We are sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. My wife Linda is saying something about a dream she had last night. Here is what she says.
“I was sitting in my seat at the cinema when these two guys came in. They were dressed in black and wore masks that covered their entire faces. I couldn’t even see their eyes. They had guns and said they would kill someone if they didn’t get what they wanted. They followed through with that threat and shot me right in the head.”
“Oh my God,” I say.
“I know,” she says. “Then it was dark for a while until I woke up. For a brief moment, I thought I was dead. But I wasn’t scared. I was ready for whatever it was that was waiting for me.” Then Linda says to me she says, “Have you ever experienced anything like that before?”
“No,” I say. “I don’t think so.”
“It’s weird,” she says. “I don’t usually dream like that. And if I do, I can never seem to remember what happened. But I think this was different. I think it was more like a vision than a dream.”
I don’t know what to say in response to this, so I don’t say anything.
The washing machine is on. The kitchen table starts to vibrate as the spin cycle picks up some speed. “When it’s finished, could you take it to the launderette and get it dry?” Linda asks me.
“Okay,” I say. I take a sip of coffee. It’s still too hot, and it burns the tip of my tongue.
Later, I park the car outside the launderette. I get out, take the basket of washing off the backseat, and go inside. There are plenty of tumble dryers available, although one of them is already in use.
I fill up an available dryer with my washing. Then I put a two-pound coin in the coin slot and press start. That gives me about fifty-seven minutes or so.
As the timer begins its countdown, I take a seat on the wooden bench in front of my dryer. It feels warm against my back. I’ve got the day’s newspaper with me so I can do the crossword. I open the paper and look at the puzzle. The first clue is an eight-letter word for Journalist. I think about it for a second, using my fingers to count out the letters. Then I fill in the blank spaces with my pen: R-E-P-O-R-T-E-R. Reporter. I have to shake the pen to get the ink out.
Before long, I’ve managed to fill in all but three of the answers. I turn around to check the timer on the dryer. It still has twenty minutes left, so I go back to my crossword.
Then this man comes into the launderette. He’s wearing a pale blue shirt, navy blue chinos, a navy blue beanie hat, and he has this thick brown beard. He looks like a deep- sea fisherman or something. The man walks over to the other tumble dryer that is in use. I notice that it still has eleven minutes or so left, but he goes ahead and opens it up anyway. He checks to see if his clothes are dry, but they aren’t, so he shuts the door and presses start again. He takes off his hat and sits on one of the wooden benches opposite me. I glance up from my crossword and inadvertently make eye contact with him.
“Don’t touch my stuff,” the man says to me.
“Excuse me?” I say.
“You heard me,” he says. “Don’t touch my stuff.”
“Why would I want to touch your stuff?” I say to him. But he doesn’t give me an answer. Instead, he puts his hat back on and walks out of the launderette, muttering something to himself under his breath. I get up and look out of the window to see if I can see which way he went, but there is no sign of him.
I get home from the launderette. Linda senses that something has upset me – she’s good like that. “What’s the matter?” she says.
“It’s nothing,” I say. But Linda manages to get it out of me. I tell her all about how I was sitting there, minding my own business, when this man who looked a bit like Bluto from Popeye came into the launderette and told me not to touch his stuff. “I don’t know,” I say to her. “It was just weird.”
Linda lets out her breath. “I think I know who you’re talking about. I saw him about a week ago.”
“Where?” I ask.
“At the bus stop.”
“What happened?” I say. “What was he doing? Did he say anything to you?” She nods.
“What did he say?” “He swore at me.” “He swore at you?”
“Yes,” she says. “He told me to fuck off. I didn’t tell you about it because I didn’t want to upset you. He’s not worth it.”
I put my arm around my wife and hold her tight. “No,” I say. “You’re right. He isn’t.” “Promise me you’ll stay away from him,” she says. “He’s trouble.”
“It’s all right,” I say. “You don’t have to worry about that. I promise I won’t go anywhere near him.”
At the post office, I stand in line and wait my turn. There are a couple of people ahead of me, but that’s fine – I’m in no rush. When it’s my turn, I approach the counter. A young man with black-framed glasses and a gap between his front teeth greets me with a smile.
“Hello,” he says.
“Hi,” I say. “Could I get a book of stamps, please?”
“First class or second class?” the young man says to me. “First class, please,” I say.
As the young man gets the stamps out of a drawer beneath the counter, I see a poster with the man from the launderette’s picture on it. I stare at it for a moment in disbelief. Then the man behind the counter comes back up with my stamps. “Is there anything else you need today?” he says.
I think about it for a minute. “Yes,” I say to him. “Would it be possible to get a copy of that poster?” I point to the poster – the one with the man from the laundrette’s face on it.
“Of course. We have a photocopier right over there.” He points me in the direction of the photocopier and hands me the poster. “Do you need any help making some copies?” he asks.
“No, thanks,” I say. “I think I can manage.”
I leave the post office a few minutes later with a copy of the poster. I read it to myself as I walk home.
The man from the launderette is called Richard. Richard is a local criminal, well- known to the police. It says he’s verbally abusive – like he had been to my wife – and that he’s a shoplifter, a stalker, and he’s physically abusive to both people and animals. He’s what my father would call a nasty piece of work.
I need to do something about this man. In my opinion, there are too many limitations when it comes to the law. I’m not that bothered about what he said to me, but I’m not going to let him talk to Linda like that. What if he’d hit her – or worse? I don’t even want to think about it. As far as I’m concerned, Richard needs to be put away for good, or better yet, taken out of the equation altogether.
I have decided that I’m going to find Richard. But I don’t want to arouse any suspicion in my wife. So I’ll have to pick my moments carefully. If Linda asks me to go and pick up some milk or something from the shop, I’ll say, of course – and I will. But not before going to the launderette.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent most of my free time sitting on one of those wooden benches at the laundrette, waiting for Richard. But so far, he is yet to show himself. Perhaps he’s in jail, or perhaps someone else has taken care of him. In any case, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever see Richard again. But I won’t give up.
It’s a new day. I put on my running clothes and do some stretches so that Linda thinks I’m heading out for a run. I tell her I’ll see her later, and then I leave the house. I run to the end of the road. As soon as I get around the corner, I get in my car and drive straight to the launderette.
I can’t stay too long. I’ve got half an hour maximum. After that, Linda might start to get suspicious. I’ve already been sitting here for about ten minutes, so if he doesn’t show himself soon, I’ll have to call it quits and try some other time.
But then, out of the blue, Richard finally shows himself. He has shaved off his beard, but it’s him all right. I can tell. Richard opens up one of the machines and starts filling it with his dirty clothes. Everything he owns looks the same: pale blue shirts, navy blue trousers. It’s like a uniform or something. But I know for a fact that Richard doesn’t work; he has never done a day’s work in his life.
After Richard has loaded up the machine, he puts some money into the coin slot, then presses start. He takes a seat opposite me. I don’t know if he knows who I am or not, but I don’t care. I look at Richard for a minute, waiting for the perfect moment. Then I stand up and move towards him. Everything seems to go dark for a second. But just like my wife, I’m not scared. I’m ready for whatever it is that is waiting for me.
Thomas Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. He has been published in Dream Catcher Magazine, STORGY, Bandit Fiction, ShabdAaweg Review, Untitled: Voices, Fairlight Books, Sledgehammer Lit, and Truffle Magazine. His short story ‘Promises’ was shortlisted in the 2019 Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology.