Editor’s note: Here at the Rouges Literary Desk, we are very excited to welcome our second contributor to the desk. Zach Murphy is a writer from St. Paul, MN and in these stories uses the flash fiction form to create little micro-worlds that we get to experience for just a short time. In this trio of stories, we explore a laundromat worker with thoughts, the perils of being late in traffic, and a couple’s disagreement.
Views from a Laundromat
The local laundromat: a perpetual cleansing spot for the city’s dirt and shame.
At night, the neon sign above the storefront glows half-enthusiastically, so much so that most of the letters are completely burnt to their end. The remaining ones spell out “Land rat” — a welcoming endorsement for a place where people come in to wash the crumbs off their pants.
Cheyenne just hangs in there. A few bucks an hour and a few thankless looks for mopping the linty floors, picking up left-behind underwear, and getting lost a little too deep in her own thoughts.
Do bed bugs drown in the soap and water? Do they feel pain? Should I even care if they feel pain?
What if all the missing socks in the world magically transport to the random shoes you see on the side of the highway?
Why does that guy’s shirt have a wicked bloodstain on it? Or maybe it’s just ketchup. I hope it’s just ketchup.
It’s 10:55 PM, so the neighborhood night-roamer with the drinking problem stumbles in on the dot, as usual, to spout a series of incoherent-isms. Cheyenne decides to give him the rest of her gas station sandwich. It gets him to leave, but she also feels sorry for him. She wonders where he sleeps at night.
Before closing up the place, Cheyenne does a thorough sweep under the machines and scrounges up just enough coins to catch the bus back to the thin walls of her mildew-tainted studio apartment.
And the cycles continue to spin.
You get stuck driving behind a colossal, sluggish, and stinky garbage truck. You begin to think about all the minor decisions, the split seconds in time, and the winds of fate that had to come together in order to lead you to this very moment and place. You poured that extra bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast. You had to poop again right afterwards. You headed out the door to your car and realized you forgot your wallet. You rushed back inside and grabbed it. On the way back out you started to notice that your left shoe felt significantly looser than your right shoe. You bent down to re-tie it and you started walking again. Then your other shoe felt like it needed to be tightened too, and it was bugging you. You bent back down to retie your right shoe to balance things out. You got into your car and that one song that you hate had just started playing on the radio. You scrolled through all of the stations and concluded that silence was better than whatever was on the airwaves. You took off and you got stopped at that one red light that always seems to take forever. When the light finally turned green, you started going and the garbage truck turned out in front of you. You’ve been behind it for at least 15 minutes now. It smells like rotten eggs and dirty diapers. Probably because it is rotten eggs and dirty diapers. You roll up the windows. It doesn’t help. The garbage truck is going 30 miles-per-hour in a 45 miles-per-hour zone. You’re running late to the movie screening, even when you consider the 20 minutes of unnecessary previews that they show. You can’t miss this review assignment, or else your editor will fire you. You want to switch lanes. But the traffic is coming on strong. It’s risky. Don’t try it. It’s not worth it. Don’t mess up someone else’s very moment and place in time. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Oh God, you just did it.
Claudia and Mark stand bewildered in the refrigerator section of the local market, gazing at the vast varieties of milk.
“There’s so many to choose from,” says Claudia.
“Let’s just get the regular one,” says Mark.
“What does regular even mean anymore?”
“The 2% one. That’s what I always had as a kid.”
“Joaquin Phoenix says that it hurts the cows.”
“The cows? You’re not even a vegetarian.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t still be concerned about the cows!”
Claudia opens the refrigerator door and reaches for a carton of Almond Milk. “What about this?” she asks.
“I read an article about how Almond Milk is bad for the environment,” answers Mark.
“Really? I think we should be safe with Soy Milk then.”
“No way!” exclaims Mark. “Remember when Soy Milk gave me the bubble guts at your sister’s holiday party?”
“I guess I tried to wipe that out of memory.”
“I certainly tried to wipe it out of my butt.”
Claudia rolls her eyes. “What about Oat Milk?”
“I thought you said you cared about the animals!”
“I said Oat Milk, not Goat Milk!”
“Fine. Let’s just get it.”
Mark grabs the Oat Milk and the two walk toward the cashier with an equal sense of relief and frustration.
“Hello,” says the cashier. “Do you need a bag?”
Mark says sure, Claudia says no thanks. At. The. Same. Time.
Claudia peers at Mark from the corner of her eye and mutters. “Why do we need a bag? It’s just one carton of milk. The milk is being stored in the carton. It has its own carrying method.”
“But my hand will get cold,” says Mark.
“I’ll carry it then.”
“What if it falls off the seat in the car on the way home and gets all dirty?”
The cashier adjusts her glasses and glances up at the clock. She has the I can’t wait until my shift is over look on her face.
“Fine,” says Claudia. “We’ll take a small bag.”
“Paper or plastic?” asks the cashier.
“Plastic,” says Mark.
Claudia scoffs. “You should know that plastic is bad for the environment. Weren’t you just claiming to be an expert?”
“You said a small bag. The paper ones are big.”
A disgruntled line of people begins to build behind Claudia and Mark.
“At least we can recycle the paper bag,” says Claudia.
“You’re right,” says Mark. “I don’t want to accidentally recreate an American Beauty scene with the plastic bag. I hate that film.”
“I like that film.”
“I could never watch it again because Kevin Spacey is in it.”
“Good point. But does that mean the whole film is bad now? A lot of other people probably worked very hard on it.”
“It’s bad whether Kevin Spacey is in it or not.”
Just then, a voice from the back shouts “Hurry up!”
“Paper is fine,” says Claudia.
The cashier hands them their paper bag and they exit the store. Applause bursts out from the line of people behind them.
Claudia and Mark drive home as “Sail Away” by Enya plays on the radio. The bag of milk rests snuggly in the back seat.
Mark clears his throat. “All I’m saying is that if milk is all we argue about, then I think we have this marriage thing in the bag.” Claudia smirks as they pull up to their townhouse.
“Let’s hope so,” says Claudia.
The two get out of the car, head inside, and hang their coats on the coat rack. “Oh shit,” says Claudia. “We left the milk in the car.”
Mark sighs. “I’ll go get it.”
“No,” says Claudia. “I can do it.”
“Ya’ know,” says Mark. “From now on, we should just play Rock, Paper, Scissors in these types of situations. It would be much more efficient and we’d avoid all these petty conflicts.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to flip a coin?” asks Claudia.