Flash Fiction: The Laundromat

This Flash Fiction is in response to my Writing Prompt Wednesday. Check it out and write a story, too! I hope you enjoy. 

The Wash N Dry on the corner of Elton was a fluorescent lit pit of old checkered linoleum and greasy walls. It wasn’t somewhere you’d think things were cleaned, if it weren’t for the rows of rickety machines lined up like brave soldiers to the back wall. The characters were as unsavory as you might imagine, always watching unabashedly from cracked plastic chairs, even when you stared back.

It was a Tuesday night just after seven when Leah rolled up to the laundromat on her longboard. The basket she balanced on her hip was loaded to the brim with clothes, but they weren’t why she’d come. The metal frame of the glass door scratched the floor in an arc when she pushed it open. She made her way to the back, keeping her eyes glued to her phone, waiting for a text from her brother to tell her what happened next.

She set the basket of clothes on one of the machines and opened another. The lid screeched in protest. She put four quarters into the tray and shoved it, hard, to start the wash. Cold water rushed into the metal basin as she added the powdered soap from the box of detergent she’d brought. She jammed sheets, hoodies, jeans and tees into the machine until it looked like it might choke on them. She filled it with everything in the basket except one lumpy pillowcase. This, she slipped into her waistband and zipped her hoodie up over it.

She sat in one of the broken chairs at the back, next to a noisy dryer that tumbled with a scratch, scratch, scratch signaling its every rotation. She didn’t like being there, but Marco had begged her, just this once, to make his delivery for him. She had never asked what he did to make the money that put food on the table for her mom and three smaller siblings. She’d never wanted to know. So as she’d taken the bundle to shove into the laundry basket, feeling its weight, its shape, and its cold metal temperature through the threadbare pillowcase, she’d paused for only a moment to let it sink in. Marco had looked guilty.

Text from Bro:

Dude’s name is James. He should be there.

Leah got up from her chair and looked toward the front of the laundromat, but didn’t see anyone other than a disheveled couple and their two noisy kids, who were running around up front playing games that, in the way that children’s games are, didn’t seem to have any rules. She headed back to her chair where she could  watch the door. When she sat, the door opened, and a scruffy guy in light blue jeans and a stretched out Van Halen t-shirt slipped through the door. He didn’t have any laundry with him, which made Leah think it was probably the guy she was waiting for. He shuffled toward her, checking over his shoulder a few times on the way.

“You James?” she asked, jutting her chin at him when he got close enough.

The man’s eyes bugged out of his skull, and he looked behind him again, like he was thinking of running. His apparent nerves brought a choking lump to Leah’s throat. The heat coming from the nearby dryer felt dully oppressive, stealing all of the moisture from her mouth. After a beat he came over and sat in the seat next to her, not making eye contact. Must be a junkie. Her brother was always doing business with sketchy guys, and the pillowcase in her waistband was a single barreled reminder as to why.

With his eyes trained on the floor, he said, “You’re just a kid.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah, so what?” She didn’t like being thought of that way, but she didn’t want to argue that, at fourteen, she wasn’t a kid anymore. She looked at Marco’s messages again. He’d sent her another.

Text from Bro

Get out of there once he pays you.

“You got the cash?” she asked.

“Where’s Gremlin at? I don’t know you.”

“He sent me,” she said, mouth like sandpaper. She’d have to remember to call her brother Gremlin when he made her angry. She was pretty sure he’d hate it coming from her. “Do you have the money or not?” Leah didn’t have time for his paranoia. She wanted to leave.

“Yeah yeah, ok, kid,” he said, handing over a weathered orange envelope. Leah peeked inside to see a stack of hundreds. “That’s for the last two, too. Tell ‘im I’m all paid up.”

Unsure what to say next, she pulled out the pillowcase and stuffed the envelope where it had been. James rubbed his palms on the tops of his thighs. His faded jeans looked like they could use a wash. She handed him the bundle. Thought about telling him to be careful with it. Then thought about texting Marco to ask if she should leave their clothes in the washer, but he’d told her to leave right after she got the money. So she stood up, grabbed her board, and made to leave.

“Aren’t you gonna count it?” James asked, looking around her at the door. 

“Why? Gremlin will find you if you didn’t give him enough.”

At that, James started laughing, showing his broken and yellowed teeth with canines sharp and protruding. It was  a high pitched cackle, like the Joker from Saturday morning Batman cartoons, and it sent Leah practically running for the door. Once she got outside, she raised her hood and dropped her longboard on the sidewalk. She hopped on and pushed herself away from the Wash N Dry as fast as she could. The wind on her face helped to clear her head, and a few blocks away she was finally able to shake off the feeling of foreboding she’d gotten when James had sat down next to her. 

Two minutes and twelve seconds after she left, James ‘Fangs’ Miller ran out of the Wash N Dry, waving his arms over his head and running toward a silver Chevy sedan.  He was yelling like a crazed lunatic. The cop inside the sedan rolled down the driver’s side window and started yelling at James Miller to get back inside, but the dirty junkie wouldn’t listen. 

“Damn it, Miller! He’s going to be here any second!” the cop shouted.

“You already missed her, you idiot!” James screeched. “It was the kid on the skateboard!”

Shouting expletives, Officer Gonzalez sped off in pursuit of Leah, turning up the road the way she’d left. It had only been a few minutes, he’d thought, so she couldn’t have gotten far. He was wrong.

She was long gone.

Photo by Adam Kring on Unsplash

One Reply to “Flash Fiction: The Laundromat”

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