Short Fiction

Rich Or Poor, It’s Nice To Have Money

Tina sat in the dark at the sticky little kitchen table.  Again she couldn’t sleep and needed some air.  The rain had stopped so she had cracked open the window over the sink.   She could hear and smell the lazy night wind mixing the leaves.   Luke left at ten after a nap — said he’d grab something at the hospital.  He didn’t think of food as something more than fuel these days.  She missed how they used to linger over dinner, but smiled at the thought of him falling asleep as Henry “read” his new books to him tonight.

She didn’t tell Luke about the money.  The bill was still folded in the greasy back pocket of her jeans because she’d be pulling them again tomorrow.  She thought Henry might have blurted out his discovery, but it turned out that he wasn’t all that impressed by the “green paper.”

Maybe she would keep it to herself for a little while longer. It wasn’t really keeping a secret so much as just not disclosing a finding.  If Luke found out she wouldn’t lie.  Maybe what she wanted most of all was a little break; a way to feel a bit more like her old self, the woman she recognized as competent, funny, joyful, sexy…. okay, maybe not sexy yet, but powerful, in a small way.

Tina walked through the house to check on Henry.  He was sprawled out on his bed, books and little X-men scattered on the floor, in that deep sleep of growing children.  She swore she could hear cells multiplying, piling up boy blood, bone and brain so in the morning he’d be a new boy to her again.  She moved into their room to peek at his little brother in the bassinet.  Tucker slept like a little old man, one arm flung imperiously overhead, belly rising and falling like a tiny bellows.  The air around him surprisingly warm.  “Like a small tyrant,” she thought.

Tina rubbed her eyes.  Like an over-tired baby, she was fighting the tug of sleep.  The rumpled bedding and familiar indents in their mattress were cool again and she relaxed with a exhalation as she sat back down on the bed.  She recognized the feeling now.  It was the luxury of falling into sleep.  A small reclaiming of herself.  Yes, she would keep that money stashed away.  A small reclaiming for herself for the future.  For now, a few  hours of sleep would be redemption enough.  Her last coherent thought was …”don’t forget to take the money out of your pocket before washing those jeans.” 

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Need a refresher?  See the links below to get back into the groove:

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Chapter 6 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

Short Fiction

Mother’s Little Helper — Part 2

“Mama! You got a book today, too,” Henry exclaimed in that high-minded way toddlers have of announcing news. Tina made Henry carry his own books. She wanted to foster his independence and she was carrying her own book, plus a small backpack and twelve pounds of squirmy infant strapped to her chest, gearing up to demand his own lunch.

They lived a short walk from the library. One of the best things about the little house they rented was its location in an established neighborhood with a mix of trees and residents.   There were retirees and families, working people who spent their weekends working in their yards.  The little yards held evidence of family activity:  trampled grass with play sets, bikes and picnic tables.   A couple of the middle-school aged girls liked to coo over Henry and Tucker – if Luke ever got a night off maybe one would want to baby sit?

They tumbled into the kitchen. Henry was already pulling at his pants to get to the bathroom and Tina was extracting Tucker from the Baby Bjorn. He was red and sweaty like an overripe tomato, his small fists churning. Tina knew it was now a matter of minutes until let-down — she could feel that tingle. Now her dilemma was either to help Henry complete his foray to the bathroom or to settle herself to nurse Tucker and let Henry splash around in the sink creating puddles and extra laundry.

A hungry baby and the relief of sitting down won. Tina felt herself relax as Tucker latched on, his greedy snuffling making her smile as a bovine sense calm settled over her. Nursing the baby seemed to make time, and her brain, slow down. She could hear Henry talking to himself in the bathroom, the sound of water – as long as there wasn’t silence she could enjoy putting up her feet for ten minutes.   She took another deep breath and felt her neck and shoulders relax.

“Mama, you have paper in your book,” Henry stated matter-of-factly as he waved what looked like a dollar bill from where as he sat on the living room floor.

Tina moved Tucker off her breast. She was always amazed at how enraptured he looked, sated by her milk, a sleepy smile on his wizened face. She glanced up at Henry as she hoisted Tucker up to her shoulder.

“Hold it still, Henry, let me see,” she said rubbing Tucker’s back with alternating pats and circles.

Henry came close to his mother and she put the “burping” arm around him. She wanted him to still feel close to her, too. It wasn’t that long ago he was her only baby. How did he get so big? She felt as though she was coming back from sleep, a light moving through her brain, waking her with a spark.

Henry was holding the paper in front of him and Tina saw that it was currency. Somebody used a dollar as a bookmark in a pinch, but then she saw that there wasn’t a picture of George Washington on it. It had to be a joke.  There was no way somebody used a one hundred-dollar bill as a bookmark. Gently she said, “Henry, can I see that a minute?”

Her son handed it to her gravely. His own little fingers rubbing over the unfamiliar feel of the paper one last time. Tina held the note up in front of her face, mystified as to how it got into her home.

“Henry, where did you find this?” she asked lightly.

“In your book! I was putting all the books on the table and yours fell down. It fell out and I picked it up. What is it, Mama?”

Tina felt a little stunned. Maybe she had twenty bucks in her purse right now – a hundred-dollar bill seemed unreal. “It’s money, Henry, and thank you for finding it. I’ll put it somewhere safe and take care of it.” She folded the bill with one hand, leaned over onto one cheek and slipped it into the other back pocket of her worn and saggy jeans. With shaking hands she moved Tucker to her other breast as Henry resumed playing on the floor. Was she imagining it or was the baby studying her face? She cooed to Tucker and brushed his cheek with her nipple but he turned away.

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Chapter 5 Mother’s Little Helper — Part 1

Short Fiction

Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties

Need to refresh your memory before digging in to the fourth installment in the money-hiding hi-jinks of  Ruby and Viv?  Visit Bright Lights and Big Bev City first.

Chapter 4 Ruby and Viv Find Their Big Girl Panties 

Ruby and Viv were klatching in Ruby’s kitchen because Viv’s was always “in a state.”   Viv’s husband, Phil, was responsible for the disarray of Viv’s home.   Viv referred to him as her “late” husband because he was always underestimating the timeline on his handy-man projects.  He was frequently running out to the hardware store and losing track of time – making them “late” to events or prohibiting them from entertaining in their home. They were well-matched as Viv was a free-wheeling flower child and over time she learned how best to manage Phil’s many well-meant projects.  She would wait until Phil went on his annual fishing trip with his brothers and then hire somebody to finish all the semi-completed odd-jobs.  It was one of the unspoken contracts in their marriage.

Viv had brought a couple of warm bear claws and a pull-apart danish ring to enjoy with their coffee. Both women were early birds. Ruby was a creature of habit and liked to walk every morning no matter the weather. She was still glowing from her walk and had just unplugged the percolator when Viv rapped on the kitchen window as she headed to the back door.

By the time Ruby opened the door Viv was already stepping out of her shoes and stepping into the sunny kitchen.

“Good morning, Viv.  And what artery-clogging treats did you bring today, my friend?” Ruby asked.

Viv was stuffing a stubby, frosted bear claw finger into her mouth, “Bear claws and a pull-apart from Glossy’s Bakery,” she mumbled.  “Jesus, don’t you feed this damn cat?”

Ruby’s cat, Pinsky, loved to antagonize Viv, because he knew instinctively that Viv was not an animal person.  This was his cue to entwine himself between her legs.  He’d leave Viv alone as soon as she cursed him.

“Damn cat.” That said, Pinsky sauntered over to his corner to complete his post-breakfast grooming.

Our heroines settled themselves at the kitchen table with steaming mugs of coffee and carbohydrate-laden treats.  As is the case with most longtime friends, they were silent during their initial sips.  No need to fill the air with chatter until the delicious sugar and caffeine made its way into their brains.

Viv broke the silence, “So, you hear anything?”

It had been over three weeks since they left the first Benjamin in The Valley of the Dolls.  They didn’t know what to expect and had planned to be stealthy so Ruby knew there was a chance nobody would even find the cash in their remaining lifetime.   Also, how many people really checked out Jacqueline Susann in these “ought” years?

“Viv, we knew there was a chance nobody would find the money.  That’s not why we’re doing this.”

“I know, Doll, it’s just that it would be fun to hear people speculate.  We’d be like The Scarlet Pimpernel – “zhey seek ‘em here, zhey seek ‘em there, zhey seek ‘em everywhere…”  Viv’s French accent was tinged with a nasal cross of Bayonne and Jersey City.

Ruby chuckled at her friend’s bit of doggerel.  She didn’t think people would loudly cop to finding random C-notes in library books, and they had only planted one so far.  Ruby poured herself another cup of coffee and grabbed a banana – leaving Viv the tattered remains of the danish ring.  Viv had no guilt over tapping up the crumbs with her index finger.

“So, what’s our next book?”  Viv asked between crumb taps.

“Well, I don’t think we should pick a newly released book, but maybe we shouldn’t go back as far as the bestsellers of the 60’s,” Ruby offered.

They made a prospective book list the first time they met, but it got lost in the chaos of Viv and Phil’s place which slowed down the pace of their offering.  No matter, they had nothing but time to research and debate their next placement. Ruby booted up her ancient laptop.

“Maybe we should consider non-fiction? Biography?”

“How about home improvement?  Optimists like Phil are always lurking around there,” Viv suggested as she strolled back to the table from her latest trip to the bathroom.

“I don’t know.  I still think fiction is the best bet for someone looking for an escape.  Plus, doesn’t everybody just watch YouTube videos for home improvement projects now?”  Ruby ruminated out loud as she mined the web for book titles.

Viv and Ruby debated all morning until they were “hangry” – hungry to the point of extreme irritability.

“Look, Ruby, let’s just pull up our big girl panties and go get some lunch.  We’re debating a dead horse at this point.”

“Viv, you are brilliant.  Look at this – there is a book called Big Girl Panties out there.  It’s relatively new, been out for over a year now.   This author, Stephanie Evanovich, has a new book out now – so we have the increased odds of somebody looking for her first book, too.”  Ruby’s voice was rising with excitement.  Intuition was telling her this was the right pick.

“Ruby, you saucy minx!  It’s only fitting we stick the big face of a dirty old Ben Franklin into some girly panties.   Now maybe we’ll start seeing some action.   Let’s go get a tuna club at Max’s.  I’m starving already.”

Short Fiction

Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Below is the third installment of the ongoing saga of Ruby, Viv and their mission to make life a little better one random Benjamin at a time.  Since I started this shaggy dog story almost two years ago (?!?!) below are links to the two previous posts so you can catch up.

Chapter 1 Introducing Ruby, Viv and St. Benjamin

Chapter 2 Boychik Luis and Bubbe Bev

Chapter 3 Bright Lights and Big Bev City

Luis was shuffling around anxiously in front of the exit doors when Bev came out of the auditorium.  He was pacing so fast that it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to both the bright light and to register that it was her grandson.  She had never seen him so agitated before.

Bubbeleh, what’s wrong? Are you all right?”  Bev’s first reaction was that he was in some kind of trouble.

“ Yes, No, Gram, can we go now?”   He held the door open for Bev – from the outside.  He was clearly in a rush.

Luis reached the car before Bev, and furtively looked around as he waited for her to unlock the doors.  He winced as he slid in.  The seats were hot but he found it comforting in a way – almost as though he could melt onto the surface and become invisible.  His hand was still in his pocket, feeling the sweaty crease of the bill.  He slouched down and watched his granny settle herself behind the wheel.

“Are you in some kind of trouble, Luis?”

“G-ma, I found a one-hundred dollar bill in a random book.  I swear, it was just in the book, like a book mark  – I didn’t see anybody.  It wasn’t like somebody dropped it by accident,”  he said, breathless and defensive.

Bev took a breath herself.  Luis was a good boy.  He never lied to her in the past, and she saw no reason to believe he would now.  Yet, it still seemed a little strange.  In all her years she never recalled any trend to using currency as a bookmark.

“What book was it in?” she asked looking into his face.  He had a feverish sheen.

Valley of the Dolls.   I saw the book sticking out of the stack on the bottom shelf. I went to push it back in so it lined up with the rest of the books, but since  we saw the movie last night I was curious about what you said and opened it up to check it out, and found the bill stuck in the pages. I didn’t see anybody in the stacks, or looking around the floor for it.  So I put it in my pocket.  But I got so nervous waiting for you. ”  He was again breathless, his story pent-up and tumbling out into the overheated car.  Bev had not turned the ignition so the air was heavy and scented with Youth Dew.

Bev turned the key and the Le Sabre rumbled to life.  The air conditioning vents spewed dust motes and gusts of hot air enough to make them both cough.  It also gave Bev a few moments to collect herself.  Clearly the boy wasn’t in trouble, but bless his half-Jewish guilty heart for not being able to keep a secret.

“Luis, I think this must be a little gift from the heavens.  Let’s get a nosh and think about what you should do next.”  Bev popped the Le Sabre into drive and silently gave thanks for her good luck:  she had a nice “pull-through” parking space so she didn’t have to contort her achy neck to back- up.

Luis’ leg pumped up and down nervously.  Strangely enough, he was hungry and felt a bolt of relief in telling Bev.   Soon enough they were sitting at Max’s Deli with a bucket of half-sours from the pickle bar waiting to share the corned beef special.

Bubbeleh, Bev said softly, “this is your little windfall.  Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but what would you think about taking the train into the City and we can stand on line for the half-price tickets and catch a show, hmmm?”  She wasn’t going to let a fifteen year-old boy go to Times Square by himself, but she knew they both could use a little change of scene.  And a little bit of adventure.

Luis’ mind started to crack open with the very thought.  “Grandma, do you think we could get tickets to Kinky Boots?” In his most fevered boy-dreams he could not have imagined this lazy bubbe summer visit would include his first Broadway show.  He crunched down on his third pickle, and it struck him that Bev knew him better than he realized.  And she accepted him just as he was and always would.

Short Fiction

Bibbi’s World

Laundromats are a sort of temple.  They provide sanctuary and silence to be with your thoughts.  They have noisy congregations, and quiet times of solitude.  Their incense is the whiff of bleach and fabric softener brought to life by the steam of the dryers.  If you are cold, there is warmth.  If you are stained, there is purification.    You might find your tribe in the local ‘mat or discover it is not where you belong.  But there is no shunning.  There may be folks you wouldn’t choose to spend ANY time with, but there is tolerance.

The Wash Whenever was a neutral, non-denominational laundromat.  Apollonia thought decorations were just lint collectors and fire hazards, and the last thing she needed was the fire department up her ass more than they already were.    Not that the Wash Whenever wasn’t a good neighbor, it was just a “no frills neighbor” who discouraged loitering and the “bad elements” Bibbi’s mother had little tolerance for.

“We got no room for de lazy here,” Apollonia would say under her breath as she swept the lint and dust from between the machines into her dustpan.  It was another way for her to make her presence felt among the patrons, the elders nodding in acknowledgement while the younger ones tried to ignore her.  If she ever came upon a student, or anybody with a textbook in some sort of study, she would stop and offer an appreciative snort.  “Yes, that is a good use of time. To improve the mind, and make a living, no, a good living.  Maybe take care of your parents so they don’t have to work so hard.”

Unfortunately, this love of education did not extend as far as her own family.  There was no expectation that Bibbianna would be college-bound.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t smart, but as the only child of small business owners, she had a future and her own parents to take care of.  God-willing there would be a husband to help share the burden, but her life didn’t look so bad.  Maybe a bookkeeping class here or there, but no need to spend the money on college for a girl.  Better for her to put the money into the business: that was her future.

And Bibbi was an obedient child.  Without siblings she grew up in the company of adults.   Since all of her early childhood years were spent hanging around a laundry she met few children.  And these children were decidedly unhappy to be dragged to the Laundromat with their parents, and unlikely to have too much interest in making lasting friendships with the odd child they met there.

When she started kindergarten Bibbi did make a friend for life, Viv Sullivan.  Vivian was the youngest child and the only girl among seven siblings.  With six boisterous brothers she looked for any opportunity to hang out with Bibbi, an only child with a quiet home life.  Mrs. Sullivan’s constant exhaustion made it easy for little Viv to slip away after school to the Wash Whenever or over to Bibbi’s house.   Apollonia and Angelo grew fond of freckled Viv, and she didn’t seem to mind helping Bibbi with her assorted chores.

Bibbi and Viv were a gang of two. Both girls were quiet observers of the world, obedient to both parents and teachers.   Bright, but not inquisitive, they were never the teachers’ “favorites.”  Most of the time, teachers remembered a composite of Viv’s reprobate brothers who rotated through the vice principal’s office until they squeaked through high school and were able to work the docks.  Mr. Sullivan was a longshoreman, but by the time Viv was in high school he was on disability, and he began to see more of her and in her than he had ever noticed in his sons.

For Viv that meant higher career aspirations, and she went on to college and became a teacher.   Viv was a commuter student and she brought back stories to Bibbi of tan, soft-spoken suburban girls and student teaching assignments in newish schools out in the scrubby suburbs. Viv ended up marrying another teacher and moving into one of those suburbs herself.  Although they didn’t see each other as often as they did as girls, Viv still swung by the old neighborhood to visit Bibbi when she checked in on her parents or to visit the bakery for nostalgic treats.  Her visits brought Bibbi a connection to the wider world that she would never have sought on her own.  There was enough local drama, misery and injustice for Bibbi within the pale, linty walls of the Wash Whenever, but she always welcomed her old friend happily.  Viv truly brought  fresh air and the outside world to an insulated Bibbi.

 

(need to catch up?  See the last installment here.)  

 

 

Short Fiction

Mercy and Halie

Mercy and Halie were indeed siblings. The eldest of five, they were holding their family together living in a van while their parents tried to find both work and another place to live. Unfortunately these searches were interrupted by their competing needs to stay on their meds or to spend their available cash on self-medication.  Bibbi was correct in her assessment that they were new to the area: they just pulled the van in off Route 80 and remembered the Wash Whenever from a drive-by. Halie clung to his job as a busboy at a local chain restaurant while Mercy made sure their younger sisters spent the day at school. The elder siblings made it their job to create a sense of stability for their sisters.

Their own childhoods weren’t a distant memory.  The slide into a precarious, nomadic existence didn’t take more than five years, but it was helped equally by both the impartial “domestic economic indicators” and their father’s alcohol-induced hyper-sensitivity to criticism.  He was both a self-made and self-destructing man.  Unfortunately his wife didn’t have the constitution for the ups-and-downs.  She also retreated into various bottles, rendering the pair of them no good to each other or the family.  But there was free-thought and access to books in each of the progressively shrinking homes:  there just wasn’t much room for two drunken egos.

As the adults withdrew the kids clung to each other, and Mercy and Halie became de facto parents of the Blaise, Lily, and Grace.   As a classic first-born Mercy was a care-taker by nature and embraced this role early in her life, but her brother was mostly angry.  It wasn’t that he didn’t love his sisters, but he hated his father’s weakness and drunken bluster more.  He hatred that Mercy would cover for them, forge their signatures on school documents, tell rosy stories of family life to the younger ones.  But he couldn’t imagine a life without all of his sisters, and he relied on Mercy to tell him what to do, and to figure out his own way to become a man.  Both siblings knew they were compromising their short-term escape in order to improve the odds of the group.  Their youth gave them feelings of invincibility, strength, and hope in far larger helpings than any outside observer would grant.

Their poverty took considerable effort.  Even though Mercy and Halie had few commitments and belongings to maintain, every activity of daily living became its own full-time job. It took logistical planning to budget a bus ride to and from the grocery store when they needed to save gas for the van. Fortunately that meant not buying anything perishable (read: expensive). The cheapest food choices usually had the longest shelf-life.   Doing the laundry right before Halie needed to go to work was carefully orchestrated to get all his clothes ready for the next five-day stretch. But that meant timing the laundry run right between his shifts, and last night’s was late.  No wonder the boy was tired and cranky: he had only a few hours of sleep before he needed to start all over again.

But the early morning air felt hopeful to Mercy.  An empty laundromat could feel almost luxurious, the air not yet perfumed by wet heat and artificial freshness.   This staring woman’s  presence made her feel safe; as if she were a guardian of some sort.   She felt she could relax a little, focus on the task at hand and not have to be two steps ahead of the next crisis for a change.  Mercy could feel her shoulders roll back to neutral from the hunch of their load, her neck rising a bit at the top of her spine.  She allowed herself a little bit of anticipatory hunger.  The siblings would share a bagel and maybe some hot coffee.  If Halie fell asleep quickly she’d get to drink the lion’s share, and that would be wonderful, indeed.

Halie did as his sister instructed.  He tucked Bibbi’s five into his jean pocket and headed out the door.  He leaned forward as he walked, propelling his effort.  His perpetual hunger gave him a kinetic energy that made people nervous. It was easily misinterpreted as looking for trouble, spoiling for a fight.   Within the family confines, Mercy would try to soften him, but out in the world she preferred her brother as safety barrier.

He was both tired and hungry, if only for this shared bagel and a nap on a plastic chair.  The only meal he was able to enjoy as his own was the plate he took before his shift at the restaurant.  Fatty, filling, salted food that he wolfed down fast.  He would be sated, but he never felt full.  If asked he couldn’t even remember the last time that happened.

 

(new to the story?  catch up on the last installment here, The Laundromat: Where Life Unfolds )   

 

Short Fiction

The Laundromat: Where Life Unfolds

…… need to catch up?  Read the first installment of this story here:  Feckless Fiction, Unfinished.  

Owning a laundromat is not unlike owning a bar.  You have your regulars and you know what they like.  You have the types who don’t know when to quit and are always spoiling for a fight, and you have the lost souls looking for some sort of redemption, or maybe just a way to cleanse themselves.  People reveal the weirdest shit about themselves to strangers while washing their clothes.  Maybe it’s a sense of intimacy induced by the public exposure of one’s dirty underwear?  Maybe it’s captive waiting time as your load is tumbling dry, but it’s the cheapest form of talk therapy.  The upside is you end up with a positive result (clean clothes) and no hangover.  Like any other place where humans congregate, there is flirtation, spats, sharing, teaching, eavesdropping, boredom, inspiration, creativity, fatigue, unfairness, assistance, shame, pain and discovery.  There is also anonymity and familiarity, routine and novelty.

The Wash Whenever Laundromat opened in 1956 and had undergone one less face-lift than Joan Rivers.  Bibbi’s parents expanded from the tiny spot on Commercial Ave. to the adjacent building – a move that quadrupled their capacity.   Over the years Bibbi watched the growing customer demand for entertainment while doing laundry.  First it was just the radio, usually tuned to the news or sports.  Then the need for television which now included the need for basic cable.  Now Bibbi’s biggest headache was customer demand for WiFi.    Rich or poor, everybody had a smart phone or device that needed as much or more attention than their own kids.

Bibbi was practically born in the Wash Whenever.  Her mother, Apollonia, huge and pregnant, worked alongside her husband Angelo with equal parts strength and savvy.  Truth be told, it was Apollonia who was the brains of the operation.  Angelo may have been the muscle, but he was the softy of the pair.  Apollonia was suspicious by nature and trusted her husband inasmuch as she could keep an eye on him.  On that warm fall day when Bibbi was born her mother wouldn’t leave to go to the hospital until she finished mopping and closing up the place.  She took about a week off to recover from the birth, and then brought her baby into the laundromat in a souped up laundry basket.  In a small concession to postpartum recovery, she hired a local lady to do the mopping and lifting, but Apollonia stood and folded for most of the day.  She was an iron horse when it came to folding.

For a time the couple took in shirt laundry, and entertained the idea of adding dry cleaning to the menu, but the reality was they didn’t really like humankind enough to attract and cultivate customers.  Their customer service was a bit, shall we say, raw.  Just keeping all the machines working and the place clean was customer service enough.

Little Bibi learned all she could about human nature from the rising vantage points of her parents’ knees, hips and finally, shoulders.  Along the way she learned the alternating techniques of when to be hard or soft, to be kind to elderly and tough on the young, and when to confront an issue head-on or to look the other way.

She learned basic wiring from Angelo when he eventually realized there were no sons coming.  From Apollonia she learned to cultivate a steely resolve and enough street smarts to recognize the opportunity that Vic presented when he strolled though her sophomore chemistry class.  He had the thickest, bushiest black eyebrows she had ever seen.  But they were over the softest, shyest brown eyes.  He must have noticed her as well, because four years later he passed by the Wash Whenever’s big window and timidly waved to her.   Vic was very shy.  He would later tell people they first met in school, but for a woman like that he had to work up his courage.  Army basic training was the kick in the pants he needed to realize that if you didn’t volunteer for the assignment you wanted, you’d get stuck with the one nobody wanted.  And there was no doubt hard-working, independent Bibbi was the assignment he wanted.

Bibbi also took over the bookkeeping from her mother, who was pretty meticulous for a woman with a sixth grade education.  Bibbi was an autodidact herself, and for a woman over the age of fifty she was remarkably adaptable to technology.  She was hoping to convert the Wash Whenever to a card swipe system and get rid of the change machine, but a lot of the clientele still felt more comfortable with a roll of quarters slung in a sock than using a card.   In this neighborhood that hefty sock doubled as an extra measure of personal security.  And Bibbi, who kept a baseball bat at hand next to her desk for those late bookkeeping hours, couldn’t argue with that.