|Illustration by Mark Satchwill|
By Katherine Tomlinson
The man who used to be a rock star smiled when he saw the girl in the laundromat.
Gary was a social guy and the last few weeks had been a lonely time for him.
The holidays always sucked and since Christmas he’d been nursing a low-grade depression like a persistent flu.
He’d dropped close to a thousand dollars on gifts for his kids and neither one of them had bothered to thank him.
He knew they’d gotten the presents because their mother had tweeted pictures of their Christmas tree and he’d seen the wrapped boxes in amongst the clutter of loot beneath it.
He wasn’t allowed to call their cell phones and every time he’d dialed the family’s land line he’d gotten voice mail. He didn’t want to leave a message; didn’t want to sound desperate and sad.
He’d thought about asking his ex if he could have the kids one Christmas so she and the asshole she was now married to could have the holiday all to themselves. Andi’s response had been snotty.
“Why would I want to send my children away at Christmas?” she had asked him. “And anyway, you don’t have the room.” That had been true enough, but his ex just couldn’t leave it there.
“What were you thinking, the kids could sleep in the bed with you and Lisa?”
Lisa was a sore spot with his ex-wife. More than one of his friends had pointed out that she looked a lot like Andi, only younger and hotter.
The ex didn’t like hearing that.
Gary knew that if he told her Lisa had moved out she would pretend to sympathize with him but would be secretly glad, so he didn’t tell her.
He missed Lisa, but he didn’t blame her for walking out on him.
He’d walk out on himself if he could.
It wasn’t just that he missed getting laid—there was plenty of pussy around—but he missed having someone to talk to.
He smiled at the girl as she pulled her wet laundry from the washer and loaded it into the dryer.
The woman who used to be a man had sighed inwardly when she saw Gary swagger in with his load of dirty jeans and concert t-shirts. He wasn’t a bad-looking guy, except for that heinous hair cut, and his body looked fit under his loose t-shirt. He kept glancing over at her and smiling and Melanie knew it was only a matter of time before he made his move. She wondered what his approach would be. Small talk about the weather? A generic compliment about what she was wearing? A question about the book she had in her lap?
Gary caught the girl looking at him. She was checking him out, not yet sold but interested. She wouldn’t say something first, he could tell, but if he picked the right approach, she would respond. He imagined her perched on one of the washers, him leaning close enough to smell her scent, their conversation ranging from politics to pasta and back again.
“Can you believe how warm it is?” he asked, “in January?”
A look of disappointment crossed her face and all she said was “Mmmm.”
Gary turned back to the washer and concentrated on meticulously measuring out the capful of liquid soap. Normally he just slopped it in there.
He closed the lid with a clang that sounded abnormally loud in the near-empty room.
He selected the cycle, pushed in the dial.
The girl had her eyes on the book in her lap but he could tell she wasn’t really reading, that she was waiting for him to try again, hoping he’d do better next time.
He studied her, sure he’d seen her around somewhere.
She was older than he’d first thought, maybe in her late 30s somewhere. There were threads of silver in her glossy black hair.
He wondered what she would look like with her hair unbraided and floating around her head. He wondered what the hair would look like fanned out on his pillow.
She was not quite pretty and a little too skinny for Gary’s taste but her slender body looked as bendy as a willow branch. He wondered if she taught Pilates or something.
“I like your boots,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said, without looking up.
Gary sighed and sat down on one of the Laundromat’s uncomfortable chairs, careful to keep his distance.
He didn’t want to spook her.
Gary wanted to make her laugh.
Because if he could do that, he could get her into bed. And after sex, they could talk.
He craned his neck to get a look at the book she was reading.
Melanie saw the guy trying to see the title of her book. Just to see how he’d respond, she shifted her position just enough so he could read the title.
“Hey,” Gary said. “I’ve read that book.”
The girl looked at him skeptically.
“You’ve read Freakonomics?”
“Yeah, good book.”
“What was your favorite part?”
Gary thought for a minute. “The chapter where he talks about drug dealers all living with their moms.”
That chapter had resonated with him.
“I read a lot,” he added, although that wasn’t actually quite true. What he did mostly was play audio-books at night when he couldn’t sleep. He’d lie there with headphones on and listen.
Didn’t matter what the book was—there was some godawful shit on audio—he just liked the sound of another voice in his ears. It soothed him. Sometimes though, he’d actually listen to the words and find himself engaged. American Sniper. He’d really enjoyed that book. And the Steve Jobs biography.
Damn shame about Jobs.
Gary had met him once when the band played a gig in San Francisco. Even back then, in what Eighty-seven? Eighty-nine? Jobs had had it going on. He’d walked off with the girl Denbo had picked out for the night and the guitarist had sulked for a week.
Felt like it had happened a century ago.
Denbo had overdosed in Portland not long after that and two years later had checked out for good. Rico had moved to Paris to be with his freak-show model girlfriend. And that had left Gary, marooned in L.A.
It had been a lonely time. He’d spent days on the phone, hoping to call in some favors. Only thing was, he was fresh out of favors. He’d been such an asshole that nobody wanted to know him.
Payback is a bitch,” his ex-best-friend John-boy had said to him, still bitter about Gary’s two-day hookup with his wife.
Gary no longer remembered her name. She’d been a bottle blonde with anorexia breath, but other than that she was a blur.
He still missed John. Missed their long conversations, continuations of the talks they’d had all through high school and college, one unbroken discourse about work and love and the meaning of life. John had divorced the blonde and moved to Arizona where he died in a car crash two days short of his 40th birthday.
It had made the news.
Gary had called Andi, hoping for some comfort but she had never called him back.
These days, Gary didn’t get many phone calls.
These days it felt like the only people he even interacted with were supermarket checkers and his customers.
And most of the checkers just wanted him to move along so they could ring up the next person in line.
And most of his customers were too paranoid to stand around and talk to him after he’d handed over their product.
He looked at the girl, who had gone back to her reading.
Ah fuck it, he thought. She probably doesn’t have anything interesting to say.
He settled back in his chair and watched the tumbling clothes in the dryer until they lulled him into a trance.