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A Lifetime at the Laundromat

"Experts in the time-space continuum have agreed that the longest elapsed time in human experience is the time during the dance revue when other people's children are onstage. But laundromats are a close second."



They had carried out the body and now we were just sitting there, trying to figure out what came next.

"I knew it right away," Jimmy Chimichanga said. "I knew he hadn't fainted. I got an old maiden aunt who faints every Sunday. This guy had a different look on his face. A look that said, "Don't wait around for anything else outta me. I'm done.'"

"In the old days, when they still hanged people, the word was that if the knot and the drop were proper, you would die soon after the trap door opened," I said. "If not, you were slowly and gruesomely strangled and your suffering came because you were "resisting the rope.' This old guy looked like he'd stopped resisting the rope."

Me and Jimmy had come in with a couple of baskets of dirty clothes. We were just sitting there, minding our own business, watching my stylish threads go round and round. In the machine next to mine spun the garments of this old guy who had been reading a Dean Koontz paperback. He stood up, put a bookmark to keep his place and fell down dead on the linoleum.

The EMTs got there pretty quickly to clean up the mess and ask some questions, and then we were back to contemplating some washers and dryers.

"God, it takes a long time for these machines to work," said Jimmy.

"Yeah," I agreed. "Experts in the time-space continuum have agreed that the longest elapsed time in human experience is the time during the dance revue when other people's children are onstage. But laundromats are a close second."

I looked hard at the linoleum and felt something in the linoleum looking hard at me.

"Lookit that thing!" yelped Jimmy. "I knew something was staring at me."

There on the floor was a glass eye, its unblinking gaze fixed on me and Jimmy. It looked like a pigeon's eye to me.

"My uncle usta work for a guy had one, and he usta take his out when he was talking to people," Jimmy said. "In fact, he had a few of them. He started out with a reddish one, like he had just woke up. As the day went on, he put in a clearer one."

"This one musta fell out when the victim hit the deck," I suggested. "Why doncha put it in your pocket?"

"Uh-uh," Jimmy said decisively. "Not me. Two's enough."

About then, something slipped behind us. It felt like a weasel had entered the room.

"Hello, Chickies. A broad around the corner told me some guy went 10 toes up in here a while ago," Roach said in a chipper way. He took a swig out of what looked like a cough syrup bottle.

"He left a little souvenir," I said, pointing to the eye.

Roach was down like a chicken escaping the butcher's block.

"Somebody somewhere'll buy this," reasoned Roach.

"I'm still bummed out," Jimmy said. "I feel like a pimple on an ant."

"We know we're insignificant, us humans," I said. "That's the most significant thing about us."

"Did you notice how quickly we wanted him out of the way?" Jimmy asked. "He's like a reminder."

"In the big picture, we are all dead," Roach noted.

"Yeah, but when you see one happen in front of you, it gets very real," I said. "Like somebody said, "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.' Stalin or the Son of Sam or somebody very familiar with death said that."

Jimmy took off his shoes and began to massage his toes. "I'm glad he didn't linger. I couldna known what to say to him. You got any last words planned in case somebody croaks in front of you?"

"Nice job," I said, truthfully.

"Where'd ya park?" Roach said, even more truthfully.

This last was ignored. "Well, at least he stayed outta them personal-care homes," Jimmy said.

"He had a good death," I said. Hey, sometimes it's hard to be profound on a moment's notice.

Roach wasn't buying. "Yeah? Where's the 19-year-old twin nymphos? And the Peruvian marching powder?"

All three of us mulled over these questions. Roach got up and walked outside to a big ashtray pincushioned with butts. He chose a long one and smoothed out the wrinkles.

"Nowadays everyone dies in hospitals," Jimmy said. "When I was a kid, my great-grandfather — we called him Paco — came home one day and got in his bed and announced he was going to die. And he told us to gather all the family and we filled up the house. He laid up in the bed in his robe and put on a great show. Can't do all that in a hospital. He told each of us how much we were going to get, pulled the covers around his chin and died. I turned to my uncle and asked what had happened. "Paco's in hell and we're all rich' was all he said."

Roach whistled loudly. "Man, that house musta just been brimming with good karma! I mean, the way that old man fataled hisself! A thing of beauty, that's what it was!"

Jimmy snorted. "What do you know about karma?" What does either of you know about karma? Or death, for that matter?"

I answered first. "That song "Eleanor Rigby' always made me cry."

"Karma," Roach said. "Mean's I'm coming back the next time round as some kinda bird or flower."

"Can you come back as an earwax remover?" asked Jimmy.

The dryers with my stuff stopped turning. We all looked at the quiet.

"Hey, whose stuff is that?" Roach asked, pointing at the two machines next to mine. They were full of quiet clothes.

"I dunno," I answered. "Must be the dead guy's. ... Hey, you ain't thinking about "

"Why not?" reasoned the Roach. "Life is for the living, is it not? So are clothes. I'll bet the old guy would want somebody to keep his clothes alive. After all, there are many ways to be alive, but pretty much one way to be dead. And he's found it."

Me and Jimmy gathered the newly clean clothes into baskets and headed for the door. Roach grinned and pulled something glassy from his pocket and started flipping it.

"I'll keep an eye out for you guys," he warned.


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