R. Keith


My life has never been anything special. I’m thirty-seven and probably appear to be well preserved fifty year old man. I was divorced a few years ago but that’s a different story and it’s not very exciting either. I had a few short term things after, and some one-nighters here and there. I told myself I’d stay single and focus on my hobbies. And I don’t really have any hobbies. A couple hours before I go to work I drink black coffee at home and stare at my laptop and wonder why my life is so dull until it’s time to catch the bus. I go to the laundromat that Kris and Cory own. Kris is a spun out old hippy type of girl. Cory, well after some time working at the laundromat Kris told me that his mom had been raped when she was fifteen and she ended up pregnant with Cory. She had a boyfriend when Cory was a baby and they used to yell at each other all the time. Cory would cry so much and one time his mother’s boyfriend had propped the stereo speaker on top of his crib and cranked the volume as Cory’s mom wrestled with her boyfriend trying to help her son. Cory has been deaf ever since. He does a fine job cleaning the place and all the stuff we sell is always stocked up. The little boxes of powder detergent, the gum and chocolate bars in the vending machine. We used to have a gumball machine, Kris says, she thinks some kids stole the damn thing. There’s a Bubble Bobble arcade game, Cory empties the quarters twice a week. Kris gave me shit once for playing it when I was on shift. No one was in the laundromat, I don’t see what the deal was. Kris does all the dry cleaning and whatnot. I…what do I do? I sit at the counter and change bills for coins so people can use our machines. I flip through the same issues of National Geographic over and over until the new one shows up. I creep on girls a bit more than half my age that come to wash their leggings and thongs. Sometimes I think about them while I’m in the bathroom. Kris one time actually banged on the bathroom door when I was just about to finish. She says to me, she says a customer needs some change. Why couldn’t she do it? Instead of interrupting one of the few things in life that gives me any pleasure. I thought about that girl when I got home and took a shower that day anyway. Still, Kris was busy playing the stupid Scratch & Win lottery tickets. She buys three every day. She usually ends up breaking even. The most she’s ever bragged about winning is three hundred bucks and that was forever ago. I asked her what she’d do if she won a million dollars. She says to me, she says she’d close the laundromat and buy a piece of land and a cottage and some farm animals and… So, I’d be out of a job? And she says to me, she says she’ll give me a good reference. Fuck. I asked what Kris’d do if she had a whole whack of money cuz I dunno what to do with mine. After work, there’s a café next door. I tell myself I’m gonna ask out this girl that works there. She’s twenty-two, twenty-three. Twenty-five at the most. But I end up getting an Americano and staring out the window at people, cars, life passing by. Sometimes I can see her in the glass’s reflection, making mochafrappadecafedoubleshotskinnycino whatevers. I dunno her name. I can’t think of any way to ask her out. Pretty sure she doesn’t wanna go for coffee. I end up back in my basement suite a couple hours later to stare at my laptop some more before I get bored enough to try to go to bed. Lying in bed I think of that pile of cash. I dunno how much is left. I don’t think I spent fifteen percent of it.

A couple months ago on payday. Walking towards the bank, there’s an ambulance in the parking lot. They load someone on a stretcher into the ambulance and drive off. Inside, I go up to the ATM to put my paycheque in. Would you like do to another transaction? I looked out the bank window, where the ambulance had been just a minute ago. The ATM starts beeping. YES. Account Balance. …that’s a lot of digits. Back to options. PIN change. Please enter new PIN. …uh…3825. It spells F.U.C.K. on the number pad. I couldn’t think of anything else. Main menu. Withdraw. Savings. Please enter dollar amount with decimal points. Five, zero, zero, point, zero, zero. Would you like to do another transaction? Some woman comes up the ATM beside mine and starts beeping away at it. YES. Withdraw. Savings. Five, zero, zero, point, zero, zero. This amount exceeds your daily limit. Would you like to do another transaction? YES. Withdraw. Savings. Three, zero, zero, point, zero, zero. Would you like to do another transaction? NO. Please take your card. I’m at the bus stop and don’t remember leaving the bank. My mind went somewhere’s else. There’s a wad of bills in my pants pocket. Rent is covered this month. I didn’t even deposit my paycheque. Fuck. I don’t wanna go back to that bank. I got on the bus and thought that it wasn’t a good idea to go straight home in case anyone at the bank saw what I did and followed me. I shouldn’t have got on the bus. I got off a few stops before mine, crossed the street and took the bus in the other direction, downtown. Flaneured downtown for an hour or so. I figured I was alright. No one was following me. I found another branch of the bank I use and deposited my paycheque there. Took the bus home and stared at my laptop until I went to bed. I had the next day off. Got up around 1pm and took the bus heading downtown again. I was thinking of buying a flat screen. So I can pick from two different screens to stare at in my basement suite. Variety is the spice of life, and all that. When I got off the bus, I stood in front of another bank. It was a different bank company than what this card belonged to. Please insert card. 3825. Withdraw. Savings. One, zero, zero, zero, point, zero, zero. Thank you, please take card. After that I went to the food court in the mall and ate at Wok & Taco. They use the same beef for Szechuan as they for the beef tacos. I ate and stared at more girls half my age. I wanted to look for a flat screen tv after I finished eating, but how was I gonna take that home on the bus? Meh, I guess I could get a taxi home. I went to the washroom in the mall and saw some guy’s feet sitting in one of the stalls. There was some clicky sound. In midstream I figured out he was typing on his laptop while in the stall.

The next week was the same over and over. Get up, stare at laptop. Go to boring job, watch Kris play Scratch & Wins. Watch Cory empty Bubble Bobble. Give change to customers, stare at young girls. After work, go to café next door and pretend not to stare at girl working there. Go to bank, take out a grand. Go home, stare at laptop until bored enough to sleep. Fuck. One day I decided to change things up a bit. I hit a bank before I went to work at took out a grand. Went to work for the same mundane stuff that always happens. Then went to the café. I pushed up the bills in my wallet so she could see that I was loaded when I asked for my Americano. I know she saw the stack. Her eyes got a bit wide and she smiled at me a little longer than usual. I sat and stared out the window like I always do. I saw her refection. She kept looking in my direction. I figure I had it in the bag. I’m older, but chicks are into that. I been there, done that. Guys her age, they haven’t even thought of going there or doing that yet. I dunno how long I sat there staring out the window. The lights went dim, and I looked behind me, place was empty. She was sweeping the floor. I waited there for her to come to me. When she came to sweep around where I was I asked So, what do you usually do after work, and she says to me, she says I go home, or hang out at my friends, why? And I tell her I wanted to take her out to dinner, maybe a movie or, and she says to me, she says I don’t think my boyfriend would like that. I tell her He’s not invited and she smirks and goes on sweeping the floor. Fuck. There’s other girls. Whatever. The day after I go back to my routine. Stare at my laptop. Put up with Kris and Cory and the stupid customers at the laundromat. I decided not to go to the café after work. I went straight to the bank. Took another grand out. Went home and pissed around on my laptop until sleepy time.

It’s well over a week now since I saw that ambulance at the bank, and found this magic card. I wondered why it still worked. Why didn’t he cancel the card yet? The name on the bank card is Erik Kjempe. I had his money hid in my underwear drawer. All I’ve used it for was buying groceries, eating at Wok & Taco a few times, Americanos, but I don’t go to the café anymore. I remember a long time ago on my laptop, some video of some philosopher, Adam Waltz or something. And he says, he says he asked some college students What would you do if money were no object? And he says, they said We’d like to be painters, poets, we want to travel, and this guy Adam or whatever, he says to them, he says Well you do that! And don’t think about the money. He had some other video I saw. He was talking about work being play. And went on and on about washing dishes is like a game or something. Work as play. Adam Waltz obviously never worked in a laundromat. It’s about as exciting as watching people play darts on tv. I ain’t artsy fartsy and who reads poetry? All I remember from school was iambic pentagrams or something. Whose woods these are I think I know his house is in the village though… Traveling. I traveled a bit in my late twenties, after I got divorced. I bummed around Ireland for a couple months. I met more people from Poland and Turkey than actual Irish people. The Blarney Stone is just an old rock. What’s the big deal? Then I went to bug out in Prague cuz it was cheaper and mostly I wanted to go somewhere and think about life after being divorced before I hit thirty. All I did was drink beer and try to avoid meeting people from my own country. Nothing changed, no metamorphosis. When I came back home, I just stayed put. Traveling is overrated. I can read National Geographic if I’m curious about some other place on earth. What else am I gonna do with all Erik Kjempe’s cash?

Tuesday is my Friday. After work I hit up a bank downtown. 7pm. What was there to do? Wok & Taco was closed. I flaneured around until I saw two girls smoking outside of a club. Maybe I can buy some girl drinks and take her back to my basement suite. I walk up to the door and the door man looks at me and he says to me, he says We got a dress code here, brah. And I says, What, what dress code? He says to me, he says We got a dress code, you don’t meet it. I pull out my wallet and flash the bills I just took out and I says Howbout now? He raises his arm and points for me to go and he says to me, he says Howbout NO. Fuck. There’s other bars downtown. It’s just after 7pm on a Tuesday anyway, so that place is probably empty. I end up at some dank, dark lit hole in the wall and sit at the bar and I asked for a martini, cuz I heard that’s what James Bond drinks, I never had one before. The kid behind the bar chuckled and he says to me, he says We don’t really have that here. I ask what kinda Scotch they got, he pours a sneeze of it over ice without answering and asks if I want coke with it. I says I don’t put shit up my nose. He sighs and pours coke in the splatter of Scotch and pushes the glass towards me, he says to me, he says Six bucks. I says I’ll start a tab, but he shakes his head. I give him a ten and walks to the other end of the bar and starts talking to some girl. I turn around in my stool and maybe five other people are in the bar. I watch two of them play darts until I realize how boring it is. A girl in a tight black dress walks past me and I says Hey to her but she ignores me. She grabs a tray off the bar and starts taking empty glasses off dirty tables. I down my drink and leave. I’m not gonna score here.

Next week is the same, work, bank, sleep, work, bank, sleep. Why does this card still work? Why haven’t I been caught yet? I’ve used the same ATMs several different times. I just don’t go to the bank where I got it from in the first place. I’m running out of room in my underwear drawer. I don’t really need to buy anything. I thought having all this magic paper would make life easier. I’m taking out another grand at an ATM. Outside the bank there’s a homeless man sitting on the ground. I’m gonna give him a hundred bucks. It’s gonna make his day. He’s gonna spend it on getting messed up, but whatever. Good karma, and all that. If I had his life I’d wanna get messed all the time too. Maybe I’ll hit up another bar and work my magic on some girl after. I’m walking toward him and he snorts and hawks a loogy, lands right on my shoe. He doesn’t even notice me or where his snot landed. Fuck. I pass GO, and he does not collect a hundred dollars. I scrape his snotty spit cocktail on the curb and head home on the bus. I was trying to do something selfless. What’s that guy’s problem? Maybe I should spend this money getting messed up. Maybe I should throw this bank card in the garbage.

Before I went to bed I looked up the hospital nearest to the bank where I got this magic card. If Erik Kjempe is there I’m just gonna give the card back. Somehow. Without him knowing I took it. He’s the dumbass that left it there anyway. I’m keeping the cash though. I’ll just drop the bank card on the floor. I dunno. After the uneventful day at the laundromat I took the bus to the hospital. At the front desk I says I’m looking for a Mister Kjempe. And she says to me, she says Are you family? And I says I’m his nephew. She says to me, she says Room 277, second floor. In the elevator I realize two-seven-seven spells A.S.S. on an ATM number pad. Down the hall I find room 277 and in one hospital bed is an older man staring at the ceiling, doesn’t notice I’m there. A hand pulls the curtain beside his bed, and there’s another man sitting up with a table tray on his lap. He says to the nurse, he says No, I don’t wanna see that vegetable while I eat, pull back the curtain! The nurse takes the cover off his plate of food and he says to her he says What is this shit? I’m not eating this! It looks like chicken and fava beans from what I can tell. I looked up what fava beans are after I watched Silence of the lambs. He throws a handful of the fava beans against the window and he says to the nurse, he says And speaking of shit, you need to change my bedpan! The nurse says nothing and walks out of the room as he yell at her, he yells Where you off to you harpy?! He sees me standing there and he says to me, he says What’re you looking at, huh, you speak English?! I leave the room and find a different nurse in the hall. I says to her, I says Which one is Mister Kjempe? I was hoping it was the vegetable…I mean, the …quieter one. And she says to me, she says Can I ask what it’s concerning? I says to her that I’m a reporter with Daily Telegraph and I had some questions about the happening at the bank. Maybe it’s not a good time right now. But she says to me, she says No, he’s not the quiet one, and he’s usually like that until we administer his meds. I says to her that I’ll come back another time. In the elevator I look at the bank card and figure I’m just gonna keep it. That old man is an ass. What’s wrong with people?

On the bus I think about taking Kris and Cory to some fancy restaurant. I doubt they’ve been any place like that. I never have. If they let us in. Might need to make reservations. Kris wouldn’t have nothing appropriate to wear. She’d have one of her hippy dresses or some tie-dye shirt. And the garcon wouldn’t understand that Cory is deaf but he can read the menu and whatever. People at the other tables would giggle and stick their noses up at us. I’d ask for their most expensive wine, and tell the garcon to take a bottle to the table where people are laughing at us. And put their order on the bill I’m paying. I saw that in some movie, some painter that was homeless got rich cuz he became friends with some other famous painter. But he died from doing drugs. His name was like Basket or something. John Basket. I dunno, I don’t remember. It’s a dumb idea. It’s not gonna happen. I worked three more days then had two days off in a row. That only happened a couple times before. I rented a hotel room. It was pricey, there was a jacuzzi and a huge flat screen. I drank all the bottles in the minibar. On my laptop I looked up escorts. There weren’t any face pictures. Just bodies with the faces blurred out. When I called one she says to me, she says I can meet you in the hotel lobby in the next hour, and I have some party supplies for an extra charge. I asks her What, like balloons? And I hear her laugh on the other end and she says to me she says You must be a first timer, see you in like an hour. and hangs up. Five minutes later I think this is a bad idea. I went out on the balcony and stared off into space like I did when I went to the café. Someone in another hotel room was smoking a cigar, I could smell it in the air. After a few hours I went back in and fell asleep with the flat screen on. I spent the next day flipping through channels and figured this room isn’t any better than my basement suite. When I woke the next morning I checked out and there were a few ambulances outside the hotel. I wasn’t interested in knowing what happened. Last time I saw an ambulance that ass Kjempe was hitching a ride and I found his card. I always heard that money changes a person. Whether it’s for the better, no one ever said. But, look at Mister Kjempe. Fuck.

Work that day was same shit, same pile. I went to the café without thinking. There was a small line up, a few men in suits. One of them had his arm in a sling and was talking about how he got some girl pregnant while on vacation. Another suit asked when his vacation was and the one with the sling opens up some day planner thing and he says to him, he says What does the calendar say? They all flirt with the girl I asked out and throw bills in the tip jar, and her face starts to glow. I imagine when I walk up to order she’ll be like Hey, haven’t seen you in a while, how ya been? And all she says to me is, she says Americano? As if nothing happened before. Fuck. In the window’s reflection I see the men in suits at their table, one’s still talking about how he got some girl pregnant on vacation, they met in the parking lot of a movie theatre, and he says to them, he says She lived in a hole in the wall. I stare out the window until the lights go dim. The suits aren’t there, I didn’t even notice them leave. The girl is sweeping the floor. She looks up at me with no expression on her face and I just got up and left. I’m walking down the back alley and some kid is pissing behind the dumpster that the laundromat shares with the café. Another kid is staring at a puddle on the pavement and there’s a smell of gasoline in the air. Down the alley, there’s graffiti. Some illegible spray paint markings on brick wall. I never understood that. How is that art? If it were art, it’d be in a gallery. I dunno. There’s a bang of glass shattering. I turn around and head back down the alley and those two kids are running in my direction. I clench up my fists, but they zip on past me, I look back and they’re both just gone. The window I stare out of in the café is pieces on the floor inside. I took out Erik Kjempe’s bank card and flung it inside the hole in the glass. The next day was business as usual. After doing nothing all day at the laundromat, I went to the café and stared at the cardboard duct taped to cover the smashed window until the lights went dim again.

R. Keith is a persona that works with visuals, texts, poetics, fiction, and exophonic writing. He is the author of four collections of poetry, and six chapbooks. His collection of Visual poetry Chicken Scratch was published in 2017 (eyeameye books) His visual work have been presented in galleries in Canada, Malta and Russia. Forthcoming is his 1st novella in 2018.
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