This One Time, 101

This one time I was walking along a small town’s downtown streets looking for an all-night laundromat or, I dunno, someplace else that I could beg or steal some clothes. I had no idea what time it was, but that was just one thing in a long line of things I had no idea of. A lengthy personal inventory included a cheap bathrobe, a pair of slippers, some bandages on my fingers, a fresh-ish burn on the palm of one of my hands, and a butter knife. And chest hair that was starting to turn gray.

The burn on the palm of my hand matched the handle of the knife. The business end — if a piece of cheap stamped sheet metal tableware has a business end — certainly looked like it had been re-tempered with a blowtorch. Maybe it had been heating in a fire when I picked it up. Or maybe I’d used it to stab some fiery demon thing. Either one sounds like something I might do, so who knows?

I found the laundromat I was looking for. It had three dryers running and a woman who was looking a little rough around the edges sitting in one of the plastic chairs. I came in and took a seat and began the lengthy process of warming up. The woman was staring at me, which I’m pretty sure was justified.

“If you don’t mind, ma’am, I’m just gonna get up and root through some of the machines to see if I can find a shirt and maybe a pair of sweatpants. If you point out to me which ones are yours, I’ll skip those.”

She wrinkled up her forehead. Then she got up and went to one of the dryers and, with some rummaging, pulled out a warm but still somewhat clammy pair of gray sweatpants that she tossed my way. “What’s your story?” she asked. Her voice was steady. A little rough, like anyone’s voice is when they first wake up and haven’t used it yet.

“It’s a pretty short one,” I answered. I sounded rough too, but that was mostly because I was thirsty. “I’m fairly certain I’m an escaped mental patient. You haven’t heard anything about one being missing, have you?”

“Not yet,” she answered. “Do you want me to call the police?”

I grimaced. “Only if you feel you gotta. In my experience, it takes them a while to get to the point. They kinda have different priorities.” I turned away from her to open the robe and pull on the sweats, but that basically meant I was facing the big glass window facing the street. There was nobody out there I could see, though I was working against the glare of the interior light that turned the window into a giant mirror. After I tied the drawstring around my waist, I realized that she would have been able to see my reflection in the glass just about as well as if I had just been facing her. Oh, well. It’s the thought that counts.

“Don’t remember much at all?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t say that. I remember lots of stuff. Maybe enough stuff for any ten people. Just most of it’s impossible. And none of it gives me a name I can be sure is mine.”

“I hear you,” she said. “About fifteen years ago I was on a road trip from Mobile to Biloxi to go pick up a friend who was in trouble, and somewhere along the way I lost two weeks and found myself in Aspen. When I finally got my shit together, my friend had found another way to make bail, not that she would speak to me to tell me as much. I’d wrecked my semester, couldn’t prove anything medically to try to fix things at school, so I just dropped out and got on with things. Never did figure out what had happened.”

I just nodded. “So, umm, where …?” I waved my arms around, generally including everywhere I could see.

“You been to Vermont before?” she asked.

I shrugged. “No?” I mean, how could I be sure?

“Welcome to Vermont,” she said. “Have some sweat pants. State motto: ‘It’s closer to Canada than Oregon.’ “

“Thanks,” I replied.

“What else you need?” she asked.

“A notebook and a pen. And a sandwich,” I added.

“And a sofa to crash on?”

I nodded. I winced a little. I’m sure it was visible on my face. “I think I’ve been in jail,” I said.

She put on a wry face and said, “Haven’t we all?”


April 11, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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