At 9 AM each Saturday I come here, to the laundry. It’s a ritual. After getting any coins I need from the change machine I empty my clothes into a washing machine, pour in some powder, push in five dollars’ worth of coins and hit start. At the vending machine I pick up an energy drink. By the entrance there are some tables you can work at. I take a seat at one, setting down my drink and emptying my pockets beside it. A small pile of dollar coins. My keys. It is the last time I will come here before I leave for a new city on Thursday. My mind begins to wander, and I find myself sifting through all that I have seen at this laundry, looking for something meaningful among the empty episodes that have taken place beneath these bright lights.
The castle was the most magnificent building Helias knew. He was a cook boy and he lived in the strongest and the safest castle in the world. It was so strong that people even claimed it was alive, protecting its inhabitants. Helias believed that. He had whispered to the walls.
“Are you alive?”
“Can you feel my touch?”
The cuckoo clock on the wall sounds its hourly alarm, despite being three-quarters past the given time. No one knows whether the lifeless plastic bird with startled eyes is fifteen minutes early or if the clock is behind. Sometimes it is silent for days on end, though the residents swear they still hear it singing.
‘Good morning, sister,’ calls Agnes, descending the stairs and humming as she goes; her hand gliding gracefully down the old banister, pale alabaster skin against the dark wood. She is burgeoning on seventy, but the lithe figure beneath her knee-length floral dress is that of a younger woman.
To say I’d become adrift in my thirties was an understatement. Imagine a small peddle-boat in the middle of a dirty pond in an abandoned theme park: that was me.
My friends and acquaintances had all acquired things like spouses, careers, and mortgages, while I remained in an arrested adolescence. I lived in a small, one-bedroom flat just around the corner from where I grew up and continued to work in the kind of minimum-wage retail jobs that I’d been working in since dropping out of university over a decade ago.
Irv and Stan are actuaries and colleagues. They perform their labor at the home office of the James Hickok Mutual Life Assurance Company, located on Berkeley Street in Boston’s charming Back Bay area.
One evening, Irv had an inspiration, which he shared the next day with Stan. “There are a million TV shows about doctors and lawyers. It’s high time for a TV show about an actuary. So here’s my idea: Together, we write a script for a pilot episode. We have an in. I think you’ve met my sister-in-law Gerty. She’s a producer with CBS. What do you think?”
The photographs have not done justice to the cottage.
Sarah recalls the website thumbnails: that vibrant red door; those shells, set between the bricks framing the windows; hanging baskets that are an eruption of life and colour… Gorgeous. She’d sent jubilant screenshots to her mother from the train. Yet photographs can’t capture the true allure of this place – the remoteness, the quiet. The trains had taken her only to the nearest village. For the last two miles, Sarah’s taxi was the only vehicle winding down narrow country roads.
The old woman in the apartment across the hall always called me “Sam,” but Sam wasn’t my name. My name was Joe. But I didn’t correct her. At first it was out of embarrassment, but then I began to see humor in it. Guests would come by and she would call me “Sam” and I would explain the joke and we’d laugh about it.
But then later, after awhile, I began to think that maybe she had it right. Maybe I really was a “Sam.” I thought that maybe I was given the wrong name at birth, that perhaps there had been some kind of crazy, cosmic mix up.
During the stormy night under the starless heavens, thunder and lighting reigned the sky. Bolts of violent light blasted through the heaven like the raptures of human veins. Stiff uprooted trees lay dead in the trembling grass, frail huts shivered at the sound of the cracking fury and the living buried themselves from the rage. This was the night when Gods cracked their whips at the sins of men and the winds, full of evil, haunted the scattered villages. It was a violent and tempestuous night, ordered to conceal the secret birth.
Peter changed into his pyjamas, brushed his teeth, shaved and settled in front of his computer for the Friday night whole-family video call that Mary had started when the lockdown began, ‘to keep their collective spirits up’. She lived two streets away with her husband and twin daughters. David dialled in from Napa Valley. Between Annie’s drawings, Katie’s handstands and David’s virtual tours of his vineyard, they didn’t get much talking done, which suited Peter just fine.
The only good thing about these calls was that he didn’t have to make eye contact. If he pasted a benign smile on his face and stared somewhere in the proximity of the camera, he could get through the whole call analysing his own receding hair line. It helped that Olivia preferred to dial in from her own phone from her own room.