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THE MiSERY OF AGE

©  WRiTER oN THe MoON

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3

Mr. Harris' Coat

 The wind drove the rain against the windows pushing the rivulets sideways across the panes. The neighbors chickens clucked, indifferent to the storm and Alan's parents were devastated.

 "So. That's' life," said Sara to Jack, in a tone almost unperceivable from the hiding place where Javier and Alan sat hunched together, waiting to see if they had to run for their lives. 

 "Well this is a bunch of shit, shiiiit. I just hung out the temporarily closed sign on the laundry mat door. Do you believe this Jack? Because I can't get it through my head!"

 She exhaled and took a sip of coffee.

She stood looking outside, leaning against the window. Her warm breath making the glass fog up and the cold from outside erased it.

"Didn't they close a laundry in Amsterdam?"

"Yes. It belonged to my friend Harold. It has gone underground." Jack explained to her, referring to Harold Klijnsmas' laundromat on Keizersgracht Street.

"Those bastards."

Javier was impressed by the language Alan's parents were using. It was as though they had double personalities: one polite and cheery that they used in front of others and one that was foul and dirty when no one was present.

"My mom and her boyfriend do the same thing." he whispered, thinking out loud, reaching a conclusion at his own reasoning. "It must be a normal thing when you're a grown up."

"What?"

"Saying swear words. My mom and her boyfriend say a lot more than your parents do but they tell me never to use them."

"Well, what a surprise dude. And what do you expect? Sometime I don't get you and all the weird things you say."

"What a bunch of hypocrotes" he commented, meaning to say hypocrites. Never say swear words, if you do your tongue will rot in your mouth. They are so dumb. Do they realize they are a bunch of idiots? A little bit of honesty for heaven's' sake!"

"Would you shut up please, Javi? I can't catch a word if you're talking the whole time. Shhhh! Damn!" Alan said, wanting to tune back into the conversation his parents were having in the kitchen.

"Take it easy Sara..." Jack was saying, "Our trade must exist, or at least that's the way I see things. Without it the whole society would crumble. A massive collapse. Just like inJenga. After all, we live in a very fragile universe made of paper mache."

Javier was to spend the whole summer, or at least until the fifteenth of August, at Alan's house. But tonight, after finding out his life was in danger, he wasn't so sure he wanted to stay a lot longer and hence he told Alan immediately.

"Hey, listen. I might sleep at my house tomorrow. I think I'm on the way here. Sometimes I can be such a bother" he said, his imagination running away with his thoughts.

"What's wrong with you is that you're a chicken, no balls. Besides, your mom and her boyfriend are in Germany. So where do you think you're going, all alone? You have to stay here with me, Man," Alan begged without letting it show too much that there was a remote possibility that Javier might get really paranoid and take off for Osnabruck, "we have a lot of investigating to do. You're not bailing out already so soon, are you? We've been in worse situations! And, if it helps any, I promise my parents aren't going to kill me."

"They're not going to kill you?"

"Sorry. I meant they're not going to kill us."

Fortunately for Alan, Javier was easy to convince and believed almost anything he told him. The two of them, hidden behind the staircase banister, began to eavesdrop again. Alan gave a slight nudge and growled between his teeth when he heard a comment about a cadaver in the basement and how it should be washed. "See? See how there are dead people?"

Javier felt a shiver run up his spine as he pictured the basement of Park Street Launderette stacked up with cadavers.

"I didn't hear anybody say that." He tried to erase the image from his mind and focused on the real problem: A historical laundromat, belonging to Alan's father's side of the family, The Lambs, was going to go down the drain.

"Alan was looking at me in a way he'd never done before." expressed Sara. "Never. I swear, life is getting to him and starting to make him dirty just like everyone else. I can see it but I can't do anything about it."

"It's inevitable Sara. We all end up becoming filthy rags. You know that. That's just the way it is my dear."

Sara started to cry.

Javier looked at Alan. It was obvious that Alan was confused, still. He decided right then and there that he would help his friend even if it meant his death. As Sara weeped, Alan's cheeks became wet with his own tears.

Park Street Launderette.

Closed temporarily.

Pardon the inconveniences.

Sara looked at the sign sobbing. "I must look like an absolute idiot. I can't believe this. The kids asked right after lunch "Why do we have to close?" You know what I told them? Nothing. I just shrugged my shoulders like a fool. I don't know if I have been a good mother or not Jack, but believe me, I am getting pretty good at shrugging my shoulders lately. Fucking good."

Jack's heart broke when he heard her say this, standing in the kitchen. What a terrible sound a heart makes as it breaks! Alan's mother was such a sweet and happy person. You could almost say she lived in a permanent state of bliss. Hearing her run on like this, in some way made her look ugly. Suddenly she stopped and Javier thought, "and what if they really do close the laundry, what will happen tomorrow? and worst of all what will happen to their family? will they have to return to Spain and abandon me here with my mom and her idiot boyfriend? I don't want to be selfish but what am I going to do without my super best friend?"

That unusually sunny morning, at exactly 10:33, Mr. Harris died, at the age of ninety nine. He was the old director of a branch bank and had ties with the town hall. He also held the title of viscount or something similar that, for some reason or another, along with the Bristol City Council, was the reason for ceasing Alan's family's normal hidden activities.

"His body is down in the basement." Sara said unhappily.

"Who, Mr. Harris? He hasn't been unravelled yet?" asked Jack.

"No. I didn't find it that strange, especially after you told me it would take hours of washing to get him clean. I am ready but, do you want me to be honest about it?"

"Shoot" replied Jack.

"He is the one responsible for giving the order to shut down the laundry. So...great...I think he should just rot in his grave like so many others do." Sara said.

"Oh come on, don't say that."

"Jack! My head is going to burst! Enough! This is just too much for me!"

Jack and Sara embraced, standing there in the kitchen. Javier had the urge to give Alan a hug but being where they were, both hidden in the stairwell, and despite the intense vibration of the molecules of friendship, the best he could do was put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Hey man, you were right. They're talking about weaving and washing the dead....I think that manual you found was true. Which leads me to something else. Death. They are going to kill us."

"Oh come on! Nobody's going to kill us."

"Yeah, sure."

"Shhhh!"

Sara raised her voice. "I'll tell you one thing. That sign on the door fills me with a feeling of absolute failure and loss."

Jack answered, "Failure never. It isn't our fault! As a matter of fact, it's not the first time that Park Street has been forced to close for dark reasons."

"No?"

"Not at all. It happens quite often. Just like everything else. Just watch, in two days we will reopen and everything will be back to normal."

"And when has this happened in the past?" asked Sara. "You never said anything about it before."

"You and I were living in Chinchón at the time when my parents were still running this place. A surprise "inspection," (he put up two fingers on each hand sketching quotation marks in the air) from the health department qualified the activity as "not meeting health standards" or something like that."

"So what happened then? How did they manage to open again?"

"I have no idea" answered Jack, "but here we are, right?"

They both sat there with a defeated look on their faces.

"What's the difference Jack? I'm beginning to hate all of those who rule our world. They have dirty souls, filthy souls, absolutely filthy. After all the mess they have made they just keep on going and going. Know what Jack? I feel like hollering and yes. I am going to!"

"Sara, the children...."

"Hey Mr. Harris!" she shouted toward the door that led to the basement, "I've spent years washing people just like you. In Chinchón and here in Bristol, and all you can say is That's fucking life, right?"

Despite Jack's efforts to sooth her she began to scream in such a high pitch that the sound shattered the picture of a mother doing the wash among the lavender hydrangeas.

"Well NO my friend NO! Now let's see who the hell is going to clean you, you son of a bitch!"