Brandon Maples stared at the clattering plastic box fan set inside the back doorway to the laundromat and ran the back of his hand across his sweating forehead. It’s hot as goddamn hell in here, he thought, irritated at the uselessness of the ridiculous single fan against the Houston July humidity. The heat from the big commercial dryers only added to the misery. But you couldn’t leave – the minute you did some little bastard would steal your clothes, right out of the washer even. Goddamn place. He took a long gulp from his big can of Budweiser and looked at his watch. 11:42AM. Another hour at least. As he watched a gray-haired Mexican woman finish folding her laundry into a avocado-green basket, he thought about the noise his truck made this morning, how it was not good, and how that was about the last thing he needed right now.

What he needed right now was another beer. He stood, sweat running down his back to his jeans, walked to the double glass door out to the parking lot back to his truck, where the last of the full cans sat on the passenger seat. Crushed empties lay on the floor, along with old receipts, fast-food wrappers, and a few music CDs. Brandon took the can, popped the top, took a drink, and walked back to the laundromat with it in hand. The door had “SUNNY DAY LAUNDROMAT – WELCOME!” painted on it in bright jumpy orange letters, with a large cartoon of a winking and smiling sun carrying a full basket of freshly-laundered towels. He glanced down by the doorway and saw a cigarette butt, an empty Big Grab bag of Cheetos, and a syringe. Sunny Day, right, he thought angrily. He pushed the door open hard and let it bang against the detergent vending machine. The Laundromat was empty now, except for one small pair of black eyes, looking at Brandon from the back of the room.

It was an Asian girl, about 7 or 8 years old, in a sleeveless pink dress, her black hair pulled back into a loose ponytail. She was folding laundry at a table, alone. Look at that crap, he thought, kid should be in school on a Tuesday and some immigrant idiot has her doing laundry, alone, here, in this neighborhood. Unreal. He shook his head, sat on one of the yellow plastic chairs, stretched out his legs, and drank his beer. Goddamn people. Fucking everything up.

After about a half an hour, the girl finished her folding and gently picked up each pile and placed them inside brown paper grocery bags, and made a small neat line with the bags near the back door. She then wandered around the room for a bit, stopping to stare at one of the huge tumbling dryers going around. She picked up a magazine called “El Mundo Total,” flipped through it for a few seconds, then dropped it back on the table it came from. Finally, she walked past Brandon and as he looked up at her with a frown, she sat in the chair two places from him, swung her legs, and looked at him with some curiosity.

“What do you want, kid? Money? I ain’t got none.” The girl just stared back at him with a blank expression. Of course, Brandon thought, kid don’t speak English. Houston didn’t have no one left who was American, he grumbled in his head, all goddamn gooks and spics was all there was now. You’d never know what the hell country you were in just by looking around. Too many goddamn people, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough anything.

“Kid, go find your mama, I ain’t got shit for you.” She kept looking at him, which was starting to bother him, and he felt a rising frustration. He set his beer on the dirty tile floor and turned in his chair to face her.

“Guess what, kid? I ain’t got shit for you, and I ain’t got shit for me neither. You wanna hear my story? You ain’t gonna understand a goddamn word anyway. I lost my job seven months ago, how do you like that?” He paused; her expression didn’t change. “Yeah, seven months now, no one in this town got shit all for me, not construction, not driving, not a damn thing. Five years in that job and it didn’t mean a thing. Now I got nothing. Nothing.” The girl shifted in her chair to fold her legs underneath her.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I got nothing for rent, I got barely enough to pay for gas and eat and finish this laundry. My mama said nothing is better with her and her boyfriend in Vegas, so don’t come there. Jared joined up and is going to fucking Afghanistan, Shelley got a baby now, I can’t go by her. She said, well, go up to Denton and move in with great-grandpa, he’s so out of it, he’d never even know you was there!” Brandon let out a laugh, and the girl smiled at him. His smile faded quickly and he looked into the girl’s face. What the hell was she doing here. He let a minute pass, seething. “Every time I go somewhere, it’s all you people swarming around, taking work for less. Taking food out of my mouth, that’s what it is. This country kicked your fucking ASS and now y’all come here and steal us blind!” He kicked the empty beer can for emphasis; it clanged across the floor until it hit the far wall.

The girl did not flinch, but instead rose and walked over to the rolling laundry carts. She dragged one in front of Brandon, and pointed and nodded for him to take it, then pointed at the dryers. He glanced at her, a little jarred, then looked at his dryer. It had stopped. He looked back at her, and she smiled again. She was missing one of her teeth, he noticed. He got up, sweat now soaking through the back of his t-shirt, and grabbed the edge of the wobbly cart and rolled it over to the dryer. The girl followed behind him. He opened it, greeted with a blast of hot dry air, and started throwing his clothes into the basket. The girl began to take each item from the cart, one at a time, took it to the table, folded it precisely, then brought it back to Brandon, each one like a little gift.

He stood there, and watched her, and said nothing. The cart filled with neat piles of t-shirts and jeans and underwear and socks. When she had finished, she gave the top shirt a little pat.

“Kid.” Brandon looked down at her little face, paused, and spoke again, more quietly. “Kid, I got nothin’ to give you.” A car horn from the back lot gave two short beeps and the girl startled a little, smiled at Brandon and waved to him. A thin Asian man appeared at the back door, moved the fan aside and began to pick up the brown bags of laundry, four at a time. The girl picked up the last one and followed him outside.

Brandon stood for a second and watched her go, then dragged the cart out through the front door to his truck. He lifted the piles of laundry onto the passenger seat, almost like they were breakable, then dragged the cart back inside.

He got into his truck, and turned the key in the ignition. Click click click, it went. The engine didn’t turn over. Click click click click click click. He turned it again and again. “Mother FUCK!!” Brandon pounded the steering wheel with both fists, then rested his head on it, and stayed that way for some time.

As the sun burned through the haze of the afternoon clouds, Brandon got out of the truck again, went back inside the Sunny Day Laundromat, grabbed the same wobbly cart, loaded it with his laundry and the CDs and papers from the glove compartment and some tools hidden under the seats. He looked around at the Shell station and Big Top Liquor and U-Pawn-It and Thuyen-Le Bail Bonds and the 7-11 and all the faces and the cars and began to slowly pull the cart down the bumpy broken sidewalk, going north.