Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: A Change Of Fortune
Only ten pints of blood in a female body, right?
Looked like most of it was smeared on the sheets. Stuffing them into a trash bag, he pulled his cap over the tops of his ears, headed out the door and down the stoop.
Another five or ten minutes and the street and shop lights would come on. Grown man scurrying around with a big black trash bag would garner unwanted attention then, but right now, he went unnoticed.
The neighborhood was quiet, sidewalks dusted with snow and streets mostly empty. Folks with any sense were indoors, eating dinner, watching the tube or huddled around the heater.
He rounded the corner and pushed through the door into the laundromat. Two other occupants manned the washers and dryers. Terrific. Witnesses. Not much he could do about it though. Just his luck that the washroom in his building was out of order – again.
A top-heavy latina poured into fuchsia and black spandex waved him over to an empty Maytag.
Couldn’t rebuff her friendly gesture without calling attention to himself. Besides, she probably thought he was like any other guy stopping in to launder his mid-week work clothes. The trick was going to be to act like any other guy.
Nodding, he headed over, set his bag on the washer and dug a half dozen quarters out of his pants pocket. A couple of the coins slid out of his palm and rolled across the cracked tile floor. By the time he retrieved them, little miss hot-pants had opened his trash bag and dumped its contents into the washer.
One short sharp shriek was enough to announce that she’d seen the evidence and pronounced judgment. Grabbing her purse, she strode past him and slammed out the door.
Now it was just him and an older woman with sallow skin and crooked teeth holding court in the coin-op. She hadn’t seen his laundry but she sat there scowling at him from her yellow laminate chair anyway.
He jammed the sheets into the machine, poured a couple capfuls of bleach over the fabric and closed the lid. Twenty-five minutes here, thirty in the dryer and he’d be good to go.
Five minutes left on the washer when the laundromat door swished open. Figuring it was the spandex queen come to collect her clean clothes. he didn’t look up.
Metal clanked against a light weight washer front, followed by a soft curse, and an unfamiliar voice said to him, “Hey, buddy, can you to help me get out of this coat?”
How was he going to ignore a direct request? Or the charming smile that greeted him when he looked up? By the time he had the zipper unstuck, his final spin cycle came to a rumbling halt.
He lifted the lid and peered in. Most of the stains were still there. “Damn.”
Her hand slid past his and tugged out part of a sheet. “Somebody’s having a bad week.”
“Lady, you don’t know the half of it.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“The beginning is usually best.”
Once he opened his mouth, the words spilled out. “My sis ran out on her kid last week when an old boyfriend showed up on a new motorcycle. My mom was supposed to go get the kid this weekend but the butcher won a couple grand on a lottery ticket, and the two of them took off for the casino and haven’t been seen since. Yesterday, I got slapped with temporary custody. Picked her up last night. Woke up this morning to a bloody mess on my couch and a hysterical teenager locked in my bathroom.”
Pretty brows furrowed and blue eyes pensive, she put a hand on his forearm. “Poor thing.”
“Right? My whole life tanked inside twenty-four hours, and that’s saying something, cause it wasn’t no peach to start with. What do I know about teenagers and tampons?”
“No, by ‘poor thing’, I meant your niece. Was this her first time?”
“How the hell would I know?”
“You have a wife or girlfriend who can talk with her? An overly-friendly mail lady?”
“Have you not been listening? The women in my family are nutso. Hasn’t made me real confident about dealing with females, let alone want one in my life.”
“This is off the subject, but why are you bothering to wash these sheets? You’d be better off buying a new set.”
“Do I look like I’m flush? I only got the one set and the girl has to sleep somewhere tonight.”
“Makes sense. Did the couch clean up okay?”
“Yeah, I have a bottle of this special upholstery cleaner my brother-in-law uses.”
“He must be broken up about his wife leaving him.”
“Marty? Naw, he’s married to my other sister.”
“Why don’t they take in your niece?”
“My sis has another three before she gets paroled.”
“You weren’t kidding about the nutso, were you?”
He sighed. “Not even a little.”
She pulled the sheets out of the washer. “Tell you what. Let me take these home and see what I can do. Meet me at Donovan’s about seven, and bring your niece. I’ll have my brother set you up with a good meal, and afterwards, I’ll have a talk with the girl.”
“Hang on. You’re Roberto’s sis? Pardon my saying so, but where have you been all my life?!”
She chuckled. “According to my father, running off with the wrong men and blazing trails to
nowhere. Name’s Carmella, by the way.”
“Mine’s Donatello, but most folks call me Donny.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Donny. Listen, I’ll bring my daughter to the restaurant tonight. With any luck, the girls will hit it off and maybe we can get a drink while they’re playing pinball.”
He glanced at her. “I ain’t much to look at, and I haven’t made the best impression tonight. You sure about that drink?”
She leaned in and a wave of glossy auburn hair slid across her shoulder. “I may not be a good judge of men but I’m a helluva good judge of character. And you, handsome, are one helluva character. Root beer or regular, I’ll be more than happy to buy you a drink tonight.”
Outside in the street, blue and red lights flashed moments before a squad car pulled up on the curb and a hefty officer tried to extricate himself from the driver’s seat.
She nudged him. “Looks like you have company, and since I have a stubborn stain to scrub out, I’m going to leave you to deal with Sergeant Girardia on your own.”
He stepped back against her, pinning her between his hip and the washing machine, and held her there until she looked up at him. “You know I don’t have no faith in women.”
She held his gaze without faltering. “Yes, I think we’ve covered that, but if you’d like to reiterate the fact, feel free to do so. At Donovan’s. Tonight. Seven o’clock.”
He shifted his weight to free her.
She scooped up the sheets, turned and patted his cheek. “I’m no saint, Donny, but if you give me a chance, I’ll do right by you.”
Girardia was still working on exiting his vehicle when Carmella headed out the door and down the street,
Donny followed her out, went around to Girardia’s car door, and crouched on his haunches.
“How about you give up and give me the ‘what for’ curbside?”
The big guy grinned. “Yeah, that sounds good. Got a call some nut job was trying to wash his troubles down the drain. How’s the welder’s union treating you, Napolitano?”
“Pay ain’t worth getting up in the morning but the work is steady.”
“You should have joined up with the uni’s when I did. Got a nice little pension built up.”
“You know how the Napolitano women get when they smell money.”
“Good point. So, I take it you’re the laundromat nutjob?”
“Afraid so. Teresa ran off and stuck me with her hormonal kid. Had a little female accident and since the washer in my building is out of order, I ended up here.”
“Okay. I’ll write it up that way and let you get on with your night.”
“Hey, what time are you off, Girardia?”
“About an hour, why?”
“You have a seat for the poker game tonight?”
“Naw. The missus thought we needed new living rooms drapes. Made me cough up my table fee.”
“I have a seat to the left of Nuccio.”
“No way! That’s a primo position! Wait. Why are you telling me this?”
“I can’t use it and thought you might want it.”
“Yeah? What’s it gonna cost me?”
“Nothing much. Just hoping to keep my niece’s name out of your report. She’s had a rough patch these last couple days and it’d be real nice to keep this part of it off the public record.”
Girardia looked at him a long moment. “So, you were painting in the bedroom and knocked the can of red paint onto the bed?”
He grinned. “Yep, sounds about right. If we’re done here, I need to get home and clean up the rest of the mess.”
“I think we got it all cleared up. Except for the part where you and Carmella Donovan was practically swapping spit.”
“That’s off the record too, card shark. I’ll call the boys and let them know you’re tableside.”
He and Girardia’s shake hands, and he heads off down the street and around the corner to his brownstone, thinking about chilly nights and family ties and blue eyes.
Only takes seventeen muscles to smile, right?
Felt like more, but maybe that was because it’d been such a long time since he’d smiled.
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