SHE IS DRIFTING in the warm lulling roar of the laundromat. She is a writer of erotica, and she has her standards. No vampires, no werewolves, no zombies. She’s no prude; au contraire, light bondage is just too trendy, has lost its appeal for her.
The way afternoon light kisses clean sheets. The breeze that stirs the curtains. Bare skin in all its colors, how it blushes and glows. Her reflection in the fish-eyed dryer door, her lips around the long straw in her frappuccino. She sucks it dry and revels in the throaty gurgle of the last drops. Clothes tumble round and round, a mad chase of bras and panties.
TO PUSH THROUGH the heavy glass door of the laundromat warm and moist and thrummy into the hard winter air is to be born again, the same gulping reflex. She does not cry, just hurries along the patchy sidewalk, past the bodega-slash-taqueria, down the 6th Street grade toward the coast highway, canvas bag over her shoulder. The houses are ragged, perched uncertainly on small lots. Her scalp itches under an acrylic ski hat.
Fort Bragg is that kind of town, not far from Frisco but closer to Coos Bay or Aberdeen by the looks of it. You’re not supposed to say Frisco but she doesn’t care. Sometimes she walks aimlessly for hours, hands jammed in her front pockets. Her jeans are looser this year, held up by a braided hemp rope. Her old boyfriend said she was hipless as a snake. He was a classic inland dumbfuck from a place called Leggett Hill. He talked her into a three-way in the back bedroom with a bleached blonde with big floppy tits after a long night of drinking, which left her feeling hung over and inadequate. She quit him, and tequila, cold turkey the next morning after throwing up in the kitchen sink.
Thank God she wasn’t pregnant. Lots of erotica writers are, you know. No one knows why, and she doesn’t want to find out.
THE CEILING is a familiar tension of cracks, plate tectonics. She lies alone on the stripped mattress. She is a candle that will not stay lit, a wax figure in a darkening room. Click of the radiator. She wants to be Lucinda Williams purring I lie on my back and moan at the ceiling, but all she can hear is Amanda Palmer singing the first orgasm of the morning is like a fire drill, it’s nice to have a little a little warning but not enjoyable.
They told her California would fall into the sea. Take me, she whispers, I’m already underwater.
THE PARTICULAR BRIEF PANIC of waking alone in the dark, unsure for a moment whether it is a.m. or p.m. The absence of sea gull cries. She pulls on her skinny jeans, zips her boots. Puts water on for tea. Lights a cigarette off the blue gas flame. Calls Jeanna. Come on. Fuck, no answer. She still owes me $40.
On her iPod, Aretha sings you make me feel like a na-tuh-ral wo-mun. Breathe. Okay.
This is her territory, the streets at night. Cap pulled low, hair tucked in her army surplus coat, hands in fingerless gloves, fists pushed into pockets.
As she strides through the double shadows between street lights, passersby think she’s a boy.
SHE IS HALFWAY through the overnight shift at the call center. Her given name is Julie but she has gone by Rainy ever since some crazy bitch threatened to kill her over a mistake on her phone bill.
Sometimes, after midnight mostly, when she asks is there anything else I can help you with, men will tell her she sounds pretty, ask her to describe herself, what she’s wearing, the size and shape of her breasts, the color and style of her panties, where she likes to be touched. She has one of those voices that arouses the perverts who have questions about their long distance charges or data plans, makes them ask her to mail them her panties after she has worn them first. Sometimes, on slow nights, she talks to them for a while, plays along, humors them, to the annoyance of the gal in the next cubicle, a Bible banger. After all, she majored in English at Santa Cruz.
After two, hardly anyone calls. She gets up to stretch her legs and pee. She locks the door, hovers over the toilet, tinkles, does a little shake, pulls her jeans over her hip bones, leans toward the mirror over the sink, studies her face at close range. She is 28 but still gets carded.
A PALE ROSY DAWN blooms as she climbs the stairs to her apartment. The laundry is still in the bag. She is too tired to make breakfast, too tired to make the bed. She takes off all her clothes, even her wool socks, and wraps herself tightly in the old red quilt. She closes her eyes and is already half asleep, dreaming of hands touching her, on her legs, on her belly, stroking her softly. Sleep is her heavy blanket, her patient lover, her only friend, the demarcation of one lonely day from the one before and the one yet to come.