by Sharon Boyle
I opened the laundrette to the sound of a body getting a hurl in the drying drum. I called the police, sat outside, lit a fag and sucked hard before getting on with the day.
‘This is the fifth time,’ I said when Bernadette sauntered in for the afternoon shift. ‘Of all the laundrettes in all the towns, in all the world, he has to use ours to kill his victims.’ I switched on the kettle. ‘Who is he, anyway? My bets are on the Oddity.’
‘Just ‘cos he stares at you,’ said Bernadette, ‘doesn’t mean he’s a killer.’
‘Call me sexist, Bernadette, but it’s not any of the female customers.’
Bernadette raised a brow. ‘Yes, Carol, I will call you sexist.’
I figured as I was old enough to have missed out on the baggy morals of modern women and the evolution of housework-happy husbands, I was allowed a bit of prejudice.
‘Normally chatty folks, Bernadette, become sewn-up mouthed miseries in a launderette, but I can see through them like an x-ray. None of our women patrons are murderers.’
I took pride in having a PhD in People Watching—decoding quirks and deciphering the fabric of a person. That’s why I was shocked when Bernadette stood in the doorway a few days later and declared, ‘I’ve found it.’
(That’s not why I was shocked).
I squinted at her over the ironing. Only the week before she’d pressed her palms to St Valentine, saying, ‘Men shag, shit, shower then vanish. Please don’t let love evade me.’
And here she was, grinning and telling me, ‘I prayed to Saints Sergius and Bacchus. And it worked.’
‘Never heard of them.’
I winced, realising I’d set myself up for a session of saint training. Bernadette liked to recount the saints and test me on them, and being religious she was a fierce critic. All I could ever remember was St Jude gloating over lost causes and that the poor are rich when it comes to saints—they’ve got four looking out for them, including one called Bernadette, whom Launderette Bernadette is named after.
‘The saints led me to love, Carol. She’s gorgeous.’
She? That was the shocker—the breath mugger.I slapped down the iron. ‘I need a coffee. Strong.’
Bernadette switched on the kettle. ‘I’ve wasted time on inconsiderate men. Men who talk to my tits and frown at foreplay. I was destined to work in this crapola launderette for a reason. The saints sent me here to find Caitlin.’
Apparently Caitlin had come in to gripe about a lost sock and left with smeared lipstick and an undone bra.
‘You’re mind, Bernadette, is a bric-a-brac of saints and sex.’
She waved away my words and pointed. ‘Carol, take a look.’
A man in a suit was sitting in a chair studying one of the machines, the length of his legs stretched out in front of him.
‘My God, he’s drenched in criminality,’ I whispered.
‘Is he?’ Bernadette asked. ‘I was just thinking it’s iffy he’s here without any washing.’
‘He’s the killer, end of.’
‘Or a ghoul.’ Bernadette faux-shivered.
Every time the newspapers featured a murder there was a spike in customers. The thought of having clothes tumbled in a machine of death excited some folk. I considered it distasteful, although the extra money I received from Mr Delaware, the owner, to make me stay and not gossip was appreciated.
‘Folks should be more decent.’ Bernadette poured boiling water into two mugs. ‘If they prayed to the saints this world would be a better place. If you prayed to the saints, Carol, you might meet a new love and forget that your man ran off with a torpedo-tittied tart.’
I blinked. The only praying I would attempt was to the Saint of Peace and Quiet—not only did I have to endure Bernadette’s blethering, I also had to suffer customers who ranged from the drug-drenched to the merely quirky, like the long-legged chap who strode to the dryer, touched its window and caressed the tubes behind. Bernadette and I shared a wide-eyed look.
‘It is him. He must have someone lined up,’ I said once he left.
Bernadette stared after the man for a long while before shaking herself free of whatever thoughts were patrolling her mind
, asking, ‘Carol, do you mind swapping shifts for a wee bit? It would help with Caitlin. She’s a nurse and works odd hours.’
I pursed my lips. I did the morning shift, Bernadette did the afternoon, our schedules crossed for three hours a day. That’s the way I liked it.
‘Come on, Carol, this is love.’
I took a slurp of coffee. ‘All right,’ I muttered. ‘I’m not religious like you, so I admit it’s grudged.’
I resented every day of the shift swap and so, after two months, decided to tell Bernadette that, love or not, I wanted my mornings back.
‘But Carol,’ she said, fussing over a small wicker basket on the counter, ‘you’re not having to see any more of those bodies getting a wee whirl in the drying drum. It’ll be me that’s subjected to them.’
‘There haven’t bloody been any more bodies, Bernadette.’
We argued up and down the place, her going full pelt that just because my love life was as cold and hard as a boulder, I was determined to ruin hers. Apparently I should stop being so blind to the possibilities around me. I countered that I wasn’t blind but I most certainly wished I was deaf so I wouldn’t have to listen to her nonsense.
‘That does it,’ Bernadette huffed. ‘I’m away to be with Caitlin.’
After she left I lifted the phone to inform Mr Delaware he’d have to hire someone pronto; someone sent by the agency and not the saints this time.
I replaced the receiver and noticed that Bernadette’s wicker basket contained a pile of single socks. Next to it was a card, the neat printing inviting customers to seek their partners. I was still staring at the basket when the long-legged man stepped through the door, with, ‘I’m looking for Bernadette James.’
‘You’ve missed her,’ I said, explaining that Bernadette was off to be with her true love and that if she thought she was getting her wages to the end of the month she had another thing coming and no, I would not give him her address or phone number—if he wanted that information he’d have to call Mr Delaware, and what was all this to him anyway?
The man stared at the drying drum and then back to me. ‘If you want that information you’ll have to read the newspapers.’ He stepped outside and lit a cigarette, blowing a sinful set of halos into the air.
For one second I thought he must be one of Bernadette’s saints, come to warn her against pursuing a life of debauchery until I saw him get into a waiting police car and signal for the driver to move on.
I lifted the phone again, and, like a regular St Jude
, told Bernadette to leave town double quick and what the hell was she thinking of roasting dead men in the drying drum, because it was her all right, oh yes, it all made sense now. Slaying men for the sin of being inconsiderate? It wasn’t on.
Her apologies didn’t cut it—it was me who had had the spectacle of a jangly-boned corpse to deal with. She agreed she’d acted appallingly, thanked me for the warning, said God would forgive her even though the police wouldn’t, and that she sincerely knew one day I would find love.
It was all I could do not to slam down the phone.
A while after, I’d calmed enough to grudgingly hope that all four lost-cause saints would rally round Bernadette. I even nodded to the Oddity, who was holding up a sock from the wicker basket and pairing it with another and smiling, for some reason, in my direction.
I responded with a short-shrift smile and got on with the day.
Sharon Boyle sits at a messy dining table writing short stories and flash. Some have been published on-line and in magazines, including Writers’ Forum, Reflex Fiction and the Brighton Prize anthology. She tweets as @SharonBoyle50