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Myfanwy Collins

Wash, Dry, Fold


Phyllis ran the counter at a dry cleaner three days a week. Other days she did odd jobs. Walked dogs. Brought meals to shut ins. That sort of thing. But the dry cleaner was her main employer. She processed orders, delivered laundered clothing back to its owners, answered the phone, made change for the washers and dryers. It was quick, tidy work. She enjoyed being on her feet and scanning the rack of clothing as it spun. She relished the crisp odor of starch. She was friendly with the customers, allowed them to feel heard when they bitched about stains and missing buttons.

Often, a man named Greg phoned the dry cleaners and when he did, Phyllis spoke with him briefly and after he hung up, five minutes later, Greg would call again and attempt to resume the conversation. They were in the same network on Facebook—Manchester, NH. “I liked your profile,” Greg said when she questioned him about why he had started messaging her, the messages then leading to lengthy phone calls.

“What about my profile?” Phyllis asked, intrigued. She hoped he liked her favorite quote:

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.

A. A. Milne


“You have high-brow taste in television,” Greg said. “I thought you might be classy.” She didn’t really watch television. She checked out video tapes and DVDs from the library—most of them British shows from PBS: The Black Adder. Are You Being Served?

She lay on her bed with the phone up snug to her ear during this particular conversation and her room seemed smaller to her after he said this. She saw the light seeping around the edges of her light blocking shades. The way her double bed didn’t seem big enough when she was in it alone. The sadness of her clothes folded neatly on her chair. She should have been untidy. She should have left her drawers ajar. If she smoked, she would have seemed more interesting, maybe. If her books were more intellectual.

Her apartment was three rooms. Kitchen/living space, bathroom, and this, her bedroom. Windows looked out onto the parking lot. Many young professionals lived in the building. It had seemed the perfect spot after her divorce, but now with this exciting young man in her life it felt dowdy.

From Greg’s profile she learned that he enjoyed travel, Second Life, and foreign films. He listed his job as Professional Dreamer. His favorite quote:

The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.

Ayn Rand


But there was more to why Greg contacted her. He wanted. He wanted her, he said, to help him, please. His mother was six feet tall. She had never cut her hair. Would Phyllis please come and wash and dry it? Run a comb through it? Brush it? His mother had such beautiful hair. Auburn or strawberry blonde. He wasn’t sure the color exactly as it changed in the light. It changed with the years.

Phyllis said she would think about it, but Greg pushed to know when Phyllis would make her decision.

Soon, she said.

In her quiet moments, Phyllis composed an image of Greg’s tall mother. Her loose hair. The ruddiness of her cheeks. The coarseness of her nipples from overuse. A wide, pale belly. A thicket of pubic hair.

But why had she assumed the woman would be naked? Less an assumption and more of a wish: The woman would be naked. Phyllis would enter the wide-plank, wood-floored kitchen and find the woman sitting on a hard-backed wooden chair, once painted red and now chipping. No cloth on the table, no dishes in the sink.

“My son brought you,” the woman would say. She would stand then and turn, look back at Phyllis over her shoulder and then. And then. And then, Phyllis would see all of her beauty. “Come,” the woman would say. And Phyllis would follow.


Greg’s dream was to produce a video called “Perfections/Imperfections.” The setting would be a strip club in Vegas. On one side of the club would be the naked imperfections: the legless, the flippered, the obese. The blind. The pregnant.

And on the other side, the buff, the blonde, the beautiful. No stretch marks. No dimpled asses.

Customers would start out on the imperfections and after they had had their fill, move over to the perfections side to cleanse the palate, if you will.

 And what of Phyllis? He had only her profile photograph to go on. Which side was she? She wasn’t a perfection, but then she wasn’t exactly an imperfection either. He gazed at her Facebook profile photo. She appeared to have good hair. Thick, curly, long. Her eyes were washed out and verging on hopeless. She might have had a few small acne scars on her cheeks concealed not so well with makeup. Her nose seemed knocked off-kilter. Oh, he didn’t know. There was a lot, he supposed, that made her an imperfection.

Most importantly, she was dreamless, or at least this was what he gathered when he asked her what her hopes were.

“I’m not sure,” Phyllis said. Too quickly. She didn’t have any hopes, no dreams, but he knew that already. And this was a fatal flaw, making her the ultimate imperfection. All of the perfections had hopes and dreams; they were stripping their way through grad school in order to get their PhDs or they were in law school. They wanted a better life for their families. They would buy their mother a house. They would make sure their own kids never wanted for anything.

While the imperfections wanted little. They were dreamless. They were passing time.


Greg’s mother left when he was nine. Gone. Packed up. Drove away. Left her dental practice. Left her piano. Left her sons and her husband. Gone, gone, gone.

Where did she go? West in her Honda Accord. She sent postcards from Glacier National Park where she summered and from Seattle where she wintered. “I sleep in my car,” the summer postcards said, “and during the day, I hike.”

She had seen Grizzly. In Yellowstone, she had seen wolves.

“I am happy,” her postcards said. “Please do not miss me, because I do not miss you,” the cards said.




Phyllis said yes to Greg. “I will wash your mother’s hair,” she said and he hung up, then called back in three minutes. “I’m sorry I hung up on you,” he said. “I got excited.”


Of course, Greg went in search of his mother. When he was nineteen, he borrowed money from his father and bought a small truck. “I’m going to get mom,” he told his dad. “I will bring her home.”

Greg’s father wasn’t sure he wanted his wife back. Life was simpler without her. There was dust under the bed. He liked it there.


Phyllis agreed to meet Greg on a Thursday. The rendezvous was to take place outside the dry cleaner. Though he had never seen Phyllis but for her photograph, Greg said he would know her. “I feel you,” Greg said.  

What was his mother’s name?



No. She prefers you use her full name, please.

The day was hazy. Phyllis huddled beneath the awning, staring out across the parking lot. A few cars dotted the landscape. It was 7:30 AM and none of the other shops were open yet. The supermarket opened at nine, but the dollar store didn’t open until 10 and Mike’s Subs at 10:30. The dry cleaner was open, though. Jeanie was working the counter. She chatted with Phyllis when she stepped out for a smoke but seemed uninterested in why Phyllis was there on her day off.

At five minutes past rendezvous time, she wondered if he would show up at all. She watched as a red SUV pulled into the lot. She hadn’t expected him to drive a vehicle like that. The car circled the in front of the supermarket and then raced past her. The driver was a teenage boy. Not him. Greg was a man.

She shouldn’t have said yes.  She turned to check her face in the reflection of the window. She saw Jeannie leaning against a broom, staring up at the morning news on the television. There was a car accident on the screen. A medivac helicopter. Perhaps Greg was involved.

She returned her attention to her reflection. She saw him, then, walking across the parking lot. A baseball cap obscured his face in shadow. She turned to face him as he approached. He raised his hand in a wave.


Greg had an old photo of his mother taken just before she left home. She crouched awkwardly in their garden, planting impatiens. Her hands were bare and covered in dirt and she laughed as she turned to the camera. Her teeth were straight, barely any space between them to slide a piece of floss. The edges of the teeth were not flattened, rather slightly pointed. Predatory teeth. He would know her when he saw her. He would get her to smile and look for the sharpness.

Greg found his mother in West Glacier. It hadn’t been difficult. It seemed everyone who worked in the park knew her, knew of her. She was something of a renegade. “She’s had her run ins,” one of the rangers told him, “but Maddy’s good people.” The ranger told him he’d find his mother’s car in the parking lot of the general store near the campground. “She sleeps in her car,” he said, “so either late night or early morning, she’ll be there.”

He found her car—a newer Accord than the one she’d left home in—and waited beside it, hunched down, squatting on his heels. Where had she gotten the money for a new car? Probably his father had a hand in it. For a while Greg had suspected that his father was sending her money; this money kept her away from them, kept her living this transient lifestyle.

Greg cupped a hand up to the glass and peered through the windows. The backseat was made up as a bed with a sleeping bag and pillow. The front passenger side held a plastic bin filled with papers—cards, bank statements, scribbles on loose leaf. Folks passing by eyeballed him like he was a criminal. “I’m waiting for my mother,” he yelled after they passed, when no one was around to hear him.

By nightfall, she had not appeared, so he climbed into the cab of his truck to wait. He kept the window cracked open so he would hear her approach. He awoke in the night. His neck ached from how it had lain to the side on the seat back. He looked to his mother’s car parked next to his. He saw the back of her head against the window. She was reading in the light of a lantern. She turned slightly and he saw her in profile. Yes. Yes, that was his mother.

He yearned to reach a hand out and touch her wiry hair. Mama, he thought. It wasn’t what he had called her as a boy. She was Mom. But in his mind he heard Mama again and again, growing louder, more panicky.

Greg fumbled with his keys in the ignition. He started the truck and drove straight out of the parking lot without turning on his lights. It wasn’t until he was miles away on a stretch of road dangerous for the free-range cattle that he turned on his lights again. There along the side of the road a dozen pairs of eyes were illuminated. Cows and their calves, sleeping, chewing. He slowed as he passed them, reverent. He drove on and on until the voice in his head quieted. Until he was away from the pull of her.


Greg’s body was slight. His hair red. How had he such a tall mother? But maybe the woman wasn’t his mother. Maybe she wasn’t six feet tall. Maybe it was all a lie. She should not have agreed to meet him.

“You came,” she said, finally, after the silence of the two of them standing face-to-face became too much. Gone was the comfort of the computer screen, the ease of the phone.

“We should go,” Greg said. She noted that his hands and forearms were tanned and freckled. That his sneakers were cleanly white. She was comforted then that he was okay. And she would simply wash his mother’s hair and that would be the end of it. She could do that. She could offer such kindness.

“Yes,” she said, “let’s.”


The woman was bedridden. The mother. Maddy. Madeline. Her eyes were aware, showed gratitude, as Phyllis ran a comb through her drying hair. It had been a challenge to wash it. Phyllis had had to get in the tub with her and cradle the woman in between her legs as though she were giving birth to her. As if their embrace was anything other than out of utility. It was not the scene Phyllis had expected after all. There was nothing of the erotic she had anticipated, had craved.

The woman was aged. Her long hair was glorious but wiry. Her teeth, sharp. Greg had demurely left Phyllis to her work.

She felt for the woman. How to end up here living in a one-bedroom apartment with her son? He slept on the couch, he said. He made a point of saying.

Phyllis had answered Greg’s call, this calling. She felt righteous and clean for serving this woman, but she could not do it again. She felt she had driven out her uglier thoughts. The ones involving her and the woman and their hands.

The air in the bedroom was overheated. Simply, Phyllis could not breathe. She looked out through the vast rectangle of the window. Beyond was the pale sky. Beyond that the stars and moon. Beyond and beyond and beyond this room there was air. This woman would die here. Phyllis knew that. She did not want to be there when it happened. She would satisfy herself that she had left this woman clean. It was enough.


Greg’s mother wrote to him after he left Montana.

I waited for you. I stayed up all night. I was going to tell you about the huckleberries and where to find the best of them. You would have to share them with the bears, though, and so you might get eaten. But you drove away without even saying hello. Please do not miss me, because I do not miss you.




Myfanwy Collins has work published or forthcoming in Blip Magazine Archive, The Kenyon Review, Cream City Review, AGNI, The Saranac Review, The Jabberwock Review, Quick Fiction, The Potomac Review and other venues.


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