Laundry Day-a Short Story

Laundry Day

I spent the first day of the end of the world doing laundry. It’s not that I particularly enjoy doing laundry; it’s just that the end of the world tends to be messy business and I didn’t have anything nice to wear. You would think that the end of the world would mean you wouldn’t need clothes. But when you have errands to do, it’s not very practical to walk around in your birthday suit.

You see, the end of the world didn’t happen quite like I expected it would. Of course I expected it; you’d need to be crazy not to expect the world is going to end sometime during your life. But exactly how it happened wasn’t at all what I expected, which would explain why I wasn’t properly prepared.

When most people talk about the end of the world they mention things like an asteroid, nuclear war, deadly diseases, or climate change. Nobody ever thought to put worms on their list of ways the world could end. The trouble is, that’s what caused it. Not worms as such, because really worms can’t do anything more than make squishy noises when you accidently step on them after a rain. But space worms can. As a matter of fact, space worms caused the end of the world.

For most of the 21st century scientists have been doing everything they can to locate planets (in our solar system and beyond) that might contain life. They’ve looked at planets within the Goldilocks Zone of known star systems, they’ve looked for life that isn’t carbon based, and they’ve even speculated about what was on Mars after finding evidence of flowing water during the summer months a little while back. Well, eventually one of the life-hunting probes made it to Europa, drilled beneath the ice, and found some tiny worm-like microbes in liquid water. That was it, the moment we knew we weren’t alone in the universe, that the universe was comprised of everything on Earth—and some space worms.

This sounds all well and good, alien life and all that, but the good bit didn’t last long. You’d think that finding life would have been the greatest moment in humanity’s history, and it was—up until the time people started panicking. I never would have thought finding a tiny worm on another planet’s moon would literally cause people to tear off their clothes and run screaming through the streets (all the more reason to take good care of the clothes you do have, as they were suddenly in short supply), but that’s exactly what happened. The stock market crashed pretty quickly, there was looting and rioting, churches were burned to the ground with bibles being used as kindling, NASA was overrun by protestors (I don’t think they know what they were actually protesting, they just wanted to join in on the action), and government officials were assassinated for “keeping us all in the dark”. That was all fine; nothing unusual for your standard nightly news program. But after all the casual panicking the real problems started. Amidst all the chaos and looting and rioting and partying, and screaming some very bad things happened (I mentioned that people were partying right? It was like that scene in Independence Day when everyone gathers on the rooftop to greet the ship that is about to destroy them; only the partying involved a lot more naked people, some of who had previously torn off their clothes in a panic and found partying to be more fun). Most notably, nuclear armaments were detonated. This wasn’t an act of war, mind. Rather, it was due to several acts of neglect and forgetfulness.

The world ended when the entire nuclear stockpile in America (that wasn’t supposed to exist but really still did) detonated. Civilians took off their clothes when they heard about the space worms; most of the people in the military left their posts without looking back, panicked and pressed buttons, or simply forgot to do what they normally do to keep the world safe. As a result, Idaho was pretty much wiped off the map. Most of lower California and Nevada are craters. Florida might as well be considered an island now. And countless spots throughout the rest of the country could be considered wastelands only on a good day. I don’t know how many people died in the blasts or looting, but my guess is anywhere between 90-99% of the people in the nation. I’m not sure how other countries fared, given that you can’t get much in the way of cable channels or Internet access, and cell service is nearly non-existent now. But I’d imagine it was mostly the same everywhere else, too.

So what do you do after the world has ended? I’m not sure really, this is all new to me. I’ve seen enough Mad Max/Planet of the Apes/Terminator-style movies to know that as far as humanity can guess, it involves monkeys, raiders, mutants, and cyborgs (because nothing speeds progress like an apocalypse I suppose). As for me, living one day at a time is the best I can think of. After all, there’s no point in considering what to do with my 401k now that most bank vaults are known as raider hideaways.

I spent the first day of the end of the world doing laundry. It wasn’t so much a product of the end of the world as it was my fascination with what was going on up until the end of the world. Being honest, I didn’t think it would have been worms either, so I was caught a bit off guard when everything started to happen. And when the night sky glows orange and darkness never falls it’s hard to focus on putting a load of towels in the washing machine. But last night was the first night the ground didn’t shake, people weren’t screaming, and the horizon didn’t glow a beautiful tangerine-orange color. Naturally, that must mean it’s over and the world has officially ended; and I was utterly unprepared.

Most of my clothes are casual and can be washed at home, which is what I spent the morning doing. But as with most working adults, I have many things that need to be dry cleaned, which necessitated a trip down the street to Burt’s Dry Cleaning. So after a breakfast of hot, crunchy oatmeal (not the instant kind) and dried fruit, and an hour of sorting clothes, I left my third-story apartment with an armload of shirts and pants that desperately needed to be pressed.

Living on the third floor of an apartment complex has its benefits. Before the world ended it was the quietest place in the building and offered a great view of the emerald green park and inky pond across the street. I could spend hours watching the people in the park as they bought hot dogs from the vendor by the street, threw bread for the 11 ducks that made the pond their home, or walked laps around the path. During winter people would skate over the silver ice covering the pond, their breath visible even from here. It was better than watching anything on my TV or computer and I easily lost track of the hours sitting near the sill, watching the world unfold beyond the thin pane of glass.

Living on the third floor also had its downsides. Carrying laundry up and down the stairs was a hassle. Carrying groceries was worse. Luckily, the trips up and down were always made better whenever I got to see some of my friends and neighbors.

Thompson lived on the bottom floor of my building. My apartment building is tall and narrow with one main hallway on each floor. Standing in the entrance and facing in, Thompson’s room was the second door on the right. He was a bulbous man, lacking hair (even before the nuclear bombs went off) where it belonged and growing plenty where it didn’t. He always smoked a cigar. He was so attached to the cigar that sometimes he just held it in his mouth even when he forgot to light it (which happened more often lately). He always wore the same white shirt and blue denim shorts. And every morning as I left for work I would greet him. You see, Thompson loved sitting outside of his room in the main hallway. His plastic folding chair was always there and the only time he wasn’t in it was when he needed to use the bathroom or was watching the news before bed. Every morning I would ask him about the day’s news (he carried a newspaper whenever he wasn’t in front of the TV) and in the evening I told him about my day at work.

“Morning Thompson”. Thompson was sitting in his chair as usual. Today he looked much more fatigued than usual. He was leaning to one side and the newspaper was on the ground beneath his right hand. He must have spilled his coffee earlier (which would explain his lack of energy) because there was a dark-blackish stain underneath his chair.

“Mornin’,” he answered. He didn’t really move much when he spoke, though that wasn’t unexpected.

“What’s the latest news?”

“Don’t know, haven’t been able to read it today.”

“Too tired? Looks like you spilled your coffee; that would do it.”

“Just haven’t had that much energy lately,” Thompson said. He gave a faint sigh though he still didn’t move.

“Well, I’m off to get some cleaning done before work. Just because the market’s closed doesn’t mean I can forget about my job here. And you know how strict the super is about the dress code.” Thompson still wasn’t able to look me in the eye, but I figured he was trying to read the paper on the ground, as his head was leaning down looking in that direction. “Do you need a new paper? Looks like some of your coffee spilled on that one.” The bottom third of the paper was under the chair and stained reddish black.

“No, I’m done with the paper. I’m not much interested in the news anymore. Don’t imagine I’ll need to worry about it anymore.”

“Okay then, have a great day Thompson. I will see you this afternoon!” I gave Thompson a quick pat on his shoulder with my (mostly) free hand. He was cold today, colder than I’ve ever felt him, and when I touched him he slouched to the side even more. “Maybe I can bring you a fresh cup; you look like you need it.”

——

For the end of the world, the air was remarkably clear. The yellow clouds drifting overhead were sparse and revealed an orange morning sky. The sun was up, but just barely. It was already warm out, not middle of summer warm, more of the late summer-autumn is approaching warm. But did seasons matter in the end of the world? Probably not.

From my home Burt’s Dry Cleaning was three blocks to the east along Main Street and then one more block to the right. Even though my arms were full I had to walk. I didn’t have a car and riding a bike was too impersonal, as I’d miss saying hi to all of my great friends along the way, which was the highlight of my mornings.

Shops and stores lined the street for several blocks in either direction along Main Street. The park stretched for several blocks in both directions as well. This meant that I was able to see the same people shopping, jogging, talking, relaxing, reading, or traveling every morning. I worked in a market four blocks down the road, a block beyond the road I would turn right on to reach Burt’s. My favorite breakfast place just so happened to be two blocks away from my home. A great bookstore was one block in the opposite direction, and my favorite arcade was just beyond that. That meant anything and everything I needed, all the people I knew and cared about, were only four blocks away (at most).

“Morning Helen, where are you headed today?” Helen was on older woman who always sat on a bus stop bench facing the park. She was in the same spot every morning I left for work and every evening when I came home. Each morning I would ask her where she was going and every time she would give me a new answer. She lived a wonderful life where she got to see a new part of the world with every sunrise. Indeed, retirement was great for her as every day was a new adventure.

“I’m visiting Madagascar today my boy!”

“Are you sure you’re up for such a big adventure? You look like you’ve lost weight recently.”

“All this walking I’ve been doing my boy, keeps a woman fit as a fiddle!”

“Well don’t push yourself too hard today; you need enough energy to be able to tell me all about it this afternoon.” Helen was looking particularly gaunt as of late. Her cheeks were concave, her neck wrinkled, and her knuckles suddenly noticeable. Not long ago she seemed to put on a lot of weight in a matter of days. At the time she was traveling all throughout the southern states eating all of the barbecue ribs, grits, mashed potatoes, and jambalaya she could eat. But lately she had become very gaunt, probably due to the lack of proper meals in exotic lands.

“It’s a promise!”

“See you tonight.” I would have reached out and held her hand but both of mine were full of laundry.

—-

Everything was so loud before the end of the world that the sudden stillness was a relief. The city used to be bustling with cars, busses, trucks, vans, scooters, and people—lots and lots of people. And then it was full of rioters, military personnel, and (naked) people screaming and running around. Today though, it was quieter than usual. Luckily, everyone that mattered was still around relaxing in the park, sitting in the coffee shops, or reading quietly in the bookstore. I tried waving to a few of them, though they didn’t wave back, remaining still in their chairs or against their favorite walls in the stores. My hands were so full it was little wonder why they couldn’t see me to return the greeting.

It didn’t take long to arrive at Burt’s Dry Cleaning; it was a good thing too, as my arms were already getting shaky from carrying a towering load of pink, blue, white, and stripped shirts and several different color pants that desperately needed a good pressing.

“Morning Burt, I’ve got another pile for you!” The windows had been removed from Burt’s storefront recently. The cost of cooling the building had become too astronomical, he mentioned, and this was an easy way to keep the air flowing without having to pay for it. Plus, he added, window cleaning supplies cost money that ate into profits. I couldn’t argue with that. The result was a nice breeze on windy days.

“Sorry for the smell,” Burt replied. Burt’s business had taken on a strange sour and musty smell as of late, it was almost overpowering. “When we are done with this batch of cleaner I’m going back to what we used to use.” The last time I visited he mentioned something about changing cleaning products a few days ago. The new products, he said, were cheaper to use and cleaned just as well as his favorite. The only problem was that they caused the cleaner’s to smell like an animal den.

Burt was nowhere to be seen today, and I hadn’t seen him much lately come to think of it. At least so far, the first day of the end of the world had kept me busy, and I’m sure Burt’s situation was just the same. Since his sudden influx of work he would always call out to me from somewhere at the back of the store, his voice muffled and indistinct, his hands likely busy working the machines hidden behind rows and rows of clothing. Luckily, I didn’t need to directly interact with him; every day I would drop off my laundry and the next day I would find it sitting neatly on the front counter ready to be picked up, clean as when it was new. Burt was kind like that, always thinking of others. His building was austere and lacked any signs, posters, paintings, or even paint. The term decorating didn’t apply to Burt’s business, as decorating was frivolous. Everything he did was to save money, and wallpaper didn’t earn an income. But he made up for the looks with his generosity. He was always willing to help out in any way he could, and placing my clothes on the counter was just one of the many ways he helped.

“Leave it on the front counter and I will make certain it is done by tomorrow morning. And don’t forget your clean clothes. I left them on the counter up against the wall.”

“Thanks Burt! How much do I owe you today?”

“Same as always.”

“I appreciate it Burt, you’re the best.”

—-

With my first chore done I decided it was time to head into work. Now I know that the world had ended and most businesses had closed up, and even my store was closed for now, but that didn’t mean I could go without food. Working in a small market meant I had access to things the regular customers didn’t, and after the end of the world, that makes all the difference. In this case, whatever was still in the back room was fair—as long as I was willing to pay wholesale prices for it.

The Farmer’s Market was a fine little grocery store situated at the east end of the park along Main Street. I had worked there for nearly 10 years now (which is part of the reason why I knew so many great people). The market was owned by a kindly older couple, Gregory and Lenora, and their oldest son, Frank. Gregory handled all of the maintenance, Lenora kept the books, Frank managed inventory and orders, and I stocked the place and kept it clean. I loved my job and I loved the people I worked with. Few things were as wonderful as seeing regulars come in each morning for their loaf of bread, some produce, and a carton of milk. And I was always there to help anyone who had an emergency and needed cough syrup, bandages, string, poster boards for school—whatever their lives necessitated.

Gregory built the Market with his own hands more than 35 years ago. Everything in the store was an extension of his skills and personality. It always felt like you were walking into his home whenever you visited. Without any family of my own, this made the store feel like I was coming to work with adopted parents as opposed to mere coworkers.

Gregory and Lenora were both the epitome of warmth and kindness, always smiling and asking customers about their day. Frank, who was now well into his 40’s, was always a bit dour and irritable. He was single, always single. I figured his moodiness was either due to his inability to find a suitable mate or bold attempt to ensure he remained single his entire life. And it didn’t help that, after every young lady left the store, his parents would ask when the grandkids would be showing up. After being goaded by his parents Frank would always mutter something indistinct and stay quiet the rest of the day. Despite his sullen attitude we were good friends. We weren’t the type of friends who went out and did things together. Rather, we were the type of friends who understood each other and benefited from the companionship we had at the market.

Unlike usual, the front door to the Market was propped open when I arrived. Not long ago Gregory removed the glass from the front door in an attempt to keep the stifling heat and exorbitant cooling costs in some sort of equilibrium. Even so, he always kept the front door shut. It wasn’t so hot today as to justify opening the door even if that was something he regularly did.

“Hello? Gregory? The door’s open, is everything okay?” Instead of a response I heard the shuffling of cardboard boxes near the left side of the store, probably Frank checking stock. “Hi Gregory, I’m just here for a few supplies. I will leave my money in the back like usual!” Frank was a quiet man and would often forget to reply to what I was saying and Gregory usually kept busy in the back office so it was no wonder I didn’t get an answer from either of them.

I spent a few minutes traveling up and down each aisle looking for things that would delight the taste buds and belly alike. As of late the shelves were more sparsely populated than they ever had been. Gregory mentioned that it was hard to get reliable shipments during the end of the world, which was understandable. While I couldn’t find more exotic fare like microwave dinners and wine, oatmeal was still available.

As with most markets, Gregory’s place smelled of both old vegetables and meat. The shop was small and the butcher’s area and storage room were close enough to the front counters that you could tell what had just arrived by the change in aroma. I got to know all of the smells over the years, and this smell definitely meant Gregory had placed fresh meat in the refrigerated section. I hadn’t had much meat lately and figured there wouldn’t be any after the end of the world, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to grab a few chicken breasts and thighs.

“Hey Gregory, when did the chicken arrive?” I scanned the long freezer, eyeing the wide variety of cuts. I couldn’t remember the last time I had chicken, and the prospect of some fried chicken was tantalizing. To my surprise there were no individually wrapped breasts, thighs, or legs; the only thing in the freezer were whole roasting chickens. Some were packaged with the skin on, others were stripped clean. Some even still seemed to have the feathers and feet, which was an unusual way to serve chicken in the Market (we had never received whole birds like that before). Each chicken came with a convenient gray carrying string attached to the back end. They were a new breed of chicken from what I was used to over the years. These were more of a whitish-gray and definitely leaner. I’m guessing they were one of those hormone free, free-range types, bred without coloring or any of that other stuff people cared about before the world ended. “Have you tried any of the new birds yet? I’m anxious to see what these free-range ones taste like.” Gregory still hadn’t responded.

Looking up from the long freezer I noticed his office door was slightly ajar. This was strange given that he kept it closed at all times and locked when he wasn’t around. I was about to walk around the butcher’s counter and check it out when I heard another noise near the bread aisle.

If anyone was going to know where Gregory was, it was Frank. I took a moment to pick the best looking bird, imagining the tasty stew it would end up in. With free-range chicken in hand I hurried to the bread aisle to see if he needed any help. After all, he was making much more noise than usual and seemed to be dropping things on the floor.

“Hi Frank, do you need some….” It wasn’t Frank. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were Frank.” There was a short man standing near the cereal section, a pile of oatmeal and cereal boxes at his feet. Some were torn open, others crushed, only a few in good condition. He was wearing a haphazard mix of clothes that looked like they were meant for kids, women, and men alike. He had a baggy Hawaiian shirt (with two missing buttons), tiny pink shorts, one dirty rainbow sock, and a pair of boots that were beginning to come apart at the seams. His face was covered in a long black beard. “Can I help you?” Just because I wasn’t on the clock didn’t mean I would ignore a shopper in need. Before he said anything the man stopped what he was doing, turned to face me, and looked me up and down a couple of times.

“What the hell are you holding that for?” He reached out and pointed to my free-range chicken. “Damn, you’ve lost it.”

“It’s for dinner, sir. We have plenty more at the butcher’s counter in the freezer if you would like one.” The man’s face twisted in disgust.

“Put that thing down before I lose it.” The man reached for his back pocket.

“Okay, but why do you want me to put it down?” The way the boxes were strewn about he must have been struggling to reach something on the top shelf of the aisle and needed some assistance.

“What else you got in there?” Just as I set the free-range chicken down the man rushed to my side and shoved a knife to my chest. “You got some extra food and water back there? You holdin’ out on me, keepin’ everything for yourself back there?”

“All the food is out on the shelves, you can help yourself to whatever you need,” I replied. I was so stunned by the situation that my body had gone numb and almost limp. All I could do was answer his questions; I didn’t know what else I could do.

“Don’t be smart with me wiseass. Where’s the food you’re hidin’ in here?”

“I’m not hiding anything, it’s all on the shelves!” The man looked me in the eye for a moment and then turned to study the shelves, keeping the point of the knife at my chest the entire time.

“There’s not a damn thing here you freak! Where’s all the food you’re hidin’! I’m not playin’ around. Give me the food or you’re gonna wind up as dead as that awful thing you were carryin’.” The man looked back and stared deep into my eyes. I was about to tell him that he was standing in a pile of oatmeal boxes if he wanted them, when the ground began to tremble.

Living through the end of the world prepares you for a number of things that would otherwise cause some emotional distress. Tremors, shaking, and quakes were once things to be feared during normal life. Now the distant rumble of a bomb or the vibrations associated with a crumbling building were like white noise. So when the ground began shaking and a low-pitched rumble filled the air, I gave it little thought. Considering the circumstances I’m surprised I noticed it at all. “I’m comin’ back for you and the food, you hear me?” The man shouted in my face, tiny specks of spit splattering my lips and nose. Before I could reply he withdrew his knife and ran towards the front of the store, vaulted through the window, and disappeared around the corner.

It took me a moment to regain my composure after the man left. Rumblings were common; being threatened with a knife was not. True, I watched countless riots and brawls outside my window as the world came to an end, so I was familiar with violence, muggings, and panic, but it was never a firsthand experience, it was always someone else experience the act. I was a casual observer checking the window each day to see what new violence awaited my eyes like a new episode of my favorite show. This was the first time I had been on the receiving end of an aggressive act and it was all together less pleasant than I imagined it might be.

I left my money in the cash register, grabbed my free-range chicken off the counter and left the store. Scanning both lengths of the street before I took another step, I was relieved to see that the disagreeable man was nowhere in sight. The faint rumbling we both felt in the store continued, only now it was easier to identify where it was coming from. Once outside, it was immediately obvious that the sound was coming from the street just behind the market. It sounded mechanical, definitely in motion as the origin of the sound shifted while I stood still—some sort of vehicle. It wasn’t a car or scooter, the rumble was too low and the plodding pace was too slow. It was clearly a diesel, the mechanical growl when it idled was unmistakable. There was no other noise besides the vehicle, no shouting, not talking, nor honking. It was clearly not in a hurry as it seemed to be moving as quickly as I could walk. As I mentioned before, vehicles were far less common now that the world had ended. I’ve never owned one, so I can’t say with certainty, but it seems logical that you would have far fewer places to drive after the world ends. You can’t go see grandma because her cute country-style home is a smoking crater. You can’t go see your in-laws because they were murdered in the rioting. Your brother and sister are both dead after committing suicide when they learned there is other life in the universe and their entire religious foundation was apparently removed from under their spiritual feet. So really then, driving after the end of the world is a bit like a horse-drawn carriage was before everything ended—a bit of a novelty but not really of any use.

With the disagreeable man somewhere in the vicinity (he couldn’t have gone that far already), I didn’t want to chance another encounter. I let my curiosity about the vehicle die as my desire to not be stabbed grew. It was likely nothing special anyway; this was the time of morning many places received their daily shipments of goods (it was about the time our market received its goods, though Frank would likely be able to handle that).

Whenever I walked home from work I would cross the street and walk along the edge of the park. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and the park provided plenty. I was no runner, but it was always fun for me to see how long I could keep up with joggers who ran along the path around the park’s perimeter. Burdened as I was, anything more than a few stumbling steps was all I could manage. But it was just as well as most people seemed to be resting today, all of the joggers resting near benches and trees.

I walked down the sidewalk for a few moments until I reached the crosswalk. After making sure it was clear (of both traffic and the disagreeable man), I crossed over to the park. By now the sun was somewhere high above me and the pleasant morning temperatures had given way to more obvious heat. The brown clouds overhead did nothing to cool the area and the weather had every indication that it would be a hot one. Normally, when the temperature rises and I need a break from the furnace that is my apartment, I would head to the park and sit on a bench under one of the many large trees. Though it wasn’t technically fall yet, the trees had all turned colors and dropped their leaves early for what I would assume meant a brutal winter to come. This was the first year the trees had ever dropped their leaves so early, which meant there was no respite from the warm temperatures. With my arms so full of clothes and food, I didn’t want to stop and waste the time anyway.

——–

Just because the world has ended doesn’t mean you should stop having fun. Spending the day doing laundry is anything but fun. However, having clean clothes is always a must, even if you have lived through the end.

By the time I made it home earlier in the day my arms were tired and sweat was forming around my brow. I asked Thompson if he could help me up the stairs but he said he was just too tired to get up from his chair. After spending the day with a load of laundry and having a knife pointed at my chest, a few flights of stairs were nothing.

With my chores done and a few hours before I needed to head to work at my second job, it was time for some fun. Down the street a couple of blocks in the opposite direction of The Farmer’s Market was one of those combination arcade and roller rink places. I wasn’t much for skating (I tried it a few times and wound up with a bloody nose almost every time), but the arcades were a blast. You see, few things are as relaxing, rewarding, and fun as losing yourself inside of another world. Whether it was an old classic like Tetris or Galaga, or something new that just came out, the best way to unwind was to lose myself in a world that wasn’t my own. Reading is great. Music is great. Movies are great. But nothing beats a good game when you need to step out of your reality and into another one. And if ever there was a time to get lost in another world, the end of the real world was just about the best time I could think of.

The Good Times Fun Center had always been crowded before the end of the world. What made the place so unique (and crowded) is that it was full of young children and retired adults alike. Now that the world had ended I suspected the number of people visiting would drop a bit, though not too significantly (I’m sure everyone else felt the same way I did about forgetting their troubles).

The building itself stood apart from the others on the street. It was a large red-brick building that took up more real estate than almost any other single building in the area. The front of the Good Times Fun Center had a giant neon sign that would flash green and yellow all day and night. Massive windows on either side of the double door allowed anyone passing by to see all the fun that was going on without them inside. The rest of the building was more drab and functional with only a few windows in the bathroom and at the back where the owner’s office was. Like most other stores, shops, and markets in the city, the owners had removed the glass from all around the building. Even those windows had been removed and provided the entire building with a great cross breeze at all times. Though it hadn’t affected me much (people need to eat even during a recession), I suppose there was a financial lull throughout the country some months back that made it necessary for everyone to do what they could to save money, especially when it came to summer cooling, which explained why so many stores had removed their windows.

As expected, the Good Time Fun Center was almost full of people. Though it was early in the afternoon of the first day of the end of the world, nobody seemed to notice. At once the smell of old hotdogs and nacho cheese filled my nose, an unmistakable smell that was one of my all-time favorites. While the smell was mostly familiar, it had changed slightly over the past weeks. My guess was a new brand of hotdog, as it was definitely a meaty smell.

“Hey Mr. B! How are you today?” Kevin was the 18 year old supervisor for the entire Fun Center. He had been promoted a couple of years ago after working there for only a year prior. His girlfriend Christina didn’t work there but was almost always at his side to keep him company.

“Hey Kevin, good to see you today!” From the front doors the ticket and rental area was directly to the left on a raised area of the floor.

“You going to skate again or hit the arcades?” Kevin was in his work uniform, a black short sleeved shirt with a collar and pocket, and a pair of black pants. The Fun Center’s logo was printed on the front of the shirt. Kevin normally kept himself tidy but today his shirt and pants were covered in strange stains.

“Just the arcades today. I don’t need another bloody nose before I get back to work.” Kevin and Christina both laughed. Kevin had an unmistakable ‘huh-huh’ type of laugh that came from deep in his belly. Christina chirped like a caffeinated cricket when she laughed. “Can I get some tokens?” Both Kevin and Christina were sitting side by side in chairs behind the main rental counter. Their chairs were up against the back wall just below the pricing information and television monitors that showed flashy ads for food and drinks. There were other screens opposite the ones on the back wall that they were staring up at. I couldn’t see what they were watching but from what I gathered those TVs had real shows and not just a roulette of the store’s specials.

“Oh yeah, for sure Mr. B. You can totally come back here and get them yourself,” Kevin said.

“Are you certain? I don’t want you to get in trouble with the boss.”

“No way man, he’s in his office today.”

“Yeah, he won’t be out in like, forever,” Christina added.

“Okay then,” I said. I walked to the edge of the counter and around the back where the couple sat motionless. “Are you two feeling okay?” Both of them were slouched in their chairs their outer hands hanging towards the floor and their inner hands clasped firmly together and resting between their touching legs. Both of them were incredibly pale, too. That made sense, though. Kevin had been putting in long hours throughout the summer and didn’t have much of chance to get a tan.

“Yeah Mr. B, we’re feeling fine. It’s just this show. Man, I’ve been waiting for this episode all summer and I’m not about to miss it.”

“But I already told you he’s not gonna make it, it’s so obvious,” Christina said.

“Dangit woman, stop trying to spoil it for me, gosh! You don’t know he’s not going to make it, we haven’t seen enough yet!”

“Oh please, it’s obvious! That guy doesn’t see all those bad guys and danger around him, it’s like he’s blind! You know something bad is going to happen.”

“He still has a chance!”

“Yeah right. Like, you just watch and see. He’s not going to make it past this episode.” Neither of them took their eyes off the television when I came back, which was fine because I know how important a great show can be (and I already knew where the tokens were). I exchanged my money for a few dozen tokens and slipped out while both of them were still arguing about the fate of the man on the television.

As I walked over to the arcades I glanced over at the roller rink. The music had stopped and everyone was sitting on the ground resting. After a long session of fast songs the Fun Center would stop the music and allow everyone a chance to rest. Today, everyone seemed especially tired as they sat waiting for the music to resume. As for me, I had no desire to join them. There were dozens of arcades calling my name.

—–

I made it home from the arcade just in time to change out of my street clothes and into one of my newly cleaned work uniforms. Though it was definitely clean, the jacket still smelled faintly of the new cleaning products Burt had been using.

“Evening Thompson, you’re up late.” It was nearly 7:00 PM, time for my shift as our apartment doorman to begin. Most nights, Thompson was inside eating his microwave dinner and watching the news by 5:00. Tonight though, he was still resting in his chair. He was looking particularly glum and depressed; it was unlike him to look so hopeless.

“I’m done with the news. All they ever show is one horror story after another. Makes a guy sick,” Thompson muttered as I passed by. “Bad news will be the death of me one of these days, mark my words.”

“There’s a lot of trouble out there my old friend, a lot of trouble”. I propped open the double doors before heading out for my nightly watch. “But as long as you keep a good attitude and do your best to focus on the positive you’ll never even notice it’s there.

 

 

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