My neighbor, Janice, was a helium balloon filled with gossip and I noticed her voice rose an octave when she had a nasty bubble to pop. Right now she was peaking toward soprano with excitement.
“So, Katherine’s kid, Brent, is in the hospital, again!” Janice checked behind her before she continued. “Get this!” She grabbed my arm. “Brain damage. He was caught snorting glue with some kids and then passed out. Brain damage?” She smirked. “As far as I’m concerned that was already rooting around in his gray matter long before he got his hands on any glue.” Janice gave me the we-get-what-we’re-saying-here raised eyebrow. She looked at me and shook her head. “Damn idiots, these kids. I mean, this is what it takes to have a good time? Lose a few more brain cells, as though they have spare ones to let go of?” She shook her head with disgust and I nodded. I had already stopped hearing Janice, but watched her face grimace as her mouth moved back and forth.
I was fourteen and hanging with my friends at the Laundromat. Mariel had stolen a pack of Parliaments and some quarters from her mom and we were sitting on top of the empty washers puffing away. I was supposed to go first. I was always first because I was the guinea pig and the lowest rung in the hierarchy.
“Get in, bitch,” said Mariel. She opened the door to a dryer. There were a few old people doing their laundry and they looked over and rolled their eyes. I took a deep breath and slithered into the dryer.
“Hold your hands up on either side or you’ll be sorry,” said Mariel, snickering. The other two girls, Kris and Sharon, cracked up with her. “You’ll be bouncing around like a pair of old ladie’s panties if you don’t grip it, girl.” I even laughed at that one.
“Ready?” Mariel asked.
“Yeah,” I said, even though I knew I’d never be ready.
Mariel pulled the quarters out of her pocket and plunked two of them in the slot. Someone had told her it was broken and if you pushed the lever halfway in, the dryer would still work and the change would come back, and it did.
I started rotating. I held on with both hands and felt the heat slowly start to rise. There was a gaseous smell to it that I tried to ignore. I was in some kind of bad carnival ride sitting with my legs crossed and my hands holding the sides. I watched the girls watching me and it made me laugh to see them upside down and all around, while they were pointing and squealing at me.
For a few minutes it was fun, but then I was queasy and sure that I was going to barf. My head started to get light and detach itself from my body. The dryer was getting hotter and I was closing in on myself and taking breaths so I wouldn’t lose it. I was praying for the end of this nightmare, but I just kept spinning and the girls were talking and smoking together again and had somehow forgotten me.
I stared at their faces and realized I hated them. I had been invisible until I met them. Obscurity was something I excelled at. I could spend whole evenings in the same room as my family, squabbling and screeching at each other as I evaporated into the ether. I was able to camouflage myself in a warm bed of silence enveloped in my own thoughts that turned over and over in my head concealing me in a silent fog like there was a pane of glass between me and everyone out there.
Mariel turned back to me. I observed their mouths opening and closing until I was seeing two of each of them, my eyes crossed and my mind became a blanket of stillness with no single thought bearing down on another. I was the mist and I smiled at the buoyancy of my existence. I looked out at the laughing upside down girls and didn’t care about them or anyone else.
The machine slowed down and I had to tighten my grip to hold on before it stopped. Mariel opened the door and I slithered out of the machine.
“Well, girlie, how was it? One hot ride on the town?” They all laughed and I let my body sway and stagger around the room with my hands out to keep from falling.
“Wow,” said Kris, “I’m definitely next. That looks like a hellava high.” She started to climb in, but Mariel pushed her out.
“No,” said Mariel. “It was my idea and my money. She curved her body into the machine and handed the quarters to Kris. “I’m ready for the ride of my life. Let her rip,” she said.
We became addicts, rode that ride for weeks until the lady who ran the place caught on and fixed the machine, but not before we’d been to the other side.
Janice looked over at me. “You still with me?” she asked. “Well, you know what I mean.” She shook her head. “Hopefully his brain damage won’t last forever. I feel sorry for Katherine. She’s going to have to manage that whack job after he gets home, keep him away from the other crazies.”
I smiled in Janice’s direction, waved and walked off. I felt myself teetering to the right. I didn’t try to pull back. I wavered and careened with a grin.
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Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice