I sat on the curb of the laundromat, squishing ants between my fingers, checking my phone every few minutes. Heat simmered in the asphalt parking lot, tangible and sticky, rose through the curb and my cut-offs, and the still air gave no relief – but at least the air and sky made me imagine I could be free, instead of sticking to the plastic chairs inside the laundromat, the heavy air perfumed with detergent, weighing me down like Dorothy in the field just outside of the Emerald City, bewitched. The trail of ants, immune like most non-humans to human tribulations, continued to wind through the grubby building, little specks of black on the gritty tile, occasionally detoured by a hairband gathering dust, by a crumb of detergent.
Before I moved to this neighborhood, to West Campus, I had a washer and dryer in my house, on the second floor. A shelf for the detergent. White bottles of bleach and periwinkle bottles of fabric softener. I would fold my boyfriend’s underwear neatly, into a Kon-Mari square, then crinkle it into a ball and shove it into his underwear drawer. I wasted a lot of time that way.
People began to leave the church across San Gabriel, tossing themselves through the thin wooden doors. It wasn’t a real church; it wasn’t a building that was built to be a church. Groups rented it out for swing-dancing or student group meetings or birthday parties. A mom and dad holding a baby in a mauve outfit and an older couple, white-haired, holding onto each other, picked across the uneven sidewalk to wait at the crosswalk.
In the other direction, crossing 24th, just one block away from Lamar, from the hill that rolls down to kiss it on both sides, from the no-left-turn sign ignored by students and state workers and bikers in their tight rubber uniforms, in this direction was a corner store. It had tried to fashion itself after the corner taquerias you could find off of Rundberg or North Lamar or Stassney, but this particular iteration felt tidier and less real. Its clientele consisted of students, mostly, who lived in the new high rise building that stood over the store like a bully with his knees on your shoulders, pinning you down, making you feel like nothing and like the most important thing. I always thought college students seemed to like that feeling.
Then the light changed and the traffic on 24th slowed to a stop and the students crossed from the corner store and the churchgoers crossed from the building-that-wasn’t-a-church, and a woman on a bike in a Jimmy John’s uniform flew through the intersection, platinum-haired, bright-haired, hair wispy at the edges but thick in the middle, the kind of hair you’d like to pull, the kind of hair you’d like to wrap around your wrists, tie into knots, and she stuck her tongue out, radical, loud, unapologetic, and she cut through the laundromat parking lot to avoid the light. She never once stopped moving. She rolled through the steaming asphalt and cut back across San Gabriel, and then probably to MLK and Nueces to pick up her next delivery.
She is an anarchist, marches with Antifa, covers her face during rallies. Some of them have automatic rifles slung across their shoulders, bobbing next to their heads like scorpion tails, but she holds the pole which lifts the Trump piñata above the crowd, throws matches. I can see is her hands, soft and brown, I want to feel the tips of her manicured nails dig into my wrists, pointy and orange. She has stuffed her hair into a skullcap, but I can see it spraying out against the nape of her neck like mist from a wave, crashing on a rock.
We live in a house, one of those wild houses with five bedrooms and six roommates, the guy who sleeps on the couch and pays fifty dollars in rent, the feral cats coming to the back door to drink water and catch spiders, the fundraiser parties for top surgeries, for bail, for car repairs. Her favorite drink is gin, an angry drink. Harsh. Leaves you with a burn, a headache. Painful and sweet, going down. She wipes her wet hands on her black jeans.
My phone alarm went off and I checked my laundry: wet. I hadn’t done the wash in months. It had been too hot. I had been too tired. I had collected piles of t-shirts and bras, the black pants I had to wear to work, the polo shirts stained with spaghetti sauce and wine. The smell of the laundromat unsteadied me, the room went dizzy.
Our room in the house is the smallest one. Small – but we don’t have to share. The central air isn’t connected to this room, so we leave the fan on, we rent a window unit from the Rent-a-Center next to the HEB on Springdale. Keep the door closed, so when we come home after our shifts, peel the red and black polyester away from our wet skin, we lay naked on our bed, right in the line of fire from the air blast, and I kiss the cold, hard tips of her toes like peanuts.
I like the delivery job, more than the waitressing I used to do. I like the bike, the heat, the sunshine. I like speeding through intersections, like puzzles, my body the missing piece. I like the hill down Windsor, where it crashes into Lamar and then recoils back into a different road, into 24th, where the students start buzzing out of apartments and corner stores and pubs, I like to imagine what they must look like from the sky. Ants, crawling toward an agreed-upon ending.
There weren’t ants in my apartment, but roaches, tiny roaches creeping up through the carpet, crawling through electric sockets. I lived in a furnished apartment around the corner, down San Gabriel. I cleaned the dingy windows, but no sunlight ever came in.
Robin Lanehurst grew up in St. Louis, MO and is currently writing from Houston, Texas where they live with their wife and a small menagerie of pets. They am white, neurodiverse, and identify as queer and gender non-binary. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Coe Review, Apricity Magazine, The Scarlet Leaf Review, Re:Fiction, and More Queer Families.