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by Amanda Oosthuizen

Pim’s skin was as pale as his overall. It was the Stainex and solvents. And that he spent every daylight hour in here. As usual, I sat at the counter doing my homework. Two receipts. The first: 10 postcards and 5 stamps — total £2.20. The other: 8 postcards and 10 stamps — total £2.96. I scribble: 10x + 5y = 220

8x + 10y = 296

“See this.” Pim showed me a shirt with a grey ring round the collar. “You rub with chalk.”

I nodded, used to Pim’s gems of laundry wisdom.

“You seen my fucking chalk?” And he went out the back before I could summon a response.

10y = 440 — 20x

10y = 296 — 8x

The door chimed and a tall man in a sharp suit entered and swung an overcoat onto the counter. I tore a ticket and gave him half.

“Be ready tomorrow.” I slid a hanger on the coat.

440 — 20x = 296 — 8x

440 = 296 — 8x + 20x

The man stood, gawking. Those eyes. Rings like they’d been drawn with stumps of charcoal, and glassy black, the subway tunnels to hell.

440 = 296 + 12x

“Anything else?” I wanted shot of the creep but he wasn’t budging.

He glared towards the back. I peered between the rails, no sign of Pim. Before I could shout, the door chimed and the man disappeared.

440 — 296 =12x

144 = 12x

I pinned the ticket to the coat. The fabric was cold, soaking. I checked my hands. My fingers were covered in blood. I chucked the coat at the rail and as it knocked against the garments, the polybags rattled and an envelope fell out. Pim’s name was on it. It was hardly sealed. Inside were fifty fifty-pound notes.

144 = 12x

Pim appeared from behind the rail, still carrying the shirt. I froze. He looked at my bloody hands and at the money and slowly divided the notes between the four pockets of his overall. One, he slipped into my book.

144 = 12x

“Chalk, you see?” He began rubbing the collar. “It takes out all the dirt. You never see it again.”

x = 12

And y?

We start over.

Amanda Oosthuizen’s stories are published extensively online and in print, and her prize-winning Litro/Poland Bruno Schulz story was pasted up on the London Underground. She has an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, where she was joint winner of the 2010 Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She’s currently working on a series of poems inspired by the work of artist Lucy Ash.