The Change Machine

Alan P. Scott - Fictions

the jingle of change
in someone else's pocket

She was folding clothes in the dingy bohemian laundromat when the first of them came up to the change machine. He was a goth, she saw with vague sadness, a pale black-haired strutter in black velvet, who was washing lace on the permanent-press cycle because he didn't know any better. She thought wistfully that she'd have liked him better just in jeans and a t-shirt - he had a really nice ass, but the blousy doublet he wore covered it all too well.

He put his dollar into the machine, and it spat out some quarters. He turned back towards her and she quickly looked downwards, avoiding his eyes. When she looked up again, he was bent over the bottom dryer shoving various cotton items in, his denim-clad ass pointed right at her. She started towards him, then checked herself. What was she going to say... "Pardon me; weren't you a goth just now?"

She returned to folding her own faded jeans. He stacked his t-shirts and jeans neatly in a yellow basket and left the laundromat.

Another man on his own, this one nondescript in pastel polo shirt and khaki slacks, came up to the change machine. He wasn't that good-looking, but she concentrated anyway as he fed his cash into the machine and took his quarters. Although she was watching this time, she still couldn't see the instant when it happened. Suddenly he was in tie-dye, his ponytail tied back with a rubber band, slapping his shoulders... he'd become the Deadhead she'd been thinking of. Now that she could see him, though, she realized she didn't want him. She let him go without speaking, though she trembled with excitement as he breezed by her, leaving the scent of patchouli.

The third one wasn't good-looking either, and she almost let him get by before she realized that it didn't matter; the Change Machine would take care of that for her too. She concentrated on bringing up images of the dark, romantic stranger from all those paperback covers, his long locks flowing over brawny shoulders and his sensitive fingers reaching out for her hair, his brown eyes limpid and gazing only at her...

He put his dollar in and got his quarters, and changed. She inhaled, breath stolen by this vindication. He turned, his fiery gaze raking over her. She lowered her eyelids demurely but felt only the breeze as he went past without slowing, exiting the laundromat without even waiting for his clothes to finish the spin cycle. Of course, no self-respecting hero would be caught dead in a laundromat, making cow's eyes at a dumpy mail clerk! She must've known that, deep down... she must have sabotaged herself somehow. She needed... she needed to get some change for herself.

Her thoughts were an incoherent clamor. She fumbled a crumpled dollar bill out of her purse and jammed it into the slot. The little motors whirred and the wheels drew in her money, and the only words she could think of were "Different. Better. Different. Better." The orange light glowed balefully; the motors reversed themselves and the dollar bill backed itself out of the slot more easily than it had gone in. It teetered on the edge of the tray for a moment, then fluttered to the floor.

No one was there to catch it.

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