Dry Cleaners by Haley Kellner
The woman had simply glossed lips. Although she didn’t know when she approached the man that some of the gloss had gotten on her fingertips and then her forehead when she had gone to brush her hair from her eyes. Now on her forehead was a single streak of shine, like taking a highlighter over a blank piece of paper.
The man noticed but didn’t say anything. It was the first time the woman had bothered to approach him since their first run-in at the dry cleaners when the man had asked if she came there often and the woman had asked what that was supposed to mean. Then a worker had brought out the man’s just-cleaned lingerie and the woman had laughed and gone away. The man had been too embarrassed to approach her again, but now she was approaching him. The man knew any second, again, an ill-timed worker would return the shiny buttons and delicate laces of his bosses’ sexual exploits. When she reached him, she said he was the only person she’d ever seen in that particular dry cleaners more than once. The woman said she appreciated a loyal man, loyal to his dry cleaners.
Now the man was brought his weekly lingerie, but the woman had already been brought a long pink coat. It was a long pink coat that had once been covered in blood, although now neither the woman nor the man could tell it ever had been, which was why the woman invited the man to coffee down the street.
At coffee down the street, the man said the rumpled lingerie belonged to his boss’s mistress. It was part of the man’s job as an intern to have the lingerie cleaned weekly so the boss could never be caught red-handed and the mistress could remain scantily clad. The man didn’t like it, but he did it because it was his job. The woman asked about the boss’s wife and did she know. The man said she probably didn’t know, but the man liked to tell himself she did and only ignored it because the boss’s wife was beautiful and cold.
The woman, slipping into her own explanation, said, beautiful and cold, yes, also the death of the cat. It was the death of the cat that led to the blood that stained the woman’s long pink coat, the blood of a local stray the woman had taken in recently only for the cat to be hit by a car. Of course, the woman carried the cat to the veterinarian, but the cat was only a stray and the woman did not have enough money for the surgeries needed to save a stray cat so she walked very slowly. The man asked what happened to the cat, the stray cat, and the woman told him the cat died as expected, right before the door of the veterinarian’s. The woman had to pretend to be sad when the nurse rushed out to help her despite having had six blocks of walking to get used to the idea of the stray cat’s death.
The man and the woman sat in the clatter of the coffee shop. Nearby, a different man and a different woman sat down to drink coffee and each asked how the other was doing on that particular day and each said to the other that they were doing fine in the way one does whether or not it’s true. But this particular woman with lip gloss still on her forehead asked this particular man with the now pristine lingerie what kind of woman his boss’s mistress was. The man said, from what he knew, the boss’s mistress was not a bad or horrible person and neither was his boss, and the woman considered this for a long time. And us, she wanted to know, what about us?
Haley Kellner lives in Anderson, South Carolina in transition between high school and college. Her summer activities include sleeping, reading/writing, and memorizing the words to various rap songs (currently Shoop by Salt-N-Pepa) with which to impress her future college friends. “Dry Cleaners” is her first real published piece of writing and she hopes it won’t be her last.