Elgin Avenue Breakdown

Contributor: Darlene Campos

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Mondays at the Ennis Washateria were always empty. Samuel ‘Suds’ Ennis, the boss and big bellied man behind the register was giving spare change to Miss Johnson. Unlike the rest of Elgin Avenue, Miss Johnson did laundry on Monday mornings. Suds thought she was peculiar with her tiny loads, never having quarters, and that awful purse she carried around. She was close to his age, around 55 or so, with grown kids and a long dead husband, but still the weirdest woman on the block. Suds gave her enough change for one load, her usual, but this time she said she only had half a load.
“Half a load?” Suds exclaimed. “Where’d you get them clothes? A half off sale?”
“Very funny, Suds,” she said and strolled her cart away to washer #2. Suds locked the register and dragged himself to outside for a quick cigar smoke. He had a leather office chair chained to the ground which he called ‘the CEO throne.’ Suds had been chaining down chairs for over 23 years and not once did he have a stolen CEO throne.
“Gotta love that ol’ chain,” he said to nobody as he sat down in his beloved chair. He lit up his cigar, reclining, when a shiny BMW pulled over next to him. The window rolled down and a man stuck his head out saying, “You seen a Miss Johnson?”
“Yes I have, young man. Why you ask?”
“No reason, give her this,” the man muttered, slipping a $100 bill into Suds’ palm.
“Hot cakes!” Suds cried out. The man waved a goodbye and drove off. He finished his cigar before heaving up to his feet back to his washateria.
“This here’s for you, baby,” Suds smiled, handing her the money. She asked who it was from and he answered that Jesus must drive a BMW because miracles like that didn’t happen on Elgin Avenue. Miss Johnson’s clothes were toasty dry by 10 am and she left hastily. See, Miss Johnson was going to ‘college’ and working the night shift at Fry’s Burger Hut, so he heard. She was different than the rest of Elgin Avenue. Elgin Avenue was a high school dropout sundae with poverty whipped topping.
That Monday, Suds closed late. For some strange reason, he didn’t feel like going home. His wife, Francine, called and told him to come home before she beat him on the head with detergent bottles. Suds told Francine he’d be in soon, so he had to get going before she got those detergent bottles out again. Within five minutes, he was heading down the crooked sidewalk. Soon out of breath, he sat down on the curb in front of the Fishing Man Market. Miss Johnson bolted past him, dropping that old sack of nothing.
“Now hold on, Miss J, you dropped your sa-, purse!” he called after her. She turned around, grabbed it, only to drop it again. Suds was confused by her behavior. First she had half a load and now she was dropping more things than a bomber plane.
“You doing okay?” he asked her.
“Get on back to your bubbles,” she snapped at him. She scurried down the street, disappearing. Suds hopped on home to Beulah Street where Francine was on the porch, trying to fix the shattered windows for the millionth time.
“Don’t you mess with those windows again, my lady. Not like we got anything worth stealing in the first place,” Suds said.
“We got detergent bottles!” she shouted.
“What them burglars gonna do then? They’s gonna break in the house, get our detergent bottles and then you know what else they’s gonna do? Wash their clothes at the washateria and give us mo’ business!” he laughed.
“You so funny,” Francine said as she taped a strip of duct tape across a crack in the left window. “Now get your butt in the house.”
Not too long after dinner, there came a knock on the door. Suds hopped over and swung the door open. It was a police officer with a badge shining his name.
“Hold on sir, I ain’t done nothing bad, I own a washateria, that’s it! My wife is innocent too!” Suds blurted. The officer shook his head and asked if he knew a Miss Johnson. Suds said of course he did. He asked if he gave her a $100 bill earlier that day and Suds said of course again. Miss Johnson, according to him, was an illegal prostitute.
“Hot cakes! That’s impossible! You seen that sack she carries? She got a sack of sorry and you telling me she’s a hooker? She’s 55 years old too! If she’s a hooker, then my pants are waist 34!”
“Mr. Ennis, I was given a tip that she provides, service, in your washateria at night,” the cop admitted. “Anything you know about Miss Johnson would be very helpful to the investigation.”
“Baby,” Francine said from the living room. “She is.” Suds hung his head low and asked the cop what he wanted to know.
Miss Johnson wasn’t arrested but rather fined for her actions. She became the laughingstock of Elgin and at the same time, Suds tried to save his washateria’s reputation. She still came in on Monday with her sack of sorry, half loads, and no change. Despite the laughs, she kept going out, using the washateria at night. She needed the money if she wanted to go through ‘college.’ Suds handed her five quarters for the day. He then walked outside and sat in the CEO throne, chained to Elgin Avenue as Miss Johnson did her laundry. The BMW stopped by again, this time with $300 for her. Every Monday, she was washing more than clothes.

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Darlene Campos is an undergraduate at the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program and minor in Medicine. Her work has appeared in A Celebration of Young Poets, The Four Cornered Universe, The Collegiate Scholar, and in The Aletheia. She currently works as a writer for The Daily Cougar newspaper and Kesta Happening DC magazine.
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