In a Laundromat

“Hey.”

Tina pushed herself up on her elbows, carefully keeping her balance as the washing machines underneath her muttered and bucked. Nestor was sitting cross-legged in one of the silver carts, the one with only one wild wheel. He had been pushing himself across the room, back and forth, reaching the bank of dryers only to turn around and push back toward the folding tables. Now he was drifting to a stop in front of her, three wheels clicking over the tile and the fourth spinning half an inch in the air.

“What are you going to do?”

With the best eye roll she could make, she laid back down with an arm under her head.

“Ugh.”

“What?”

“That’s all anyone wants to talk about.”

“It’s kind of a big deal. Isn’t it?”

“It will be a big deal. When it happens.”

“Yeah, in, like, three months.”

“Right.”

Tina didn’t have to look to know the way he’d be glaring at her. The same way they all had been. Her mom and stepdad. Her dad and Krista. Her teachers. Mrs. Whitefield, always with that sharp chin and eyes that had become more and more disappointed as the year went on. They all wanted the same thing from her. The same thing she wanted from herself. The thing she couldn’t give.

When Nestor still hadn’t argued with her she turned her head. He wasn’t looking at her after all. He was looking through the front window of the laundromat. She couldn’t really see what he was looking at, but she knew anyway. The trailer park was across the street, and you could see his from here, up in the front row. Her own was in the back, closer to the highway.

“They’re kicking me out,” he said.

The air conditioning kicked on and a torrent of freezing air struck her bare shoulders and belly at the same time. She sat up, dropping her legs over the side of the washing machine, and wrapped her arms around her middle. The air conditioning was the only reason for the chill. That’s all.

“Did they find out?” she asked.

Nestor turned back to her, shaking his head as he did. He always had those sad eyes, the kind that turned down at the corners and sparkled like there were tears about to drop. Even laughing there was always this feeling he’d turn to sobs any second. Now his eyes were dry, his full lips pressed together.

“No. If they found out, I’d already be on my ass,” he said. “I offered to pay rent, but it’s not the money. It’s the space. Trailer’s too small. They said I could move in with my grandparents, but…”

Tina nodded so he knew he didn’t have to keep going. She wouldn’t chose to live with those stuffy, bigoted loudmouths, either.

The washing machine beneath her stopped its spinning and let out its electronic scream, making them both jump. Tina hopped off and Nestor got out of the cart and they filled it with the wet clothes and rolled it over to the dryers, ignoring the dripping on the floor.

She didn’t like thinking of graduation, and it wasn’t because she didn’t know what she would do next. She did. She had for years. She just didn’t like thinking of it. There would be no college. Even if she had the grades for it they didn’t have the money, and even if they had the money she didn’t want to go. But she didn’t want to be a waitress either, and that was the way things would go if she didn’t try, at least according to Mrs. Whitefield. She was already a waitress, over at Dale’s, and she knew once she graduated they’d bump her up to full time and she didn’t really want it but there was nothing else to do.

“You know what I want to do?” she asked, feeding quarters into the dryer. “I want to be a forest hag.”

“What?”

“Yeah. A forest hag. I want to walk into a forest – doesn’t matter where, just so long as it’s deep. And old. I want to walk into that forest and leave everything behind. I’ll build a cottage with my own hands. I’ll forage for mushrooms. I’ll plant my own food. I’ll grow my hair wild and never wear makeup. They’ll call me a witch, but I won’t be. I won’t have the energy to deal with any devils, because I’ll be dealing with my own shit. But I’ll let them think I’m a witch, so they’ll stay out of my hair.”

Nestor grinned at her, and her nerves began to wobble. She hadn’t said that out loud to anyone, and knew how it sounded. Now he would mock her, gently at least, and she would be forced to think about a real future.

“I want to be a fisherman,” he said. “Not like for a big company or boat or whatever. I just want to have my own little boat, somewhere out in the islands. I’ll live on the boat, just me and the water, and I’ll fish. I’ll bring my catch into the marina and sell it all and buy what I need and then go back out to sea. Maybe sometimes I’ll stay, have a drink at the bar, catch someone’s eye. But I’ll be gone by the morning, and when I come back again with fish I’ll pretend we never met and he’ll do the same.”

She was grinning back at him, a little to keep from saying something stupid. Nestor had never even been to the ocean and surely didn’t know how to fish. But Tina had never been to a forest and definitely didn’t know how to build a cottage so…

“What did you want to be when you were a kid?” she asked.

“A firefighter. You?”

“Pop star.”

Nestor shuddered. “All of that just sounds like so much work.”

They finished the laundry talking about nonsense, movies and gossip, and carefully avoiding talking about the future that would come for them whether they were ready for it or not.


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