Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s Work in Progress site has excerpted the first story from A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, the newly released collection of short fiction by the late Lucia Berlin–who died in 2004, and was largely overlooked while she was alive. In the book’s foreword, author Lydia Davis writes, “Perhaps, with the present collection, Lucia Berlin will begin to gain the attention she deserves.”
Angel’s Laundromat is in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fourth Street. Shabby shops and junkyards, secondhand stores with army cots, boxes of one-socks, 1940 editions of Good Hygiene. Grain stores and motels for lovers and drunks and old women with hennaed hair who do their laundry at Angel’s. Teenage Chicana brides go to Angel’s. Towels, pink shortie nighties, bikini underpants that say Thursday. Their husbands wear blue overalls with names in script on the pockets. I like to wait and see the names appear in the mirror vision of the dryers. Tina, Corky, Junior.
Traveling people go to Angel’s. Dirty mattresses, rusty high chairs tied to the roofs of dented old Buicks. Leaky oil pans, leaky canvas water bags. Leaky washing machines. The men sit in the cars, shirtless, crush Hamm’s cans when they’re empty.
But it’s Indians who go to Angel’s mostly. Pueblo Indians from San Felipe and Laguna and Sandia. Tony was the only Apache I ever met, at the laundry or anywhere else. I like to sort of cross my eyes and watch the dryers full of Indian clothes blurring the brilliant swirling purples and oranges and reds and pinks.