a short story


Nancy B. G.

© 2012

The author retains full copyright. May not be copied, recorded or published, in whole or in part, without the author's express permission.

NOTE: This is a work of fiction, the characters do not represent any real persons, living or dead.


It sat on a busy street corner, a nondescript turn-of-the century brick storefront. It once had housed a busy little mom and dad grocery store, selling the usual kitchen staples and penny candy. This little section of town is not the best part of the city, in this century. A little over two hundred century's had passed, since the area was considered the crème de la crème of real estate, by the wealthy and well-connected.

A bit over one hundred years ago, it had been a thriving lumber district on the Erie canal, inhabited largely by Irish immigrants. In the sixties, it still had a thriving, if somewhat less busy, commercial district. There was a Tip Top Bread bakery, a large printing company, and one remaining lumber dealer. There was a busy little Esso gas station on the corner, whose sign encouraged drivers to “put a tiger” in their tanks. Many locals were employed at the bustling Royal Crown Cola bottling plant.

There was also a city dump, on the eastern shoreline near the river, where the old canal used to be. Despite the smell, this was a popular place for local gun owners to go. They men would take their shotguns and .22 rifles and get in some target practice on the rats on Saturday mornings, before the ball games came on TV.

In the twenty-first century though, most of those businesses had gone. The bakery plant had become a mattress factory, before that too, went out of business. The soda bottler had packed up and gone elsewhere, leaving a vacant building behind with “For Lease” signs plastered all over it for the past fifteen years.

The dump had been shut down for nearly three decades, much to the relief of countless potential “target” rats. The lumber yard, that lonely reminder of the 19th century timber boom, finally went bust. Its buildings and yards were leveled to provide yet another weedy, debris-strewn empty lot. The gas station became a used car lot and a half dozen other businesses, an entrepreneurial albatross, until finally everyone gave up on the location. That building has since been left to deal with the ravages of time and vandals, all on its own.

Jack's Bar was a bastion of the neighborhood's Irish. It had stood on the corner across from the brick storefront, for over a hundred years. Slowly going to ruin, the once green-painted Victorian-era wood building was gone by the new millennium. It was replaced by an anonymous brick affair, home to a carpeting and flooring showroom, with a few apartments taking up the top floor. Only one of the original businesses remained-- the printing company. A staunch survivor of several decades of great economic and social turmoil in America. And even that company had recently seen its share of hard times.

Such was the fate of most of the long-time businesses in the neighborhood, in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Changing hands or shutting their doors forever. The little mom and dad store on the corner was now a laundromat. Had been since the mid-seventies. The one thing that hadn't changed much in this place over the last hundred years, was the people who lived here.

Though now many of the old-time Irish-American residents were being supplanted by people of other races, religions and cultures, essentially the same social-economic makeup of the neighborhood had remained. It was still a part of the city belonging largely to the working class and the downtrodden masses. All yearning for better incomes and benefits for themselves and their families. All struggling to keep their heads above the precarious economic quicksands of cutbacks and inflation.

Frank wasn't entirely new to the neighborhood, though he'd never actually lived there. At fifty-three, he'd had to seriously readjust his way of life, following a rather messy divorce. The ex got the house, the car and a big chunk of his monthly income. He got...well, basically the clothes on his back.

The divorce settlement had then been followed a few months later, by his being laid off from his long time job at the printing company. It was the usual story. The new owners decided to downsize their older workforce, in order reduce what they were paying out in wages and benefits. To keep the collection agency wolves from his door, he chose to work, rather than collect unemployment insurance. He was currently working two low wage part-time jobs to support the ex. To save money, he was living in a cramped, airless, efficiency flat. It was located above the carpeting dealer's showrooms. He hated it, but at least he didn't have to go far to do his laundry.

It was just past midnight when Frank got home from his job at a posh high-rise office building downtown, where he worked nights as a security guard. Fortunately for him, the laundromat was open twenty-four hours. First thing he did was head for the shower. After a change into his jeans and a tee shirt, he inhaled a quick dinner of a frozen chicken pot pie heated in the microwave. Then, Frank tiredly gathered up a pile of dirty socks and underpants from the laundry hamper in his bedroom.

Parting the dusty blind to one side, Frank looked out the flat's only window. It overlooked Broadway, with a nice view of the spire of the nearby Catholic church and the laundromat across the street. Frank was usually the only customer after hours. He guessed not many people wanted to do their wash in the wee hours of the morning.

Oddly, he had seen people go in there with their washing, late at night. But, every time he went in the place, it was always deserted. Which suited him just fine. No one to worry him, like that creepy guy a few Saturday mornings back. He'd caught out some long haired beardy-weirdy staring intently at his underpants, as he was folding and placing them into his basket. From then on, a mortified Frank had made doubly sure to secret away any pants with the skid marks on them, if anyone was about.

He'd have just enough time to do the washing and catch a few hour's sleep, before heading off to his day job. There, he'd work his six hour shift re-stocking shelves at a big supermarket. Some days, Frank wondered why he even bothered to get up in the morning. His life nowadays seemed so pointless. He longed to leave his present reality behind, and get out of this place. Do something he enjoyed, free of anal-retentive bosses and monotonous, totally unappreciated work.

Frank smiled grimly to himself in the hallway mirror. Looking back at him was a balding, dark-haired, l middle-aged man, only just beginning to put some extra pounds. He was thinking that he'd gladly trade his life away, for just one chance to get clear of this life.

How he hated barely eking out a living from week to week! Frank was so tired, he was beginning to think he was working himself into an early grave. He never thought he'd be back at the bottom of the work heap, living from pay check to pay check, at his age. That's why, clinging to one last bit of hope, he bought a lottery ticket every day.

Piling a couple of his work shirts on top of the socks, Frank eyed the basket and gave a long, drawn out sigh. He unlocked his front door, re-locked it again and clomped downstairs to the street. Shifting the plastic laundry basket in his arms, he groaned. His back was killing him. Unfortunately, neither of Frank's employers provided health insurance to their part-time employees, so he simply had to live with the pain and get on with his life. He wondered though, when a basket of laundry had gotten so heavy for him to carry.

The light at the intersection blinked a mind-numbing red-off-red-off, as Frank crossed the road. The pavement glowed orange, flanked by pitch black shadows where the light of the street lamp could never reach them. Then, the light abruptly went out.

“Damn it to hell!” Frank cursed aloud, as he slammed his right foot into the curbstone, stepping up on to the sidewalk.

The only light to see by now, was the blinking red of the traffic signal, and the white fluorescent glow beaming a few feet onto the sidewalk from the laundromats' front window. Making a few select street lamps turn on and off at staggered intervals, was some idiot bureaucrat's idea of saving the city money.

“Not to mention making some hospital more profits.” Frank muttered to himself, wincing as he wiggled his sore toes.

No doubt whatever moron's bright idea this was, he obviously never had to walk down a dark city street at night. The lousy things seemed to be some sort of practical joke on innocent pedestrians. Programed to go dark at that exact moment when someone walking by them, needed to see where they were going, Frank thought bitterly. Gritting his teeth in pain, he balanced the laundry basket with one arm, as he maneuvered himself through the door.

Slamming down the basket on top of one of the yellow enamel washers, Frank dug into his pocket for the roll of quarters he'd stuck in there. Then he stopped, tensed, and looked up at the fancy 19th century pressed tin tiles over his head. His gaze fastened on the fly-specked white painted ceiling, Frank once again let out a long string of curses. He'd forgotten to bring the bottle of laundry soap. In his perturbed state over the missing soap, he never noticed a handwritten card taped on the lid of the washer. 'Out Of Order.'

Groaning with self-recrimination for forgetting such a vital item, he threw a baleful gaze at the vending machine fastened to a nearby wall. Little glass windows displayed a variety of single-use boxes of soap powder, bleach and fabric softener. The machine was long and yellow and had the words “Laundry Bar” painted on it. Which Frank thought was a very odd thing to call it. If the stupid thing dispensed those little bottles of liquor, then the name would make sense--and change doing laundry from a tiresome chore to a social activity. Why didn't someone open up a combination laundromat and cocktail lounge? Now that would really make life easier.

It's not that he didn't have the money on him to buy one of those little boxes of soap. It's that he begrudged spending the extra dollar on such a luxury. His gaze drifted towards the window, to his apartment building across the way. It would mean taking an extra fifteen or even twenty minutes to go back and get the bottle of laundry soap. Sighing, Frank decided to bite the bullet and feed his hard-earned money to the machine. He was too tired tonight. Fifteen or twenty minutes getting the blasted soap, was that much less time he'd have to sleep, later on.

Pouring the soap in, Frank carefully loaded the machine, making sure that he had all matching socks. It was one of his little quirks in life, that he should always have perfectly matching socks.

Which was one of the many little things he did, his wife apparently had told her divorce lawyer, that drove her mad. Frank would become obsessed with sitting on the living room floor, trying to pair up the right socks with each other. And since most of his socks were either black or white, and he had dozens of pairs, this could conceivably take hours. He wouldn't let his wife do it for him, because he could never be sure she took the job seriously. Frank couldn't abide the idea of going around wearing mis-matched socks. He even had a special way of rolling them up neatly together. Something his mother had taught him when he was just a young boy.

With the wash started, Frank had a good twenty-five minutes to kill, so he went over to the wooden bench against the wall and sat down. Picking up a tattered sports magazine, he relaxed, stretched out his legs and began to read. He was deeply engrossed in an article about Tiger Woods, when the florescent light over his head began to flicker. At the same time, his machine began its final spin cycle. Coming from the machine was a hollow thumping noise. It wasn't unlike someone banging away on one of those big round drums, the kind they use to help keep marchers in step during a parade. .

As the banging got faster and louder, so the light overhead seemed also to flicker more rapidly. Sighing in disgust at having his reading disturbed, Frank threw down the magazine and stood up. He went to grab one of the laundromats' meager selection of small wheeled carts, when the washer began to groan and squeal. Frank turned and raised an eyebrow. It was only a small load, the washer shouldn't be protesting about it. Must be something wrong with the machine. They needed to get a man in.

Trundling the wheeled cart over to the machine, he arrived just as it abruptly stopped shaking and moaning. Frank opened the lid, reached his hand in, and began pulling his wet clothes out, throwing them into the cart. As he pulled the cart along over to the wall of dryers, he heard and felt the washing machine give a mighty metallic shudder. Turning to look, Frank saw nothing to miss. The washer was off and silent. That was very strange.

Shrugging it off, Frank began tossing his clothes into the dryer. That's when he noticed something amiss. One of his white tube socks had gone missing. Frowning, he sorted through all the wet socks again. No, it wasn't there.

“Right! Can't have that.” He said determinedly, walking back over to the washing machine. “Always has to be that one sock, trying to get away from you.” Frank smiled to himself. “Maybe I should buy one of those foot deodorizers.”

Bending down an peering into the dark maw of the washing machine, Frank spied the errant sock stuck to the bottom edge of the drum.

“There you are, you beauty!” He grinned, reaching a hand in to pull it out. “Thought you could get away from me, eh?”

Suddenly, without warning, the top of the sock opened up and enveloped his hand. Frank jerked his head up and snatched his hand out of the machine. The slimy cold, dingy white tube sock had now completely enveloped his hand, and was inching its way up his arm.

“Ey?” Was all Frank could utter, his eyes wide with disbelief. He tried pulling the sock off his arm with his free hand, but it wouldn't budge. It was as if the rough edged nap of the inside of the sock, had suddenly become living tentacles, each individual fiber suctioning itself into his arm.

“What the hell's going on?” He cried out in alarm, as the sock continued to worm its way further up his arm.

It was now creeping towards his armpit, and was aiming for his shoulder and neck Frank heard himself scream like a little girl, but his brain still wasn't quite catching up with the action. His mind barely registered the lights going out, as suddenly he felt the sock lunge for his head.

Jason hated his job, but at least it got him away from his mom's constant nagging for a while. And, the schedule worked well around his classes. College was very important to him. He couldn't wait to get done and get out into the world. Anywhere that wasn't this rotten old city. He hated living here and couldn't wait to leave.

This neighborhood is so full of losers, he thought to himself. They were nothing but a mob of work drones and work shirkers. The people around here were so low on the social food chain, that no one would ever miss them when they were gone. Yeah, this place wasn't for him. Screw the thankless, mindless drudgery of working for low wages your whole life, with basically nothing to show for it. That was just a modern version of slavery. He was going on to bigger and better things.

Having to live with his mom at his age, wasn't doing much for his love life, either. Twenty years old and still living at home. How pathetic was that? Even if mom did his laundry and cooked his meals and cleaned his room, Jason wasn't sure it was worth it, staying there. Making love to his girlfriend in his basement bedroom, while his mom and dad were sitting right over their heads, shouting out the answers to Wheel of Fortune, was sort of a sexual mood killer. He just had to get the hell out, before he became one of them.

Dumping the backpack with his college textbooks behind the attendant's counter, Jason sighed and went to the back room to punch in on the time clock. On the way there, he noticed that someone had left a load of clothes in one of the dryers. They looked like they were still a little damp. Well, he hoped whomever they belonged to, came back and got them.

Lately, a lot of people seemed to be leaving all their washing behind and not claiming it. The owner kept the stuff for a week in the back room, then donated it to some charity. He hoped these people had noticed the big sign on the wall over the attendant's counter. The sign that said that management wasn't responsible for lost, stolen or abandoned articles.

Coming out of the back room with a broom, Jason began sweeping up. While working, he thought about how much fun he and his girlfriend, Latisha, were going to have at the Soul Machine concert on Friday night. He stopped sweeping when he saw a single white tube sock lying on the floor. That was just too freaking weird. Every once in a while when he came to work in the morning, there was always a sock there. The color and type of sock was aways different. Yet the spot on the floor where it they were found, hardly ever changed.

Picking up the sock, Jason shook his head. He leaned the broom against a nearby washing machine--the one that always bore an 'Out Of Order' sign, because the owner was too lazy or cheap (or both) to bother fixing the thing. Taking the sock over to the counter, he casually tossed it into a box marked, 'Lost And Found.', and went back to his sweeping. As the first rays of the morning sun filtered through the wide front window, they shone on the contents of the box. It was filled with mis-matched socks.

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