This week I’m sharing the first half of a short story. Stay in touch for next week’s conclusion.
Linda didn’t have to worry about picnic ants or drippy ice cream cones. It was the Fourth of July, ninety-eight degrees, and she was sitting cool inside reading last year’s May issue of Cosmo. She found the dog-eared prize abandoned on a folding table. The name on the cover indicated it was borrowed from the doctor’s office next to the laundromat. The optometrist was most likely boating or barbequing, whatever docs do on their days off, so she didn’t feel guilty not returning it.
She stood and checked the perma-press in the dryer. Who’d have figured this many people washed clothes on a holiday? Probably, like her, this was just another day. She had hoped to speed the process with unlimited machines at her disposal, but some woman toting six baskets and two toddlers must have beat her in the door by fifteen minutes. They sprawled across the right side of the washateria.
A lone man possessed one of the coveted large capacity front loaders while mom had gotten the other. Linda grabbed the last two working machines and camped out as far away from the kids as possible. She watched the clock and waited, ready to rotate her sheets in when the jeans finished spinning. The washer at home had gone to hell several months ago, like everything else in her and Jared’s lives. One more insult to add to the injustice.
We’ll I’m back, Mamma. This is what you wanted. Her mother had passed away just two months after they’d moved in with her. The older woman had been paranoid—unpredictable, making it impossible for Linda to work. In her lucid moments, Mamma had prayed for release. Linda imagined her smiling from her perch somewhere in heaven.
Jared’s paycheck and Mamma’s pension had been enough for Linda to stay home when the older woman was alive, but now Linda couldn’t find a job. Flipping through last year’s fashions, she sighed. Who was she kidding? There’s never going to be a job in this Podunk for a designer. After the estate was settled, they’d inherited the house along with several years back taxes. We’re stuck. Her mother had been sure winning the Lotto would cover their move. Linda shook her head and rolled her eyes heavenward. Damn it, Mamma. You and your gambling.
The washer dinged and Linda quickly moved the jeans to the closest dryer, ahead of the guy across the aisle. Creepy. She dropped a handful of coins into the slot and turned the dial, ignoring the guy’s crooked smile and greasy black hair. She grabbed the basket and sang softly, “paranoia strikes deep.” For What It’s Worth, Mamma. She snickered at herself.
The toddler twins galloped by in a game of chase. Linda shook her head. Mamma loved to play the horses. When she’d gotten too absentminded to drive the forty miles to the track, she played the scratch Lotto from the grocery store. It made Jared angry. “It ought to be illegal to fleece an old lady of her retirement money.” But two tickets came with the groceries every week. She cried like a spoiled three-year-old when Jared called Davis’ Market and stopped the tickets with the food order. “Mamma,” he reasoned, “that’s one tax we don’t have to pay.”
One minute she was just Mamma barking orders, the next she was a child and wanted to play hide-and-seek. “It’s okay,” the neurologist explained. “It’s best not to argue facts. Relax and allow your mother her version of reality.” But her version insisted they spend hours searching for “the winning card,” she swore existed—claimed she hid it from thieves she saw hiding in the bushes outside.
Linda glanced at the greasy haired guy reading her Cosmo. “Figures.” When he went outside for a smoke, he leaned against a battered pick-up truck. “Handi man—Reasonable Rates”
was scrawled on the door. She wondered if he misspelled handi on purpose. Aware he was watching, she blushed and turned to the folding table, grabbing a pair of socks, instead of her panties. She made neat piles and thought about Jared’s complaint, “People around here treat me like I’ve got four eyes.”
Welcome to small town, USA. The great awakening for Linda was her first class in college. She sat in the middle of a five hundred-student auditorium—no one looked twice at the country girl. She dropped her drawl to become a little anonymous fish in a big aquarium. Mamma said it was highfalutin.
I guess I am a snob. She shook her head and tossed the socks in the basket. Out of work, standing in the laundromat, holier-than-thou.
Greasy walked in and stood by the bank of chairs. He pointed at his truck through the window. “You need anything fixed. I’m real handy with siding or appliances.” His grin revealed several missing teeth.
She stood with her hands on her hips. Maybe he couldn’t afford a dentist. Who could? Maybe muddy boots and a dirty shirt were just a handi-man’s uniform. The twins ran by again, knocking into her laundry basket. Linda sighed. “You ever work on washers?”
Next morning, Brant drove his dad’s old F-150 up the dirt drive. He set his coffee mug in the cup holder he’d designed from oak leftovers. The green shuttered house sat on piers – hadn’t changed much except for the yellowed and peeling paint. Linda stood on the open carport, hand on one hip. The laundry room door stood open. Light from the window on the inside created her silhouette. Brant rubbed his finger and thumb together. I could use a joint. They had worked out an hourly agreement. “Bitch probably has a timer set.”
Toolbox in hand, he surveyed the 10×20 foot laundry and storage area. Better shape than the house. He’d been in high school when he and his dad had done the addition. The washer sat covered with potting soil and red grease soaked rags. He shook his head. Looks like white trash.
Linda grabbed the handle of the mower and moved it to the empty car bay outside. Over her shoulder, she said, “Washer hasn’t worked in months.”
Neither had he. Burned too many bridges. And there was no lying on a job app when everybody in town knows where you’ve been.
The shelves were filled to overflowing with dust covered homemade preserves, fishing equipment, pesticides, and stacked terracotta pots. Brant took off his ball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. Bet her old man’s rolling over in his OCD grave. He and Brant’s dad had argued about roofing material in the yard. What goes round, he though. He smiled to himself.
She stepped back, her eyes on the doorway. “My husband will be home soon,” she lied. This was Jared’s week to work out-of-town.
He focused on the crease between her brows. Still a looker. “Did it leak water?”
“What? No.” Her stubby blonde ponytail shook with her head. “It just stopped working. Do you think you can fix it?” She noticed he’d washed his hair.
“Probably.” He hoisted a 30 lb. bag of dirt with one hand and placed it outside next to the mower. He stood in the doorway and watched as she scurried to brush spilled potting soil into a bucket, shoving it onto a shelf next to the bleach bottle. She turned, her brown eyes round, expectant.
He pointed toward the washer. “I’ll need to move it out of the corner.”
“Oh.” Linda stepped back, tripped over a shovel, and stumbled from the cramped room.
A feral cat in his storage shed popped to mind. “You okay?” She looked at him as if he’d slid his boot in front of her from across the room. Bitch.
In the grimy mirror hanging cocked behind the dryer, he caught a glimpse of himself. He pushed his shoulders back. Not exactly a first-string quarterback. He grabbed the dryer and walked it sideways where the mower usually rested. “The washer’s plugged in. You checked the breaker?”
“Of course.” She sighed. “My husband checked all that when it went out.”
Brant nodded. Poor bastard. He tried all the buttons and dial with no response.
“We did all that. Have you ever worked on a washer?”
God, she’s annoying. He took off his shirt and hung it on an empty hook next to the hoe. “Yep.” Get a load of the guns, Babe. Is that what you’re hanging around for? “It’s not that old. Maytag’s a good machine.”
She stepped back onto the carport and inspected the tomato bushes in the yard, then came and leaned on the door jam. “We couldn’t aff…, you know, the service call from the dealer? I’ve been using the laundromat for months.”
“It’s probably electrical.”
She stepped through the door, holding her phone in one hand, watching his progress. “Is that good or bad?”
Still goody-two-shoes and not a clue. He flexed his muscles and leveraged the washer sideways into the dryer’s position. The back panel banged, two screws were missing from the right side. “Depends.”
“Our deal was $10 an hour, no more than four hours. You remember?”
He smiled his toothless smile. Cheap as her old man. “Did your husband try to fix the washer?” Brant pulled a screw from the loose metal cover.
Linda stepped back into the carport again. “No, Jared—my husband’s not handi.” She smiled at her little joke. “But, good around here,” she glanced at her phone. Jared’s photo, in his suit and tie, looked back. “He’s more of a businessman.” As a CPA, he traveled across the state doing audits. “He’ll be around shortly to see how you’re doing.”
Like I give a rat’s ass. Brant rubbed his finger and thumb together. I need to get this done—get paid. “You read any good books lately?”
“I remember you always had a book in your hand.”
Linda cocked her head to one side and searched his face. “Oh, my God—Brant?”
to be continued…
Next week – does Linda get more than her washer fixed? Will Brant get an attitude adjustment? Sign up with email and get the conclusion automatically!