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Authors: Elizabeth Myles

Fear and Laundry

BOOK: Fear and Laundry
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Fear and Laundry

by Elizabeth Myles

Copyright © 2011 Elizabeth Myles

Cover copyright © 2011 Steven Myles

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, events or locales is purely coincidental.

For Mom and Steve

Fear and Laundry

Part One

August 4
th
– 7
th
, 1994

“H
ow’s that, Vee?” Lia moved out of the way to show me the flier she’d just stapled to the telephone pole at the corner of First Street and College Avenue.

“Looks good,” I said as a hot gust of wind whipped past, threatening to rip the flier loose.

Lia added a few more staples to the flier’s corners before dropping her stapler into my backpack and zipping it up. She turned and marched up the sidewalk and I struggled after her, sweating in the late summer heat and straining under the weight of the backpack.

A block up, we reached a brick building with the sun-bleached words “First Street Laundry” stenciled onto its glass door, and a hand-lettered piece of cardboard propped in the grimy picture window that read “LYNCH’S: COFFEE, SANDWICHES, LIVE MUSIC + LAUNDROMAT.” A bell jingled as we entered the building and a blessedly cool, air-conditioned breeze wafted by, carrying the mingled scents of fried food and detergent. Roy Connor waddled up to the order window beside the dining room door to greet us.

“See this, Roy?” Lia patted the backpack as we crossed to him, our shoes making sucking noises on the sticky tile floor. “Soon all your troubles’ll be over.”

“That the new issue?” he asked, wiping his stout fingers on a dishrag.

“And the fliers for the benefit,” nodded Lia. “We were just putting some up.”

Roy’s granddaughter, April, popped up beside him, her hot pink hair knotted into two buns that stuck out on either side of her head like Mickey Mouse ears. “Ooh, lemme see the flier,” she said, poking her horn-rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose.

Lynch’s had originally been two separate spaces, a Laundromat and a coffee shop, but Roy had combined them. While Lia fidgeted with my backpack, I looked around at the familiar if bizarre jumble of objects crowding the laundry side, which I’d always thought of as Lynch’s “front room.” There were two lumpy, mismatched couches pushed against the wall beneath the picture window, two billiard tables sitting side by side in front of them, and a gumball machine and Mortal Kombat cabinet flanking either side of the door leading into the sandwich/coffee shop side, or “dining room.” Beyond the pool tables sat a bank of clothes dryers and a double row of yellow, coin-operated washing machines lined up back to back. A thin old man in thick glasses waited for his laundry, and apart from the thunder of his washing machine entering the spin cycle, the place was pretty quiet.

Lia passed a flier to April who took it and, smiling with approval, showed it to Roy. He took off his glasses, wiped the lenses with his apron, and replaced them on his nose for a better look.

“Nice work, Veronica,” he declared.

I thanked him and hefted the backpack higher on my shoulder. “This is really heavy,” I complained to Lia. Telling Roy she’d be right back, she led me into the dimly lit dining room to a salvaged picnic table carved up with graffiti. With relief, I let the backpack slide down my arm and land on the bench with a thump.

“Ugh,” said Lia, gesturing into a corner as I collapsed onto the bench, “look who’s here.”

I looked and saw Paige Foster, her back to us, standing with a cluster of guys in t-shirts and baggy shorts. She tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder and said something that made the guys all smile and chuckle in unison.

“Maybe she won’t see us,” I said, rubbing and stretching my tired shoulder.

“We wish,” said Lia, extracting a thick sheaf of pages from the backpack and handing it to me. It was still warm from the copy machine at Kopy Shak around the corner. I glanced at the top sheet on the stack before setting it on the table. “SAVE LYNCH’S!” shouted this month’s photocopied cover of Lia’s zine,
The Blank Slate
. Lia pulled the rest of the copies from the bag and passed them to me in neatly organized piles.

“I’m starved,” she announced when she’d emptied the backpack. “You want anything?” When I shook my head, she marched away to the lunch counter, leaving me to thumb through zine pages and randomly scan paragraphs for typos.

“Eat at Lynch’s: a Retrospective by Veronica Montez (continued from page 1)”
I read. “...
Retiree Roy Connor sat down and talked with us about establishing Lynch’s in honor of his youngest son, Scott, who’d been active in the Carreen, Texas music scene until his death in a car accident three years ago.

Connor had owned and operated the First Street Laundry for only a few months when Scott was killed. Soon after, the space next door became available. Roy said he knew right away he wanted to acquire the former coffee shop and promote it as a hangout for Carreen High students and other young people. ‘I liked having them around,’ he said. ‘They reminded me of Scotty.’

‘It was April’s idea to let the bands play next door, though. She reminded me Scotty always complained there weren’t enough good venues around,’ he continued, explaining why at his granddaughter’s urging, he’d installed a tiny stage behind the coffee shop’s tables and chairs and begun hosting rock shows.

‘Scotty loved movies almost as much as music,’ Roy said when asked about the business’s name. According to Roy, Scott, who worked at the Maribel Theater on 14th and Coker, particularly appreciated art and foreign films, ‘the more bizarre the better,’ and greatly admired director David Lynch’s work.

Responding to the needs and wishes of his new clientele, Roy put a few games in the laundry and started serving sandwiches along with his coffee. For simplicity’s sake, he eventually opened up the doors and installed an order window between the two businesses. He changed the building’s name to Lynch’s and asked his eldest son (April’s artist father, Brendan) to paint a portrait of Jack Nance as ‘Henry’ from Lynch’s
Eraserhead
on an interior wall...”

“You know, Montez, if you guys really wanted to help Roy, you’d focus on the band.”

I looked up to see Paige putting one leg at a time over the picnic bench across from mine. She plunked a coffee mug down on the table and eyed the photocopies spread out between us with contempt. “The show’ll pull in way more money than that crappy zine.”

“Okay,” I said, folding a photocopy in half. I didn’t want to argue with her, but it was a stretch at this point for Paige, Lia, and I to call ourselves a band. We’d only written four songs and hadn’t come up with a name yet, much less played any gigs.

“I’ll grant you we don’t sound so good yet,” she said. “Mostly because of you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“But Lia’s decent,” she went on. “And with a lot of practice, you could probably get up to speed. It’s just too bad we lost Sierra.”

I had to agree with that last bit. Her most recent fight had prompted our guitarist, Sierra’s, parents to send her away for a while. For now they weren’t letting her out of the house and when the new semester started in a week, she’d be shipped off to some rebellious-teen boot camp. Finding a replacement for her would probably take time. Time we didn’t have.

I glanced back, hoping to see Lia on her way back to the table so I wouldn’t have to deal with Paige on my own. But she’d settled in at the lunch counter, balancing on a duct-taped vinyl barstool with one Doc Marten boot resting on a chrome rung and the toe of the other grazing the floor. Roy had let her use his phone while she waited for her order, and she cradled the bright red receiver between her shoulder and ear, completely engrossed in conversation. I turned back to my folding.

“Have you talked to anyone?” I asked Paige. “I mean anyone who might be able to take Sierra’s place?” But she wasn’t paying attention to me anymore. The front doorbell had jingled and she was smiling at whoever’d just come in.

“Hey Dustin,” she called past me, waving.

I tucked my hair behind my ears and sat up straighter just as Dustin Tran strode up, stopping beside the table and jutting his chin at us in greeting. “What’s up?” The wind had whipped his black, stick-straight hair into a snarled mess and he worked to disentangle it with his fingers. He glanced down at the zine, lowering his dark lashes and worrying his lip ring with his tongue.

“We were just discussing the zine’s crapitude,” I said dryly. “Wanna help me put it together?” I drew the stapler out of the backpack.

He slid in beside me, resting his knee against mine under the table. “What’s so bad about the zine?” he asked, squeezing my thigh once before picking up the stapler.

“Every issue’s the same,” answered Paige before I could say anything. “Blank Fiction this, Blank Fiction that.
‘Blank Fiction is the best band in the whole world,’
” she mocked.

I pushed folded pages in Dustin’s direction. “Not
every
issue,” I murmured, at the same time trying to recall one that hadn’t mentioned Lia’s favorite band at least once. Even the zine’s title referred to them.

“Who even cares about Blank Fiction anymore?” she went on, looking sourly at a frame mounted on the wall beside us. A 7” vinyl copy of Blank Fiction’s first single shone blackly behind the glass. “Sure, they were hot shit for a while. But they haven’t put an album out in what, three years?”

“And the last two kinda sucked,” added Dustin, stapling.

I stopped in mid-fold to give him a Look.

“Well, they did.”

“Maybe you guys should branch out a little with your material,” said Paige, “cover something relevant for a change.” She scooted to the end of the bench and stood, saying she needed a refill.

I was about to point out that, for her information, most of the stories in the latest issue weren’t about Blank Fiction at all, but about Lynch’s – including a very up-to-the-minute piece on the place’s current financial woes – when Paige knocked over her mug.

Cursing, I half-stood and lunged across the table, just managing to whisk the most endangered pages out of the way of her spilled coffee dregs. I sat back, hugging the salvaged pages to my chest, and Dustin reached across me to pluck a handful of napkins from the dispenser at the end of the table.

“Oops,” said Paige, her wide mouth spreading in a smile as she watched the small pool of coffee ooze toward me. Then she grabbed up her cup and swished away.

“I’ll bet she did that on purpose,” I murmured. “What a jerk.”

Dustin mopped half-heartedly at the spill, straining his neck to watch Paige go. “I dunno. I kinda like her. She’s feisty.”

“That what you call it?” I squinted at him, not liking the way his eyes lingered on Paige’s retreating figure.

Lia’d ended her phone call and finally headed back to the table, a soda cup in one hand and a red plastic basket overflowing with grilled cheese and French fries in the other.

“Man, that wind’s really picking up.” She put the basket down and sipped the soda through a straw just as a violent gust rattled the window behind the lunch counter. Through the glass, I watched the sky begin to turn brown as the air filled with dirt. I pictured the fliers we’d put up earlier hurtling away down the street.

“What happened here?” Lia picked up a zine I hadn’t been able to rescue. Light brown stains spattered the cover, puckering the paper and smearing the photo copy ink.

“Paige,” I huffed.

“It’s just a little coffee,” said Dustin. “It was an accident.” He smiled charmingly and told Lia not to worry, the stains only made the zine look “more punk rock.” But she wasn’t having it. When Paige reappeared with her refilled mug, Lia waved the damaged zine in her face.

“You’ll have to pay for this,” she told her.

Paige didn’t answer, only snatched a fry from Lia’s basket and leisurely ate it, the whole time giving Lia an icy glare.

“I mean it,” said Lia as Paige licked salt from her fingers. “We’re out a buck for this.” She tossed the zine back to me. “And you know every dollar counts.”

Two weeks ago we’d learned that although Roy owned the building, a new owner had raised rent on the land Lynch’s occupied. Roy’d been falling behind on the payments for a while. If he couldn’t come up with the money to cover what he owed, the place would close in a matter of months, maybe sooner. Lia’d rushed to organize a “Save Lynch’s” benefit show and dedicate
The Blank Slate
’s profits to the cause, but the unspoken worry among all of us was it was too little too late.

Paige sat down and blew into her coffee. “So send me the bill,” she smirked.

Lia didn’t reply. My best friend usually didn’t back down from anyone, but I knew Paige scared her a little. We’d heard she’d stabbed someone back in Dallas and done a stint in juvie. All Paige had told us was her parents had moved her here a couple of months ago, hoping she wouldn’t get into as much trouble in her mother’s hometown as she had in the city, so we didn’t know if the stabbing story was true. But sometimes Paige acted mean enough to make it seem plausible.

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