This time I speak up: “Leave and go see him,” I say.
“I might,” she says, nodding.
“Take care of you,” I say.
There I am, worried about me, while she, like Ellen, is faced with such greater pain. You just never know what might be going on with someone. Our hearts, our struggles, our souls, our separate lives — you never know.
This moment, the sky is pink. This moment, the trees are orange. Someone must’ve made a campfire in the sky. Everything is melting. Magnificent. This moment, the clothes are warm and clean. I’m sick, but somewhere, someone else is too. Take care of you.
CONTACT C.A. MACCONNELL: firstname.lastname@example.org