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Somebody

Published by Liars' League MIX AND MATCH (February 2024) 

Read by Lucy Mabbitt 

I worked at The Lost Sock for six months before I started stealing from the lost and found. 

 

It was a pragmatic decision. I had no more space in the box and there was a new pleather vest to add to the pile. I could have gotten a second box, or a bigger box, but that just would have delayed the inevitable. No one came back to collect anything. Ever. Maybe leaving something at a laundromat was another way of throwing it out, like sneaking it in someone else's garbage can because yours was full. 

 

But the stuff wasn't garbage. There was a flip phone, a cashmere sweater, sequenced leggings, a gold wedding ring, a camouflage fanny pack, a magic 8 ball, a smorgasbord of foreign coins that were almost the same size as quarters but were not actually quarters, a pink vibrator, flannel pajamas, a peace sign crop top, a sari wrap, a Snuggie. 

I didn't bother keeping the socks I found. Those went into the trash. The customer knew what kind of laundromat they were walking into. 

I knew at the time that helping myself to the lost and found was wrong, but it felt like the lowest level of stealing, right up there with taking a cookie before it had completely cooled. 

Besides whoever left it obviously didn't need it. They were getting by doing their laundry once, sometimes twice a week, oblivious of its absence while it sat here collecting dust. And I needed it. All of it. 

I was in a bad place. No one wants to be working at a laundromat. It just happens. Like a sneeze. 

I graduated over a year ago with a bachelor’s degree in English literature from NYU. I was ready to be the next great American novelist. 

The problem was that I had nothing to say and no way to pay rent. I spent days in my apartment staring at a blank piece of paper waiting for my big ah-ha moment. I could be patient, I could wait. But when I started waiting around for the donut shop down the street to close just to collect the trash bag full of day-old donuts from the dumpster, I realized I needed a job. 

I saw the want ad for the night shift at the laundromat hanging in the window while I was walking home from dumpster diving and decided that I couldn't become a famous writer without food or shelter. Achoo. 

 

The way I saw it, it would be easy money. I just needed to be physically present for the job, but I could use all the time in between vacuuming out the lint traps and refilling the detergent dispensers on my writing. Lots of great writers had terrible jobs. Stephen King was a high school janitor. Douglas Adams was a Bodyguard for a Qatari oil tycoon family. I could work at a laundromat. 

I could see it clearly. I would be interviewed on The Late Show. How did you come up with your story? I've never read anything like it. I would smile meekly (because no one likes a gloater) and tell everyone that I wrote it in the middle of the night at the laundromat. The audience would clap, amazed at my humble beginning. Sometimes I would sleep in the employee bathroom with my paper and pencil stuck to my face. Thunderous applause. 

I knew exactly what I would do when I was famous too. I'd pay off my student loans in cash. I would host charity events with B-list celebrities. I'd post my opinions on topics I knew nothing about on social media and total strangers would take my advice. 

And in my penthouse overlooking the city, I'd have a quiet writing nook where I could pause and think fondly back on the simple times when all I needed to be happy was a notepad, a pencil, and the rhythmic sound of plastic buttons slamming against the dryer door.

I just needed one big idea. 

But it turns out that using a coat hanger to scrape gum off the floor didn't inspire anything in me. Most days I couldn't bring myself to read. Every printed word inspired jealousy. I just stared out the window into the night until someone told me they couldn't get their clothes because the door was jammed. If I was feeling ambitious, I would check the manual to see what was wrong. Once I even tried to jiggle a machine. But usually, I just gave them a complaint form to fill out and let them leave it on my desk so the day shift person could deal with it. 

Not writing anything for weeks on end was very tiring. My parents kept calling and asking me how my novel was going. They wanted to be supportive, engaged. I said just enough to stall the conversation indefinitely. It's a creative process. I'm editing. I've made connections. What's the story about? I won't bore you with the details, but it's really different. 

The less I said and the less frequently I said it, the better. I was a terrible liar, and I was always a sentence away from breaking down. 

I'll get back to you. Don't worry. No, I don't need anything. I'm fine, I'm just busy. 

One night during my shift I reached down for the magic 8 ball and shook it hard. Am I going to be stuck here forever? 

My sources say no bubbled up through the blue goo. 

 

And that is when I met my husband, Alex. 

I fished out the gold wedding ring from the box. Alex was engraved on the inside of the band and a date, October 14, 1988. Our wedding anniversary date? No, that would make him too old for me. His birthday. My husband Alex's birthday. 

I tried it on. The ring was loose, so I wore it on my index finger. I looked at it like it was someone else's hand. It felt heavier. My whole attention was focused on the ring. I spent the early morning watching the sun hit the band just so I could watch it glisten. 

I didn't go home to sleep on my couch while watching reruns of Judge Judy like I normally did. For the first time in months, I felt the urge to explore and took a walk. 

I moved through town, hands forward. Strangers suddenly smiled at me, as if the ring vouched in some way for my sanity. Alex gave me credibility, a sense of belonging. 

I wanted to be a part of the action, however small. I helped tourists find their way to the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. I dragged my ringed finger methodically across their maps as if I was reading to a child who was seeing the words for the first time. Go here, turn left. Have fun, this is an amazing town! 

I walked to a new pop-up coffee shop and wrapped my fingers around the white ceramic mug, letting the cup support my hands increased weight. I made eye contact with every man in the shop just long enough for them to feel noticed. I pretended that I recognized them from somewhere. Once I had their attention, I lifted my coffee, delicately taking a sip and flashing the wedding band at eye level, waiting for them to see that I was the one that got away. One man looked flattered, the other confused, one had a flash of disappointment, but they all looked. 

I came home drunk on love and slept in my bed for the first time in months. 

The next day after my shift I found an empty baby carriage on the street. It was a toddler's stroller. The seat was covered in a fine layer of cookie crumbs and spit stains. There was a chewable version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar attached to the arm rest. 

I took a deep breath. It was time to take my relationship with Alex to the next level. 

I unlocked the stroller break and walked quickly away from the laundromat towards the park. I felt the primal urge to rush. Mothers with strollers were always in a hurry. I needed to keep up appearances if I didn't want to attract attention. This time when tourists asked me for help, I looked at them apologetically. I'm sorry I'm on my way to pick up my kid from kindergarten, or day care, or the grandparents’ house, or from a play date where they were dressed up as dinosaur pirates because they could decide which one was cooler. 

There was a child somewhere waiting for me, who needed me to pour milk in their cereal and tell them stories. I felt extremely important. 

 

When I arrived, I looked around at the park with the eyes of a parent. I saw the easily swallowable stones, looked for the closest public restroom just in case, checked my pockets for snacks and hand sanitizer. I saw my child's stuff everywhere. A discarded pacifier, a baby bottle, a doll missing an arm. I put everything in the shopping basket below the stroller seat. 

A woman came up to me and asked if I had dropped a teething ring. I was embarrassed. Yes, sorry, it is all just, everywhere. 

 

My daughter is the same way, don't worry. It gets easier. 

I thanked her and put it in the stroller basket and moved quickly to the other side of the park. I wanted to be alone, take in the stillness of the decorative reflecting pool. Looking in the water I thought only cosmic thoughts. Life had changed so much since I had met Alex. 

I walked home, did some pelvic training exercises on a yoga mat, and fell asleep on the floor wrapped in a Snuggie. 

The next day I needed to break free of the emotional weight of my suburban life. After work, I took the peace sign crop top and a handful of euros and went towards Midtown. As I walked, I stopped to take off the shackles of oppression. I left my shoes and socks by the side of the road. I gave my jean jacket to a homeless woman. I walked by a flower shop, grabbed a daisy, and ate it. I was Mother Earth. 

I went to a bodega and tried to buy an organic hummus wrap with the euros. The man laughed and said these won't work here. Do you have any American money? I shook my head. The man was bemused. I'm traveling to Greece soon. I'll take this as an exception, ok? Where are you from? 

I just smiled and waved as I walked away, taking a big bite of hummus. 

 

I saw a poodle waiting outside the shop with its leash wrapped around bicycle rack. I unclipped the dog from its collar. Break your chains little one, be free! The dog scurried away. There was yelling from inside the bodega, but I didn't stick around long enough to find out what all the commotion was about. 

I laid down on the grass, soaking in the sun. This was the point of everything. I no longer felt lost. Now every day I am somebody, just not who I expected to be. 

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