Featured Fiction Writer: September 2011 Vol. 3 # 5

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Teague von Bohlen


Teague von Bohlen is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Colorado, Denver, where he also serves as Faculty Advisor for the student newspaper The Advocate. His writing has been seen nationally in Village Voice Media outlets, including the Denver alternative weekly Westword, and his first novel "The Pull of the Earth" won the Colorado Book Award for Fiction in 2006. He's currently finishing a collection of flash fiction/photography called Flatland, including the two pieces featured here.





Someone’s washed out their tie-dye in the sink again, leaving me a pink ring to clean up. This is my job, scrubbing out someone’s mess on a Saturday night, making change for the washers and dryers, ensuring that some frat boys don’t stuff one of their plebes into a machine and hit “spin.” Working at an all-night Laundromat near campus isn’t a great gig, but I’ve been here for almost two years now, so it must be good enough. Nu-Life Cleaners. Or, as Christie likes to call it, No-Life.

            Christie is the girl I want to be. I don’t say that out loud. If she wasn’t my best friend, I’d hate her, with her shampoo-commercial hair and her cleavage, especially in that red dress she wears when we go out. My ex-boyfriend, the one I finally had the guts to dump a few weeks ago, once bragged about a dream he’d had about Christie coming on to him, said that he’d turned her away. He told me this like it was something I’d be happy about. He was a guitar player, and that’s all he ever was. He strummed, skipped classes, and slept with me because I let him, because I said yes. But he really wanted Christie. I know that he did. And now he’s gone, moved to Arizona or somewhere ridiculous like that, so good riddance to him, I guess. I was the one that told him to go.

            I decide to scrub the sink later. I grab the box full of little detergents that I was refilling the coin-op with, and sit down on the end chair in the row, lay the box next to me. The TV mounted in the corner is showing an infomercial for stain-remover.

            It’s not like I’m not pretty. Guys hit on me. Just happened last week, when Christie was sitting here at the counter trying to make me feel better, telling me that this bass player she knows thought I was cute. I told her that there was no way I was going out with another guitar player, and she told me to stop being a Dorothy, like from the Wizard of Oz, all wide-eyed innocence. So this guy comes over, just to have something to do during his rinse cycle, and says, “Man, I always wanted to bang Dorothy.”  Christie breaks him down with a look hotter than the speed dryers and says, “Jesus, was that line supposed to work?” I didn’t want to tell Christie that it might have. He had good hair.

            I don’t know what I’m going to do about school. I wish I had a plan. Christie’s always got one. She’s a Poly Sci major, says that nothing’s going to get in her way. She’s going to go to law school, maybe go into politics. I can see her doing that, too. I hope she does.  Would be cool to have a friend of yours be a Congresswoman or whatever, with all that power. Me, I’m an art history major. Once I get my degree, it will qualify me to work right here at Nu-Life Cleaners. I usually say that like its funny, but it’s really not.

            I should do something. Do anything. Go someplace. Find someone. Ask them what I can do, what they would do, why there aren’t more options than yes or no. But I’m alone at Nu-Life Cleaners, and the irony of that name is not lost on me, sitting in a row of hard plastic chairs, each connected to the other with a steel bar umbilicus. I’m watching someone else’s delicates spin around in the front loader before me. People do this, throw their stuff in and leave to get a beer. There’s too much detergent, despite the signs everywhere that explain that front-loaders only need a third of what you’d put in a top-loader, but people don’t care. And they don’t listen. They just think about themselves, and what their next move is. And they leave, they all leave, and even if you told them to leave, it still sucks.

            I watch the suds escape from the front-loader. I’m going to have to clean this up, too. I can feel the suds tickling my toes, and I wonder how much will emerge, how much it could cover me. It hits the rinse cycle, and starts to drain. It’s suddenly important to me that the bubbles don’t stop, so I grab a stack of tiny boxes of soap, dump them into the three front-loaders in front of me, and start them up. Washers hum this rhythm that’s almost like sex. Christie said this once, and now it’s all I can think about when I hear them running, which of course is most of the time. Okay, so it’s not all I can think about. I also think about what the world will look like in a hundred tomorrows, my ex, my Mother, the fact that I know that I’ve heard you can have a false positive, that I’m glad for having to work tonight so I don’t have to make up an excuse not to go out drinking with Christie and her red dress.

            It’s growing now, this bright cloud of foam, climbing me. It feels good, like a bath of small kisses. It’s clean, I know that, because I did this, I did this and no one else. I want it to take me now, to envelop me in this white brilliance that sparkles like the fairies that I believed in when I was a kid, when I really was a Dorothy, before I’d ever heard of Nu-Life Cleaners, or art history, or sex, or Christie, or this new world coming that I don’t know.  I can feel my skin relax into it, dropping into the rhythm of the wash cycles.

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.







In the Cut Grass

Originally appeared in Six Sentences


This will be the last time I’ll mow this lawn.  New owners take possession on the first, and even though my friends say I owe them nothing, that I shouldn’t even still be here, I can’t stand to leave the grass uncut.  My wife wouldn’t have wanted it that way, wouldn’t let me leave it ragged and uneven—she liked the grass best when it was freshly mowed, and so I cut it for her often, though it’s now clear that it wasn’t often enough.  Our eighteen-month-old daughter is crying inside, I can hear her in her bedroom—she cries a lot, doesn’t understand where her mother is, and what’s worse is the fact that I can’t tell her anything, can’t even cry anymore, can’t even show her that she’s not crazy for missing her mother, that she’s right in feeling lost and alone since the car accident that blasted our golden lab right out of the way-back part of the hatchback and into the back of my wife’s head. They found the dog lying on my wife’s lap, his tongue out, her head bowed unnaturally over his, my daughter crying like she was a newborn all over again.  I sold the house because my wife is everywhere here—I smell her in the cut grass, and in the gardens too, amongst the flowers whose names I don’t know, and she’s in my daughter, who’s all I have and all I’ve lost, and I keep thinking that I have to get away, get away and start again, but I’m afraid that I can’t, because there’s grass everywhere, and besides, no matter where I go, no matter how I begin again, I know that she’s the place I’ll start.



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