Fiction by Sheree Shatsky
Margaret wears a pink robe in the laundromat.
A car in a rush shouting a too loud radio splattered her filthy on the street. She ran inside the Soap ’n Suds, stripped down quick and tossed her muddied dress into a washer.
The manager hurried over with the robe someone left behind in a dryer. He mumbled she couldn’t stand there in a slip and bare feet in plain view of the gathering of men peering through the plate glass window. He ran a reputable place.
She slid her arms through the sleeves, tied the satin belt loose and realized she’d forgotten the bowling shirt.
The men peel away, all but two.
A fancy fellow struts a dry-cleaned suit. The grub next to him wears greasy mechanic overalls. He eats a ham sandwich with ham hands and gulps cardboard coffee. His mother does his laundry, Margaret knows by the crease running the legs of the britches.
Margaret has a clothes line strung across her ratty walkup. She hand washes what she can to drape dry in the sun streaming through the one gorgeous detail of her place, a glorious grand window.
Sometimes, she uses the window like a back door, ducking out and down the fire escape to avoid the landlord.
He locked the basement door on her the first and last time she used the washer downstairs to launder sheets.
The landlord refuses to install a deadbolt on her door. Immediate access by management is essential for official business, he says, and the chain lock works just fine.
Margaret resorts to primitive security measures. She shoves a kitchen chair under the door knob.
Sometimes at night, she wakes to sounds at the door. The knob jiggles, someone wiggling a wire, a picture wire maybe, inside the cheap lock. She hears him, the landlord cursing out in the hall.
She slips across the dark room and eases her bowling ball on to the tilted chair. It adds fourteen pounds to her poor girl doorstop.
Margaret rummages for dryer money and finds a dollar tucked behind her bowling league card.
Sylvia from work signed her up for the team and gave her a second hand bowling ball, so Margaret couldn’t beg off being poor as an excuse not to play. Sylvia, she liked to tell people what to do.
She had a washer, a dryer too. She’d made her boyfriend promise he’d build her a laundry room before she would marry him. A carpenter, he could make it happen. Sylvia and Charlie have been married a little over six months. She likes to brag that Charlie holds the record for the most perfect games bowled at the Alley Way.
Margaret thinks about the night before, coffee after bowling with Sylvia and Charlie and Charlie’s single guy buddy. They talked and laughed and got along until coffees switched to plastic cups of cheap beer. The buddy’s fingers went somewhere other than his bowling ball and Margaret tossed her beer in his face. He tossed his back, Sylvia’s and Charlie’s too, drenching her good.
Her place smells like a swamp in the morning.
The laundromat across the street opened early. Margaret tosses the wet shirt over the line and raises the window wide to air out the room while she’s gone.
Banging on the door. Jiggling of keys. The landlord. Cursing. Accusations. He could smell beer out in the hallway. Drinking violated house rules and she was out, out on the street pronto unless she opens up and does exactly what he tells her to do.
He slams his shoulder into the door.
The bowling ball teeters.
Margaret grabs her purse and slips out the window.
A girl taps her shoulder. Her eyelids are heavy with false eyelashes, long and thick and pink. She holds a pair of damp sneakers.
She’s all of twelve years old.
A woman close by nods the girl on.
She hands Margaret the shoes and points out the window. A man sits in a plastic chair with his walker pulled alongside. He watches the rain fall slightly.
“That old man out there found your shoes stuck in the mud. My mom threw them in with our wash. She thinks you are in some sort of bad way, in a crisis.” Her eyelashes blink the last two syllables.
“I like those pink eyelashes,” Margaret says and waves a thank you to the girl’s mother.
“My mom, she says it’s okay to pretend, but not for too awfully long.”
An hour later, Margaret throws on her warm clean dress and slides on her dry sneakers and heads out of the Soap ’n Suds. A police car is parked in front of her building. A man sits in the back seat. Her landlord. The old man sitting out front of the laundry claps bravo.
They watch the car pull away. “There was much to be heard from out your open window this morning, miss, “ the man says. “A lot to be deduced by a mere observer, much to be imagined. Decisions to be made of how best to help a barefoot lady with more than pulling her shoes out of the mud.”
“You …?” Margaret points where the police had parked.
He shrugs. “Maybe, maybe or I’d be blue.”
Margaret’s thank you didn’t seem like enough, so she pulled a couple of tissues out of her purse and wiped the mud off the rubber tips of the man’s walker.
Sylvia crosses the street waving her hand and is talking so fast, Margaret can barely keep track. “We came over to check on you, to make up for last night. Horrid person, we are done with him, we are so done I told Charlie! We wanted to surprise you and take you to breakfast and find your front door broken down. This is awful, I said to Charlie. We talked to the police officer, and he said if we found you before they did, you would need a safe place to stay for a couple of days, and I said, no worries, you would come home with us, and I will not take no for an answer, so let’s go. I’ll help you get some stuff together. Why didn’t you tell us about that horrible landlord? Margaret, you are such a strong woman, but until Charlie fixes that door and installs a deadbolt, no, TWO deadbolts, you’ll stay with us. He’s a carpenter, and he can make it happen. And we will get a restraining order against that disgusting excuse of a landlord, if we can’t get him fired first, my brother, he’s a lawyer. Sir? Hello, I’m Sylvia and you’re …? Walter, nice to meet you. I work with Margaret and you would not believe the shape of her front door, splinters is the best description I can offer at this moment. My husband, Charlie, he’s a carpenter and is upstairs as we speak measuring for plywood to secure Margaret’s place. I am so relieved she is safe. This will be fun spending real time together, like sisters …” and Margaret lets herself be pulled along into Sylvia world.
For the first time in forever, she sleeps through the night.
Sheree Shatsky is the author of the novella-in-flash Summer 1969 (Ad Hoc Fiction 2023). Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Cowboy Jamboree and BULL. She is a contributor to MAINTENANT 17: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art ‘PEACEFIRE’ (Three Rooms Press 2023). She calls Florida home and is a Tom Petty fan. Read more at shereeshatsky.com.