Uneven Grounds by Thomas Cannon

Laura Lynn had a theory that a wedding encased men like a prehistoric mosquito in amber. The way a man was when you married him was the way he was going to be for the rest of your life. She came up with this theory after she married Scott Nett. Their first daughter was born four months later. So for twenty-three years, without believing it possible, she waited for Scotty to change. 

Even her three girls had not turned out as she had hoped. They had done good things, but also not so good things. The oldest had a kid in high school and the youngest put on more weight in the last year than Laura Lynn allowed herself during pregnancy. But she loved them. She loved that they were younger versions of herself- each one red-headed (the middle one by the grace of Clairol) and freckled.

She supposed she still loved Scotty and his small round face with its sideburns and bright blue eyes. But he had not made life easy. Laura Lynn was not a feminist by any stretch of Rush Limbaugh’s imagination, but she did not like that a wife’s life was shaped by her husband. Especially since she hitched her star to a wagon with four different size wheels. She could not say Scotty was lazy. However, he was a wheeler-dealer. Other husbands worked for a company or had a business you found in the yellow-pages while Scotty was a picker. Just like the TV show, he found people with barns full of rusty stuff he polished up and sold. He culled things from Craigslist and sold them in his secondhand shop. Laura Lynn would tell people not to get her started on rummage sales, but then tell you how Scotty would tag along with her on Saturday mornings and dicker with their neighbors. How he would stand there with his over-sized mug of coffee and big smile until he got their price halved.

He was always in some negotiation to buy something at a bargain or sell something at a good price. He was also into real estate, but not in a classy way. He owned a few rentals and a business in town that was a Laundromat and a three bay self-service car wash. She sometimes joked without a smile that their retirement fund was made of quarters. 

Once their youngest turned 16, Laura Lynn got the desire to have her own business. Actually, the desire was to leave Scotty, but they were helping pay for the girls’ schooling. So instead, she distracted herself with an endeavor. Scotty found that there were not enough car wash people in town to justify three car-wash bays, so he remodeled the first bay, the one nearest the Laundromat and built her a coffee shop inside it. Laura Lynn found herself always stepping on the spot on the laminate floor over the drain grate. It was putting weight on a twisted ankle to see how tender it was.

Although she worried that if enough people stopped washing their cars in their driveway Scotty would reclaim his bay, she made it homey enough. She was even proud of its name- Uneven Grounds.

Her first customers came in to make change. But then people came for a coffee and her homemade cookies while they waited to switch their laundry over. Instead of sitting in the two booths Scotty bought from the Hardee’s that closed, they would go back over to the Laundromat to watch their clothes spin and the old console TV Scotty set on a riser.

It was a real business. She even had an employee. Yet it was a business where Scotty had her keep an eye on the lint traps next door and her employee was her sister. In the morning, Laura Lynn got the coffee going while she took the change out of the car wash bays and loaded them into the Laundromat change machine. Occasionally someone washed their big four-wheel drive in the bay adjacent to the coffee shop and she heard the whoosh whoosh whoosh of the jet spray hitting sheet metal of the truck bed.

“Who washes their truck at eight forty-five in the morning?” Donna said after the morning rush.

“No one but us noticed it,” Laura Lynn replied, wiping the counter down. “I hope. That was a good morning rush.”

“Mornings are always good. I’m surprised Scotty doesn’t complain about people parking in the way of the car wash.”

“Thanks for being able to come in the morning. I don’t know how I would do it without you.”

“It’s better than having to listen to that nephew of yours in the morning. He’s such a grouch.”

“I just appreciate you.”

Donna dumped a basket of used grounds into the garbage. “What’s going on, Laura? You dying?”

“I have enough money to leave him.”

Donna stared at the coffee grounds for a moment. Either to take a moment to figure out how to respond to that or to divine it from the grounds lying in the garbage with their good smell all used up. “Yeah, but you’re not actually going to do it. I say I’m leaving Ed all the time.”

Laura Lynn went to the front and turned on the air conditioner unit Scotty bought off a motel that was remodeling. “I’ve thought through my options. How I could lock up the shop and run off. How I could leave him, keep the shop open and have an arrangement where I pay him rent. Then I thought you could take over the shop. I hate to think of it closing. My shop. But I never thought of staying.”

“I wonder where he is at this moment.” Donna took the blender apart and submerged it under the hot water. Sometimes when the wash machines were all in use, they did not have hot water. “The moment his marriage fell apart.”

“Driving down a country road somewhere in bumblefuck with the phone to his ear.”

Donna chuckled.

Laura Lynn pursed her lips. “You don’t understand. You know how he is at family get-togethers. Quiet and then ornery if Mom gets going at him. Try living with that. Try not having any stability.”

“Okay. Leave him if you want. I was just saying.”

Laura Lynn put her hands on her hips. “Do you want the shop or not?”

*******

She had to get back to the shop before three so that Donna could go to Spencer’s basketball game. Looking at the two other apartments had taken more time than she thought. The first one had been in a four-plex with cheap fixtures and hollow walls. It would be like living in one of Scotty’s apartments. The other one had been the upper of an older home. It was as quaint as the apartment she imagined she would have lived in had she gone to college. But the steps were uncovered. She would break her neck in the winter. Then there was the fact she would have to drive to a Laundromat. She owned a Laundromat and worked next to it for 12 hours a day and she still refused to use one.

The manager of the boutique apartment had insisted that she spend time alone with a one bedroom. Laura Lynn walked across the hardwood floors to the window that overlooked the downtown. The bold color on the walls and the gleaming kitchen made her feel like a hick visiting a big city. She liked that feeling.The smell of fresh paint gave her the feeling she was escaping something. This was only the small city not twenty minutes from the coffee shop, but it was far away from Scotty’s little town.

This was her adventure. Her own identity as opposed to the cluttered farmhouse Scotty’s dad left them. She pictured all the fix-up jobs lying around that Scotty never got to. It made Laura Lynn kick off her shoes and feel the cool hardwood floor through her nylons.

*******

Donna rushed out the door as soon as Laura Lynn came through it late. She flashed a look, but Laura Lynn couldn’t tell if it was a you go girl look or where they hell have you been look.

Laura Lynn was alone with only the rattle in the air conditioner for company. She sat down in a booth and looked out the window at the faded black top with its black ribbons of crack sealer. 

She described things to herself. You are sitting by yourself in a car wash bay. People have food trucks that are bigger. You spend your evenings waiting to serve dinner for a man that does business with every kook in a six county radius.

Scotty pulled open the door. His eyes adjusted to the light and his crow’s feet released lines of untanned skin. He had been out in the bright sun without his sunglasses. She had just seen him that morning, so she was not sure why he was making her heart beat so hard. Then she realized the apartment had transported her months into the future.

“Laura Lynn.”

“I’ve been-”

“I know where you were. Donna told me.” 

That voice in her head was still telling her what is going on. You are inside your little coffee shop waiting for your husband to release you. Then you could go, but then you won’t have to.

She looked up at the sunglasses he had most certainly looked for sitting on the bill of his cap. Scotty turned and walked out the door.

She opened the door to call him some swear words before he got back into the truck. 

“I’ve been looking for one of these for you for a while.” He opened the tailgate and hefted out an antique coffee grinder. “Went all over hell to get it.” He supported it with one knee to get a different grip on it. “I’m not likely to change much at this stage of the game. Maybe though. I can try.”

The grinder was in rougher condition than she liked and she would have trouble finding a spot for it. That was the point. The coffee shop did not need to be filled up like a vacant apartment. She held the door for him. As he passed by, she touched his arm. “Okay.”

Thomas Cannon is the author of  The Tao of Apathy, All the weird people you’ve worked with in one book. http://www.amazon.com/The-Tao-Apathy-Thomas-Cannon-ebook/dp/B00GVDRBGG

https://www.facebook.com/TaoofApathy/


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