Wash & Burn


My girl and I’d meet Jack when we needed to exchange our crotch-scented towels for fresh ones. We wouldn’t exchange them. We’d only clean them up like normal people do. He warned us that our phones might get stolen only because we are white. As precaution he advised against texting while walking. I kind of wanted my phone to get looted only because I’m white, but I’d want to know that was the reason. It wouldn’t only happen because I’m white though. I do have a bangin’ phone. I try to leave it visible. So far Jack hasn’t been right. In fact, he’s been very wrong. Two months into our regular visits and he started going amiss. Jack has gone dreadfully wrong.

Just like that, one day he was in heated debate with a corncob. He’d just finished eating and was thrusting it around, bantering to it, to whomever was passing, in a flurry of kernels and onlookers’ bewilderment. He came from other planets, he said and he slurped rainwater vigorously, audibly, passionately. Jack’s home was directly above the laundromat, convenient for an attendant, and he often broadcasted music to the neighborhood with a boom box parked in his open window. That day’s selection was especially raucous. Even though he didn’t, he knew what he was doing. Jack was losing his fucking mind.

I will say that it wasn’t his antics that drove us to try the laundromat at the other end of the block, but you might not believe it. He wasn’t threatening. That sort of general aimless madness tends to attract me. Whim carried us farther down the road as we passed on Jack’s. The cleansing process began, and shortly we walked out in the middle of a cycle, nosy about some commotion on the street. Sirens and crowds were forming. Jack had just burned up his apartment. Still a spot ablaze, the windows were billowing smoke and the laundromat-goers forced to leave their belongings behind at the risk of the fiery hazard. For a moment I was glad my clothes wouldn’t be sitting wet in those washers. I quickly regretted thinking so, sad that it was official. Jack had lost his fucking mind.

It was a couple of months before we saw him again. He was buying lottery tickets in a deli next to his spot and I noticed he had scruffed out a beard, mighty healthily. It first made me think that he’d been kept away somewhere after his incident, a good distance from razors. I avoided doing anything that might let him notice me. I waited, I ducked, and I tried to turn invisible. I don’t know that he saw me or would have even recalled me. I’m a titanic coward judged against Jack.