The day of the Breakneck Lake fire I was in the middle of doing my laundry. Jeff had left the night before, and all week I’d saved up my dirty clothes, knowing I’d need something to keep me busy, keep my hands from hanging limply at my side while my thoughts followed him across the country. He was headed west, and I stood at a change machine jamming dollar bills into the slit before the green light was completely illuminated.
“Goddammit,” I said. The woman next to me had a kid with her and shot me a glance to communicate her anger at my use of such language. “Fucking machine,” I said.
I returned the woman’s stare then, hoping for a confrontation, a light for my fuse. My cork had slowly been wriggling out of place in the months since Jeff announced he was leaving.
“I gotta finish school,” he’d said. His lips were greasy from lo mein leftovers, and I had handed him a napkin, waiting for an invitation to join him in San Fransisco. Even after he’d finished eating the rest of the Chinese food, my appetite having suddenly waned, after the little paper boxes had been stuffed into the overflowing trash can and he’d finished the peanut m&ms in the glass bowl I kept on the coffee table for a quick breakfast on the way out the door, the invitation did not come. It was then, in the Laundromatic several blocks from our apartment, that I knew it would never come. I was not asked to join, nor would I be asked to follow.
The woman retreated to the other corner of the laundromat while her daughter checked all of the coin machines for orphaned quarters.