By Jeffrey R. DeRego
I hate the Laundromat. Soap costs three dollars, each washer is four, each dryer five. Twenty one dollars.
I buy a newspaper and a couple of comics, “Tales from the Union of Superheroes” and “Megaton”, from the convenience store across the street. I thumb through the pages and smile at the drawings of a half dozen or so people I used to serve with, then it depresses me and I push the books into the trash. The newspaper headline takes up the full top quarter of the front page.
Police Chief’s Son Kidnapped!
I struggle through the story but I don’t read well because the letters all jumble up on me, especially when they are really close together.
I don’t know the police chief personally, but the picture of the kid is right there under the headline. He’s less than a year old. By the time I am able to work my way through the story of the Mayor and Intercity management fighting over a new patrolmen contract the laundry needs to be swapped to the dryers. A couple of kids run back and forth between the washers screaming “Bang! Bang!” with plastic guns drawn.
My head is throbbing. I think about the mess in the fridge, the heaps of crap in the flat while I force the clumps of wet clothes into the dryers.
As far as I know I am the only Union member who works outside the system, the only one tasked specifically with fighting crime, secretly, of course. Darksider put the program together with one of the Luminaries as a way to explore expanding our role in the maintenance of Normal society. He chose me specifically because I am the only super-agile who is also an orphan. Therefore, I won’t be tempted to throw my costume in a dumpster and make a break for mom and dad.
Communication with the Union ended seven months ago. Darksider was supposed to make sure that a stipend was deposited into a bank account under my phony name every month. But that stopped too. I don’t know why. I tried everything to make contact short of walking up to the Boston Pyramid and knocking. Not that it would have done any good since none of the regular Union knows I even exist.
Six weeks later I started looking for work. It’s been rough but I am doing okay I guess. Sure, I have some issues and no real-life skills. The Union provides everything, room, board, bathroom supplies, and hey, even laundry for their members. I had to learn all this stuff on my own, out here, with no money.
The driers stop after only fifteen minutes and, of course, my clothes are warm and still very damp. I break another ten at the change machine and get the clothes tumbling again. Jeez, thirty-one bucks to do two loads of laundry.
There’s a pizza place two blocks up the road and even though the very idea of eating puts my stomach cramps into overdrive. I walk there and order two slices with extra pepperoni and a Zazzo Cola for five bucks. The smell inside the place reignites my appetite and I gobble down the first wedge so fast it doesn’t have time to burn the roof of my mouth.
The girl at the counter has a nose piercing, like a little silver hoop. It looks cool. She’s staring at me. Finally I ask, “what?”
“You — you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
She moves her finger under her piercing and looks away.
I do the same. Blood. Great. And it’s dripped all over my second slice. Wonderful. I rip a handful of napkins from the dispenser and squeeze down on my nose. I take the soda and head back towards the Laundromat.
I bleed for a long, long time.
The laundry is done but most of my jeans are still damp. I screen out a tee shirt, jeans, cotton panties and bra that are dry enough to wear and shove the rest into the canvas bag. The little bathroom at the back of the place is barely big enough to stand in but I manage to change.
My sweats are a total loss. I stuff them into the trashcan and step out of the bathroom.
Someone has stolen my clean clothes.
I run from the Laundromat hoping to see someone, anyone, lumping thirty pounds of laundry down Purchase Street. No such luck. Calm down, calm down. Unclench your fists. Breathe deep and count to a billion.
I stride into the closest liquor store and buy two pint bottles of the cheapest vodka on the shelf. Ten dollars even. I’m just under the abandoned railroad bridge when I get the first one open and gulp half of it. My throat burns so bad I nearly choke the booze back up. It should be illegal to sell vodka this awful.
I finish the pint in two more swigs then hurl the empty against a concrete pillar.
Jeffrey DeRego was born in the seaside city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, one time home to both Fredrick Douglass and Herman Melville. A graduate of New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, He now lives in Derry, New Hampshire, with his children Ian and Margaret and the memory of his beloved wife Cindy. His wildly popular Union Dues stories have appeared in audio format at Escape Pod, and Clonepod. His post award winning post apocalyptic tales of Pleasant Hollow are available at Tales of The Zombie War. His novels, Escape Clause and Fleas, are available wherever books are sold.