by Cher Bibler
There was an angel standing in the parking lot. The edge of her white dress was dragging on the pavement, soaking up oil. She bent forward to see herself in a rearview mirror so she could fix her hair.
A couple of teenagers stood under the streetlight, arguing. It was late and the video store was closing, but the laundromat was still open and a woman with two little kids was unloading baskets of dirty clothes from the trunk of an old Mercury. The one kid was supposed to be watching the other to make sure he didn’t wander away, but instead was staring fascinated at the angel.
“Tory!” exclaimed the mother, exasperated. “Don’t you hear a word I say? Look at Jeffie; he could’ve got run over!” Jeffie was trying door handles of cars to see if any of them would open.
Tory realized she’d let her mother down again and looked at her with large eyes.
“Well, don’t just stand there. What are you staring at? We don’t have all night.”
But Tory had never seen an angel before and was reluctant to leave. She was afraid she would never see one again, that this was her only chance, that she should memorize everything about this moment so she could refer back to it whenever she needed to.
“God damn it,” said her mother as a flutter of pink hit the ground. “Could you get that sock, Tory, sweetie? Come on, pick up the sock. Right there by my foot.”
The teenagers under the streetlight had reached a crisis. The girl tried to hit the boy in the face but he grabbed her wrist and she kicked him instead.
“I hate you,” she said. “I hate you.”
He felt a wonderful power surge through him as he restrained her. He didn’t know why she got so mad sometimes. The madder she got, the more he wanted to hold her, to make love to her, to have her love him. It didn’t make any sense. Their arguments never got anywhere.
The angel glanced at the couple and watched them for a while. She fixed her lipstick and causally sauntered over to the pair. “Do you have a cigarette?” she asked.
“Uh, sure,” said the boy, when he had gathered his composure. Teenagers get used to being anonymous, no one takes them seriously, their privacy isn’t often interrupted. He reached into his car, on the dashboard, for his cigarettes.
“Thanks,” said the angel. “You don’t know how much I needed this.” She bestowed a dazzling smile upon the couple and they began to thaw a little toward her. To prolong the conversation, she asked if there were good pizza places around, pretended that she was a stranger so they could tell her about this part of town. Their argument was soon forgotten, their anger faded.
“Lottie and I,” said the boy, “go to Napoli’s Pizza because we like it. It’s not fancy, though. You don’t dress up to go there.” He wondered as he said it if angels could dress up, if they had different kinds of clothes or did they always wear the same white dresses, but he didn’t have the nerve to ask her. He was nearly sure he could, that she wouldn’t mind telling him, the words were at the tip of his tongue, but he didn’t ask.
Lottie saw a car that looked like her mother’s and ducked. Her mother thought she was spending the night with a friend and she hated to think what would happen if her mom caught her out with Steven again. Her mother thought that Steven had a bad influence on her. As the car turned the corner she saw that it wasn’t her mother’s, that it barely even resembled her mother’s car, and Lottie was surprised to discover how quickly her heart had been beating.
Tory liked to plunge her hands into the powder laundry detergent because it felt silky, but her mother never liked to see her doing it, so she sneaked her hand in the box when her mother wasn’t looking.
A man was reading a newspaper, watching her, waiting for his dryers to get done. Tory saw him looking and her face grew red, because she thought he would tell her mother she was playing in the soap, but he smiled at her instead. She looked away and pretended she’d never seen him. She was paying so little attention to her mother that she was nearly caught. Her mother turned toward her and Tory jerked her hand out of the detergent box and showered the floor with white powder. Her mother never noticed, never even saw the soap on the floor, and Tory stood feeling the grains under her fingernails and wondered why she liked to do it so much when it got her into so much trouble.
Jeffie had found an empty laundry cart and was pushing it around, pretending he was a train.
Their mother had found someone to talk to, was leaning over a table talking about things that had happened back in high school. Tory tried to push the spilled soap powder with her foot, tried to kick it away so her mother wouldn’t see it, and found that the soap made the floor slippery and that when you got both feet on the slippery part it was almost like roller skating.
There was a tv in the Laundromat and the attendant had it turned on to an old movie and was folding clothes up while she watched it. Some people had their clothes done for them and they paid for it by the pound. The light colored clothes had that tell tale dinginess from having been washed regularly at the laundromat.
Tory’s mother liked to come in late at night because she could be sure of finding empty washers. Other times of the day it got too crowded. She actually did lots of things late at night. She always liked to take a nap right when she got off work and revive some energy for later on. Tory and Jeffie were accustomed to her schedule; in fact, they had never known things any other way.
The man with a newspaper looked at his watch and compared it with the laundromat clock, then looked idly around at the other people waiting, before going back to his story.
Lottie and Steven were sitting in the back seat of Steven’s car, kissing. They had been doing that for long enough that the windows were starting to steam up. The angel sat in the front seat filing her fingernails. She had to sit sideways because her wings made it uncomfortable to sit any other way. Cars weren’t designed with angels in mind. She always filed her nails, never cut them, so that they wouldn’t break. Steven had promised they’d go for pizza later. All that talk about the best pizza in town had made them hungry.
She glanced in the back seat and realized that Lottie and Steven would probably be glad for some privacy. She told them she was going into the Laundromat for a can of pop.
The night air seemed cool outside of the car. Cool and somehow heavy and oily from car exhaust and from factories. Her white dress was beginning to fade.
Tory had commandeered Jeffie’s cart and had talked him into climbing up in it so she could push him around.
Once they had bumped into a woman folding clothes. The woman had yelled at them and their mother had gotten upset and yelled, too, but after a minute she went back to her conversation and forgot about them and they went back to pushing the cart. The laundromat made a good obstacle course.
The pop machine was in the corner by the tv and the angel made her way over to it quietly and stood considering the selection. The Laundromat attendant, who sold Avon products on the side, was showing a sales book to a customer.
Tory brought the cart to a halt when she saw the angel in the laundromat, but under the harsh indoor lighting the angel didn’t look as glamorous as she had outdoors, and as she popped off the top of her can so she could take a drink, Tory and Jeffie returned to their game.
The angel looked at the specimens in the laundromat, wondering which one she should turn to next. Old habits are hard to break. She dropped exhausted into a chair beside the man with a newspaper and said to him, “Anything interesting?”
He looked up, took her in, said, “Not THAT interesting.”
This is so easy, thought the angel to herself. She crossed her legs, lifting her skirt a little so he could get a hint of the shapely appendages underneath, and turned on her smile.
“I haven’t been in town very long,” she said. “Could you tell me if there are any good pizza places around here?”