Discount Ceremony | by Timothy Day

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     Jacey stopped at the Laundromat on her way to work, the only customer save for two suited men standing in the corner, passing a box of Wheat Thins back and forth. She opened one of the washers to discover a pile of confetti within. Some of their colors had bled onto each other and mixed to create new shades of blue, pink, yellow-green. She heard a crunching sound and turned to find the two suited men at her side, regarding her sternly as they chewed.

     “Sorry,” Jacey muttered, backing away.

     The men began transferring the confetti to the dryer below. They took big handfuls before scouring the machine for remaining pieces, picking them out with care. Jacey approached Gretchen at the front desk, leaned back with a jumbo Slurpee and a tattered anthology of ghost stories.

     “What’s up with them?”

     Gretchen shrugged, explaining that someone had laundried pants in those machines with their grandmother’s coin in the pocket and claimed she’d come back to life the next day. Word had spread.

     “Have you tried it?”

     Gretchen huffed. “I haven’t done laundry in months.”

 

2

 

     The interior of Taboo was soaked in red by a series of overhead lights, the walls lined by silhouettes of people getting busy in various positions. Jacey had come to recognize many of the customers who patronized the store during the graveyard shift, most of them hooded and silent as they slid movies across the counter with downturned eyes. Austin was the exception, entering the store like a bouncy-ball thrown into a morgue. He came in around two, energy drink in hand, dropping Twister Orgies vol. 2 onto the return pile.

     “How’s the hair?” he asked.

     The grease had been building for weeks now, despite daily washing. Jacey had tried every brand of shampoo available at the drug store. As Gretchen said, it had reached the point where touching her hair was like dipping your fingers into a barrel of moist Doritos.

     “Maybe you’re thinking greasy thoughts,” Austin said. “And they’re spilling out from your head.”

Shit,” Jacey laughed. “My inner bacon musings have finally caught up to me.”

     Austin browsed through the aisles before returning with two movies from the retro kink section. Jacey punched his punch card.

     “Think positive,” Austin said. “You are so punk rock now.”

     Jacey winked. “As if I needed help.”

 

3

 

     Jacey and Gretchen played at the bar every Thursday, Gretchen’s smoky voice mixing sultry with Jacey’s dark piano riffs, creating an atmosphere Austin hailed as otherworldly. His praise, while appreciated, was somewhat undercut by his status as one of only three or four people ever in attendance. The others spent most of the performance half-conscious, drunken gazes lost down the bottom of their glasses.

     They were still playing when last call was announced and the bartender told them to cut it, sweeping a hand beneath his chin. Austin clapped vigorously as they hopped off the stage and pulled them into his arms for a group-hug. The three of them did shots before going to Gretchen’s place and washing Jacey’s hair in the sink to no avail.

     “I know what to do!” Gretchen shouted. She retrieved a pair of scissors and snipped a strand from Jacey’s head, storing it in her bag for later. “The magic laundry machines!”

     Jacey didn’t know what the laundromat phenomenon had to do with hair grease, but she didn’t want to dampen the mood.

 

4

 

     In Jacey’s dream she was standing in an empty parking lot before a store with several letters missing from its name:

 

D s o nt

C em ny

 

     The windows were boarded up, a wax sculpture of Beethoven standing half-melted beside the entrance. Jacey approached and examined its drooping cheeks, left eye hanging out of its socket. The sliding-glass doors opened weakly in front of her as if just then detecting her presence. Jacey peered into the cavernous interior, sparsely lit by scattered patches of silver. She entered past the deserted check-stands and wandered through the aisles, bereft of any merchandise. The only item she could find was a piano. It sat stuffed into the far corner of the store, spot-lit by a faint beam of white. Jacey squinted at the price tag stuck to the surface, concealed by layers of dust. She brushed a hand over it to reveal a faded TBD. Jacey tried a few of the keys, tones clunky and flat.

     She lifted the fallboard to find the piano’s guts filled with lint, cassette tapes nestled throughout. Jacey recognized the titles scribbled on them in sharpie, the clumsy handwriting of her ten-year-old self. The simple melodies of their tracks ran through her head with sporadic clarity. There was an eagerness to the keystrokes; the progressions missing beats; her tiny voice, discovering its lack of talent. She reached within the lint and felt around for more, digging out cassettes she’d made in middle school, high school, and beyond. There was the one she made using her grandmother’s piano, the one she made with Gretchen, the one with Austin hitting a cowbell at random intervals. Finally her hand met the base of the piano. The last cassette, she knew, would not be there, still sitting half-finished inside the recorder on her desk, just as it had been for the past three years. What had she been going to title it? Above, the lights of the store flickered out in unison. And Jacey remembered: Discount Ceremony.

 

5

 

     Gretchen called the next day to report that she had done it; the lock of Jacey’s hair was entering the spin cycle as they spoke. Jacey went for a walk as she awaited the results. The pavement was slick beneath her feet, roads lined by leftover snow stained brown. These streets were often quiet during the winter, but lately their emptiness had seemed to extend beyond the mere absence of people. They felt forgotten, ghostly, as if existing on the other side of a soundless apocalypse.

     It had grown dark by the time she reached Austin’s trailer, the flicker of the television leaking out from within and wrapping the perimeter in a soft blue glow. Austin answered the door in sweatpants and the hoodie he’d been wearing since the dawn of time. They made ramen and sat against the wall, remnants of the night they played drunk Pictionary scrawled above their heads. One of the DVDs Austin had rented lay on the carpet in front of them, case open.

     “You know there’s the internet,” Jacey said.

     Austin smiled. “They don’t have the same customer service.”

     “Gross.”

     There was a game show on T.V. and Jacey recognized the suited men standing beside the big colorful wheel. Together they took hold of it and gave it a spin and the possible prizes whirled around a tiny black arrow. The wheel began to slow at new sedan, coming to a final rest upon confetti. The crowd groaned and the men shook their heads and walked offstage, lips forming curses.

     Jacey’s phone lit up with a text from Gretchen informing her that the strand had made it through the magical washer and/or dryer, still greasy. This followed by a shrugging emoticon. Jacey ran a hand through her remaining hair. She looked at Austin.

     “Do you have scissors?”

     She sat before the mirror in Austin’s tiny bathroom. Austin stood over her with a pair of scissors they’d found deep in the junk drawer, blades so dull that even their effectiveness on paper wasn’t a given.

     “You sure about this?”

     Jacey nodded and Austin went to work, most of the cuts taking four or five snips before success. When finally the task was done Austin took a bow and Jacey leaned in to examine her nude scalp in the mirror. She moved her head around and watched the skin glint beneath the light. Hair lay in patches on the floor and counter, mingling with crusted toothpaste and discarded tissues.

     “Look at our DNA making friends.”

     “Awww!”

 

6

 

 

     They emptied Austin’s fridge of alcohol and watched Roman Holiday before Jacey rose to leave. At the door they stopped and hugged goodnight, Austin burying his head in her shoulder, hair bristling against the new bareness of her neck.

     “You know you can stay.”

     “I know,” Jacey said. She pressed him to her tightly, resting her forehead on his curls.

     It had started to snow outside and Jacey walked home with limbs stiff against the night’s chill, pulling her hood up over her head. She’d need a beanie until her hair grew back. A temporary fix to her temporary fix. But maybe it would come back different. Maybe it wouldn’t be hair at all; maybe she would grow antlers instead.

 

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Timothy Day is a pun enthusiast and MFA student at Portland State.

 

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