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In Northern Wisconsin,
a Yellow Bus Is Reborn

by Stefanie Freele

  September 2011 Fiction Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  echapbook.com  |  Penile Bone by Stefanie Freele


They decide to open a business. Work for themselves. They’ve been downsized: their jobs outsourced to a country they cannot find on a map. No more suits, no bosses with slick hair, no faxes, conference calls or lunch meetings with limp bread and dubious meat. Most important of all: no more indoors.

They love flannel shirts. They wear nothing but flannel and throw away — not even donate to Goodwill —  the old work attire: starched shirts, ties, shiny shoes, black socks. They deposit their severance checks and mash their stiff jackets. Stuff the pile into a gray garbage can. Cover the old life with a crushed pizza box. Call it a day.

The business will be called “Red Flannel Shirt Dry Cleaning and Delivery.” They know men hate doing laundry, especially single men who’d rather be gutting a deer or frying backstrap. Men hate errands; they’d rather sit on the toilet scrutinizing Shotgun News.

They spend precisely one eighth of a second grieving the loss of their old jobs, their old selves. Why waste any time?

They buy the bus. It is a yellow bus of course. An old school bus with folding doors. They take turns opening and closing those doors, reminiscing how as a child, to be able to work the handle was forbidden but coveted. That glorious pshhhh of the air brake! They work the sloppy out-of-step windshield wipers, run down the aisle, split a tuna sandwich in the back seat while they plan their next steps: business cards, hats, an office.

A cabin on Loon Lake is purchased. The cabin. On a good day you can catch northern, bluegill, perch. Lots of birch and pine, a good sturdy driveway for the bus, and it’s just outside of Elcho, a decent town where a lot of decent guys work. Flannel shirted Northern Wisconsin guys.

They post the flyer.

The Dry part of Dry Cleaning is really a joke — one doesn’t dry clean flannel shirts. They figure men will either go along with the humor or not know what dry cleaning is anyway. The shirts will be returned fresh; that’s all that matters.

Men don’t want to bag and label, so the customers’ only requirement is to leave the address on the answering machine and throw their shirts out the front door. “Red Flannel Shirt Dry Cleaning and Delivery” will take care of the rest. Half off if the shirt is red.

Seven calls come in that first day. In the morning, they roar up the bus and slide down the icy road toward town. They pick up all the shirts in an hour and toss them in the new Kenmore. Dry cleaning shouldn’t take only 24 hours; they figure a day off in between pick-up and delivery. They catch four perch to have an excellent lunch with lemon and garlic.

In the morning they pin a business card to each washed shirt and roar up the bus.

However, they forgot to write down which shirt belongs to what address. Some guys threw out a pile of shirts. Who belongs to whom?

They stake out each residence, trying to get the size of fellow as he leaves for work, or gauge his style by his name: Cody Kawalski, sounds like the kind of guy who would say what else is there besides flannel, so they leave the three Large blue and green Woolrichs at the door, hung professionally on the knob. Ned Frontletter, a name like that must belong to the two XXL Field and Stream quilted jackets, Nick Altoona, he must be the Cabela’s fella, and so on. By noon they’ve delivered them all, content the sleuthing met the mark.

Since they are men who understand men, no complaint calls come in. Just in case they got lucky that first time they implement a tracking system on a clipboard.

They both want to carry the clipboard — important people carry clipboards — so begins their first argument.

In silence, one makes coffee; the other washes the lake-view window. They decide to take turns with the clipboard, or find jobs of equal importance so each can feel empowered.

Using the word empowered makes them disgusted. Because, after all, that’s one of those officy-words they should have thrown in the gray garbage can with the shiny shoes.

After receiving eight more calls and knowing service doesn’t have to be immediate — men wear their flannels for weeks in-between washing — they take a day to fish at one of the great secret spots known only by locals. At night, they hit their respective cabin bedrooms to rest before rising with the yellow dawn in the yellow bus.

Drop-offs and deliveries speed up. The money dribbles, expands, then pours. They have a discussion about expanding to work pants and then nix it: too complex. While duck hunting they thank the great grouper above that they’re not stuck in an office.

A steady flow of calls comes in from nearby towns like Summit Lake and Starks. They even get a message from an old coot in Rhinelander who brought his Stormy Kromer Hunting hat all the way from Ironwood Michigan and coudja tidy it up a tad?

The bus is organized, given a seat for each size and category, from hooded flannels to threadbare thinnies. They know the power of a threadbare thinny, a man’s favorite accompaniment, next to his rifle and his dog. Shirts worn thin are washed on delicate, folded lovingly. They even consider a tissue wrap, but then say tissue? who are you kidding.

Once, they dub themselves Bonnie and Clyde. A fight heats up, no one wants to be the woman, and neither fancies a shot in the head. Skip the shooting, save the fresh fish. A good thing comes from the quarrel: it is agreed that to live on the edge, one must not pay taxes.

In their old life, they paid taxes. No more. No way.

Eight bluegill later, they lunch on the dock, amused about that moment of almost- tissue-paper, planning a new skiff with their never-again-going-to-pay-taxes money, and ponder the perfect size for a fish bucket. It is imperative that this be determined before the afternoon is over. Bucket-measuring talk takes an enormous amount of vigor from them, they can barely put their rods away, take their boots off. They hit the hay early, each willful head on an ah-that’s-nice-we’re-hard-working-guys pillow.

end of story

Penile Bone  >>>

© 2011, Stefanie Freele

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