by Nancy Ames
Whenever I happen to think about that very first year after
I quit school and arrived here in the big city, the same image
always comes to mind for some strange reason. I remember there
was this crummy little laundromat where I used to go to wash
my clothes and stuff.
In my photographic bit of memory, the rest of the street seems
to be darkened - probably because I almost always went there at
night - but the laundromat, sandwiched in between some run-down
apartment buildings, is filled with a yellow light. The laundromat
appears to be empty... and yet it feels as though somebody or
other has just left.
On those humid summer nights, there were frequently a lot of moths,
big ones and little ones, all flapping up against the laundromat's
front window and then falling down battered and exhausted onto the
mossy sidewalk below, maybe to perish underfoot in the morning.
I have absolutely no idea at all why I should still be thinking about
that old laundromat really. There was so much else going on at the
time. I had this neat job doing modelling at the art college, which
I liked because I never had to get all dressed up to go to work,
although sometimes I did have to wear a costume after I got there.
The young people who met each other on the sunny streets downtown were
beginning to be dressed with a certain quirky originality. The art
displayed on the sidewalks was mainly abstract and, both day and night,
jazz was just around the corner, having a good time. The drummers in the
jazz combos had such great rhythm and really excellent timing. Sometimes
I think that the young people today don`t understand about the critical
importance of timing. But we did.
There were a lot of big trees lining the streets here then. Not many of
the old trees are left standing now. It`s too bad. I also seem to recall,
by the way, this one girl I used to see who wore an actual red riding-hood.
I think she might have been a waitress at one of the coffee-houses for a
while. She was small but she was quick. She had to be. Big bad wolves can
have two legs sometimes. That`s how they fool you.
I was spending almost all my spare time going to jazz clubs and coffee-houses
then myself, and I got to know a lot of the musicians. They told me they were
trying to get beyond music that could be written down, probably rebelling
against the rigidity of their music teachers, I suppose. Maybe that was why
they had to travel around so much, always coming from somewhere or going
I was friends with most of the artists and students from around the art college
too, naturally. I had a bit of a reputation because I had been modelling for a
drawing class at the university when the massive blackout happened that year.
They had me in a sort of supergirl costume that I thought myself was pretty dumb,
with these red tights and a long blue cape. It was so weird the first couple
of minutes after the lights went out. But then we all rushed over to the big
gothic window. There was absolutely no light to be seen anywhere in the city
and the darkness felt like black velvet.
Those artist guys always looked so cool in their multi-coloured paint-spattered
jeans. I did adore cerebral men. As everybody knows by now, some of those people
became very famous later on. But this was way before that. The artists liked to
live in big studios in lofts, which were most often located in the old disused
warehouses along the waterfront at the time. And the lofts were perfect for
parties, of course, except that so many people fell downstairs afterwards.
Compared to nowadays, basic necessities like food cost next to nothing. I suppose
that`s because the money itself has been shrinking, as they keep telling me, but
also some of the things that are considered to be so terribly special and gourmet
now weren`t gourmet at all then. Ironically, it was probably people like us who
made all that cheap stuff look so cool to the impressionable children of the rich
who followed us around all the time.
I realize you might say that the laundromat was cheap too, but in spite of that
it was the one place that was sure to be safe from the grasping eyes of all the
social-climbing copy-cats. Almost the only other people I remember seeing in
there were two young guys who were probably brothers or something. They had this
shaggy little brown dog. Most of the time it was only one of them, the youngest
one, who came in there with his dog to do their laundry. He would usually just
fool around on his beat-up old guitar, so that was nice. He always seemed like
he was very shy and intense though, so I never said much more than hello to him.
I did like his little dog and I must admit I felt safer at night when they were
there and a bit apprehensive when they weren`t, you know. But we never talked.
I guess in a way the laundromat was our quiet place. And besides, dirty laundry
can be sort of embarrassing to some people. Also he had terrible acne.
The last thing I can remember happening at the laundromat was one night when the
other one came in all of a sudden, stomping his feet and frowning like he was
real mad, but he wouldn`t look directly at either one of us. The little brown dog
sort of cringed backwards under the bench. The older guy started to unload the
dryers into plastic bags even though the clothes weren`t nearly ready yet, with
his face like a clenched fist, until the pimply one shrugged his narrow shoulders
and began unloading the laundry too. Then they all just left.
I think I know now what puts me in mind of that old laundromat. It`s whenever I
see a young girl who is at that very vulnerable age when the world is all possible
futures. She has no plan at all but she is quite good at being spontaneous. She
is an accurate reflection of her own day. In the perennial urban myth, she would
be the brave hypothetical girl who sets the latest fashions and trends, I suppose.
Tantalizing glimpses of her going in and out of clubs and theaters decorate the
unanimous consciousness. I might have seen her in the background at parties some
time or other. Dangerous young men smile when they see this girl. From across the
room I notice their canines gleaming briefly in the subdued electric lighting.
They can`t be trusted. I hope she knows.
We were all so much luckier when I was young. The constant radio was keeping us
well informed with Dylan`s song that said, "Because you know something is happening
here but you don`t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?" Tra la... tra la...
All that stuff must have happened just before I met Adrian, I guess. He was one of
the most popular students at the art college and mobs of pretty girls followed him
around all the time. Surprisingly, he was also a fairly good sculptor. There must
still be one or two of his bronzes of me here and there around town, standing
artfully in corners and on expensive little tables.
I constantly dread running into one of those sculptures but I never do. I used to
have a few of the smaller pieces, actually, but I lost them in the divorce. I didn't
mind very much. I only wanted to see how far he would go legally to reclaim them.
Maybe the sculptures were beautiful - and they do represent the happiest time of
my life - but my own subsequent memories will always be of a sore and shrinking
heart, the sour taste of disillusionment, and ultimately this hollow boredom.
Adrian was highly ambitious even then, when we were still only teenagers really,
and it wasn`t long before he left the hard work of sculpture behind and started
running his very successful art galleries. After a while he became more and more
involved with his international jet-setting life-style, far too busy to actually
settle down with me and have a real home or anything. For a long time I was foolish
enough to simply be there for him whenever he needed me. But we were both only
pretending anyway. And then, with a sharp kind of shock, I began to see that Adrian
was something inhuman standing in my kitchen, something that thought it could own
people and collect people. And only moments before it had been yawning and
stretching itself in my bed, indolent and insolent.
Of course he has never lost his amazing good looks. But of late his abundant natural
charm has turned into something that is much too blatantly slick and automatic. It
has become obvious to a lot of people that, deep down in his fractured psyche, he
had never been able to completely trust anybody. And that was especially true once
he got really rich. Now he just seems rather sad and insincere and slightly
repulsive. But that`s probably only me again... although it is a well known fact
that all his more recent relationships have been flashy and short-lived... like his
mania for extravagant fashion accessories... or like snakeskin perhaps, that he
always grows out of...
Well, never mind. I`m feeling much better now. I am. I have my friends and my health
club and my weekly book club meetings and all our gallery openings and parties. I do
much prefer the uncommon luxury of actual solitude when I am at home, you know. It
certainly is much better than the nerve-wracking uncertainty and aching loneliness
of being married to Adrian. My friends all agree with me about that.
One by one, they have all said to me, "You are so lucky, Joanna."
Author's Note: first-person fiction again
Posted on 12/05/2018
Copyright © 2018 Nancy Ames