Credit: Daniel Fishel

Handi-wash out by the interstate was cheaper, $1.25 per load. I prefered Cheryl’s Laundry on the other side of town. There were no TVs. A true perk.

I’m not sure if Cheryl is a real person. I’ve never seen her. When I imagine her, she looks a lot like my grandmother but instead of piecrust flour all over her, she is covered in suds.

That July it was 100 degrees for 18 straight days. Carl would pull his car up to the open door and blast music. Old stuff. R&B. Stax.

We’d sit there, backs to the rattle of spin cycles, looking out into the parking lot.

Once a day, a truck drove by stuffed full from the chicken farm down the road. One time, I saw a chicken fall off and, dazed by how large the world suddenly was, break its neck on the pavement.

On Thursday, two young kids appear out of the sun that flares up as traffic passes. They cross the street and dart through the door, waving to Carl like they know him. They start running up and down the aisles, giggling.

“They’re nice kids. Mom lives next door. Works days. No babysitter.”

We turn back to the window, the heat rising in waves off blacktop. A shriek over the music sends us running to the kids.

The brother is standing there and can’t talk. He can only whimper, staring into the drum of a machine like it’s a shark that’s been sawed open to reveal a human foot. He reaches to pull the door open but can’t, doesn’t. Carl looks through the port window into the guts of the dryer. He steps back. I step up.

The glass is bent, concave, so everything looks farther away. I feel like I’m looking into a shoebox diorama. Like I’m looking into a reality that hasn’t ever existed.

The sister is in there, her neck broken. The blood vessels have burst so it looks like she’s got a necklace of roses on. Like one of the chickens thrown from the truck, everything about her is downy, too frail to have ever been alive, let alone to die. She’s pissed her pants and her eyelids are fluttering. She looks peaceful. She’s dying.

Not looking at anybody, Carl goes, “Think I gave them those quarters.”

He walks sideways out of Cheryl’s, like someone who had just stopped spinning and needs to keep his horizon line straight so he doesn’t fall over from dizziness. He starts his car, drives off. The music fades as he turns onto the road. With the silence, the humidity rushes back in. I don’t see Carl anymore after that.

I still go to Cheryl’s for a bit. Soon they get an attendant. Always right behind you, hovering over you like a ghost as you pump quarters into the washer. The attendant complains that it’s boring. So they get a radio. And then just after that, a TV. And then Cheryl’s is ruined.  v