There had been reports of vampire attacks in the neighborhood.There had
been multiple reports, and they had been filed at our office in Elaine's
Dry Cleaners in the box marked Unusual Activities on the floor beside the
front counter.All of the reports used the official form and then had
attached additional sheets, which were completely full of narrative
accounts by the victims and the witnesses.Some of this material was typed,
but most was handwritten.That's the kind of town this is.
The official report form has a misprint involving the date.It makes it
look like you're supposed to print today's date, but what they wanted was
the date of the vampire attack.So a lot of the people dropping off their
filled in vampire attack forms in our office didn't just put them in the
cardboard liquor box we use for such material, but they stood around at
the counter waiting to ask a question about the date.Elaine and I were
busy with the dry cleaning as usual.
Cleaning, like the mail, never stops, we should have a motto besides
the one over the front door which says, "We Do Our Best."We should have
one like, "…neither rain nor sleet…" like that, because we don't stop:
bundle after bundle of dirty clothes comes in and clean clothes go out in
a steady stream on their bright hangers.But this was a special time with
prom coming up, and we had about two dozen satin prom dresses that had
come in, dresses of green and blue and yellow which the older daughters
had worn three years ago and now the younger daughters were going to wear
-- if Elaine and I could get them clean.
The dry cleaners is the center of the neighborhood in a lot of ways,
right down from Bigfoods and across from the bank, and it was convenient
for folks to drop off their laundry and also their official vampire attack
So people were standing around the entry and asking us what the date
meant, and then when we told them, they'd say things like, "Was last
Tuesday the seventh?"Then Elaine would point to our History of Dry
Cleaning calendar and see that it was the eighth or whatever and tell the
person so they could have the proper date on their paperwork.
The Unusual Activities box we keep the reports in is an old Biblioff
Vodka box, printed with their blue and gold logo, a big bearpaw, and about
every person who filed a vampire attack report had to say, "Listen, this
box would be better for the bear attack reports."Everybody is a comedian,
you know, and by mid afternoon with it hot in the store, this comment was
not funny.It wasn't funny in the morning really, but I put up with
it.There hasn't been a bear attack in our neighborhood, not one.
Sarah Mead was in twice before noon.The first time, she came in with
her mother and they talked to Elaine and dropped off the dress, a
raspberry satin thing with spaghetti straps.We cleaned it two years ago
when Sarah's sister wore it, and I could hear Elaine saying how much Sarah
had grown up and was she looking forward to the prom, things like that.I
mean, we've known some of these kids from when they were in their mother's
arms.The second time, Sarah came in alone and I went up and asked if I
could help her, and she didn't exactly answer me, and so I said, did she
want to file a vampire attack form, and she said, not really.So then
Elaine came up and spoke to the girl.That's the way it is sometimes,
you're right there, but you're the wrong person.It happens to me plenty
because I'm married to Elaine and she is a natural person. Elaine invited
Sarah Mead to have a soda and they went through the hanging forest of
plastic shirts and out the back door and sat on the steps by the alley
I went back stuffing shirts into the giant washer while they talked.You
have to balance your desire to wash a big load with the ability of the
washer to handle only so much.We do our best.
Just the idea of a dance made me tired.The idea of anything taking
place after eight p.m. made me tired.I know that life is more than work,
but sometimes it feels that it is just work.I pulled a couple of shirts
out of the giant washer so it wouldn't clog, and I dumped in a scoop of
the special green cleaning agents and started the machine.
While Elaine was talking to Sarah Mead, I heard a noise up front and it
was Mrs. Jessup.She had fallen down.She came in with her laundry and
slipped on one of the official vampire report forms and fell in a pile of
sweater bags near the door, the stuff that we send out.The Biblioff
Vodka/Unusual Activities box had become full, and a few of the official
vampire attack report forms had slipped onto the tile floor.People with
their arms full of their laundry couldn't see not to step on this
paperwork.I picked up these sheets and tamped them into the box and
carried the whole carton around to our lab which is behind the washers.
Analyzing this data would take dear time.Many people who had filed the
form had done what they'd done with the last reports about rust in their
sinks, that is, they'd made them duplicates.The official Rust in the Sink
Forms said at the top: file in duplicate.That was nowhere on these
Vampire Attack forms.We don't need duplicates.In fact, we don't want
duplicates. Mrs. Jessup had nearly injured herself by stepping on a
duplicate.No wonder the box filled up so soon.
There was another problem on the form near the middle of page one where
it asked for the last four digits of your social security number and your
mother's maiden name.It wasn't exactly a mistake, but something that
needed discussing all morning as people dropped off their suits and pants
and stained ties.Some people came in having filled in the form, the
official report of a vampire attack, and they wanted to know: who needs to
know my mother's maiden name?Whose business is what name my mother went by
as a girl?The question struck them as inappropriate.
"I put N/A right in that blank and that is what they can call my mother
as a maiden for all I care," said Clara Ambler.She was picking up her
embroidered tablecloth, which we had cleaned like nothing in this shop for
ten years. Every thread of the beautiful thing was beaming."I'm not going
to fill in part of a form about my mother as a maiden.My mother grew up in
Mercy and worked at the butter plant there when she met my father at her
boarding house, and they began walking out in the evenings along the
Belshore River.She was a maiden at the time in every sense of the word,
and then after a hard winter in that town when the ice broke up and spring
came, they married and she took my father's name, and I'm not even going
to put that in here.They can look it up in the big book of genealogy for
all I care.I've done my best with this report and it was a trial for me to
sit and answer each request.There's some stuff in here.We had an attack
from a vampire, and I felt it was my duty to report it."Mrs. Ambler looked
about worn out.She'd put some time in on her official vampire report form.
You can see how much time accepting these forms from the people
took.Nobody, truly, wants to fill in the official report form on attack of
a vampire and just drop it in the Unusual Activities box.They want to talk
a little bit, explain something they didn't quite get to on the form.A
form -- after all -- never delivers the full story.
It wasn't our form, and the people who had written the form had tried
hard too, but we've found even with the forms that we've created, a lot of
key information is lost.We did two forms last year, one evaluating the
Holiday Lights Festivities and one for UFO sightings inside the county
line.We tried to be thorough, but you can't be thorough.
There's another thing about these official vampire attack report
forms.If you fill it out, all four sides, answering each question, you end
up feeling like somebody out there doesn't quite believe you.What time was
the attack?Where were you?What were you wearing?Were you alone?Was there a
lamp burning in the room?Were you eating pastries when this happened?Do
you use haircoloring?Do you use any of the Muskarama brand of cologne
products?Do you sweat excessively?Who else witnessed the attack?Did you go
to the clinic immediately afterward?
I put another Biblioff Vodka box up by the counter and labeled it
Unusual Activities.Mrs. Jessup was up by now leaning on the counter.We
were all lucky she'd fallen into the sweater bags.I counted her shirts and
slacks and put them in the light starch bag.She took her official vampire
attack report form and put it in the box. "That's some form," she said.
"Is Elaine here?"
"She is," I said."Just a minute."
Now it was late in the day, and I was tired, but we were still on top
of things.We keep the dry cleaners clean and squared away.I walked through
all the clean clothes and found Elaine on the back step alone.Sarah Mead
was walking away down the alley.The world was bright in the late day and
the air picked at my hair.
"Ron," Elaine said."We need to send Sarah's dress over to Harry's to
get it hemmed and bring in the bodice."She was worried she'd look too much
like her sister in it."
"Who's she going to the dance with?"
"That's the kid who has six pairs of cargo pants."
"Yes he does, but he's not wearing them to the prom."
"Elaine, I just came up with a new invention."
"A tuxedo with cargo pants."
"It could work.These kids would go for it.Cell phone, pager,
Elaine patted my leg, which is the way crackpots get handled.The people
who love you pat you.
"Mrs. Jessup would like to speak to you."
"Send her out, Ron," Elaine said."We'll sit out here."
Copyright (c) 2002 by Ron Carlson. All rights reserved
Ron Carlson's most recent book is the story collection At the Jim
Bridger. His novel The Speed of Light will be published by
HarperColllins in 2003.