Pissy trousers, pissy pyjamas, pissy shirts. I turn the dial, press start. I watch the clothes turning and tumbling through the little round window for a minute then I get the sense I’m being watched. I turn around and the gaffer’s glaring at me. BILLY! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU NOT TO MIX DARKS WITH LIGHTS? I look again to the little round window, watching black trousers and pale green pyjamas wrestle with each other. I look back at the gaffer. His knackered baggy face is red and blotchy and he huffs and puffs as he leans against the contract basket. Poor cunt is sixty-summat going on ninety. Years of dry-cleaning fumes have fucked him up right good and proper. I feel myself grin. I didn’t think it mattered with the hospital stuff, Mr Gilly. IT MATTERS WITH EVERYTHING! he barks, turning on his knackered Hush Puppy heels and heading back to the steam-press. DON’T DO IT AGAIN! he sputters, hobbling huff-puff into the steam and slamming the door behind him. I mutter Cunt under my breath and push the basket out of the way of the clothes bins. There are four bins, these big wooden boxes, and my job is to sort out the loads, grouping them by colour and material, applying pre-clean where needed, then loading the machines. It’s boring work but it’s better than working the steam-press, which is what I have to do some days, but not today thank fuck. I start dragging all the dark nylons out, mainly suits and trousers, and start checking each item for stains. Mostly it’s sweat under the armpits and ink in top pockets. Then I make a pile in front of the other machine and start checking through the pockets as I load it. You have to be careful, because a lot of these clothes are from office workers and the like, and you’re really in the shit if you dry-clean a jacket with a leaky pen in it. Even tissues are trouble. They disintegrate into a thousand tiny shreds and cover everything in the machine with little pale flecks. I check the pockets of a black jacket and my fingers touch something cold. It’s a big silver badge with a clip on it. I close my hand and take a quick look over my shoulder. All clear, so I open my hand to look. Derbyshire Constabulary. Funny. I drop it into my overall pocket. I dip again and my fingers touch something else hard and cold. I know what it is without even looking. I push the jacket into the machine and quickly open and close my right hand to flash a thick gold wedding ring. A dirty copper on the pull... The morning drags fuckarse slow. At dinner I head into town, my finger slipping in and out of the pocketed ring as I walk. The pawnshop gives me fifteen quid after some half-hearted questions about the ring’s history. It were my Uncle George’s, I say. He’s dead. Brain cancer... I order pie and chips at The Fleece and a pint of Carling. I sit near the pool table and wait for my food. It feels great to be drinking cold lager at dinner. I never have the money usually. I get another in just as the food arrives. It tastes great. A woman comes in with her arm around an old biddy, sits her at a table then fetches a menu from the bar. I think about my mum as I drag a chip through gravy. We haven’t really talked since I moved in with Sarah. When I left home it was quick, my dad putting my stuff into the back of his van with nothing much said. My mum didn’t try to stop me either. She didn’t say anything really. But then again, she hadn’t said much to me for weeks. Maybe we just outgrew each other. Maybe this is how it is for everyone. I’m not a boy anymore... I finish my pint and get another in. The clock on the wall says twelve-forty. Twenty minutes left. I call at Hudson’s record shop on my way back to work and buy Sarah the new Whitesnake album. She has a thing for David Coverdale. I feel good. The sun is shining.

LOOK AT THIS! barks baggy-faced Mr Gilly, holding up a pink dress with a blue-black streak across the tit. Oops. WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT MIXING LIGHTS AND DARKS! HOW COULD YOU MISS THIS! IT’S BRIGHT BLOODY PINK FOR GOD’S SAKE! YOU DON’T MIX A PINK DRESS WITH DARK SUITS YOU IDIOT! I take a breath. I don’t like being called an idiot. LAST CHANCE! ONE MORE AND YOU’RE OUT! He leans into my face and sniffs. Have you been drinking, lad? Have you BEEN DRINKING? I shrug, a smile breaking across my face, unstoppable. IT’S NOT FUNNY, YOU IDIOT! WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S AN ACCIDENT? HEY? WHAT DO YOU THINK THE INSURERS WOULD SAY IF THEY FOUND OUT THE CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT WAS PISSED?... I’m not pissed, Mr Gilly. He huffs and shakes his baggy head. Well my lad, the cost of this is coming out of your wages, make no mistake. He shakes the dress in my face, throws it back into the clothes bin, then turns and hobbles huff-puff back into the steam room. Idiot, he says, closing the door with a bang... I lean the Hudson’s carrier bag against the machine. I take the copper’s badge out my denim jacket pocket and slide it onto my lapel. I open the machine door and ram anything and everything into it. Half-a-dozen white shirts, a purple dress, a green suit, black trousers, a red coat, a yellow dress, a blue overall, a cream suit, that pink dress, again, and then I turn the dial up to the hottest wash possible. And then, unzipping my fly, I piss into the mouth of the machine. It’s a long and happy piss, disturbed only by Madge the counter-lass pushing a barrow of clothes down the alley towards the machine room. I zip myself up, close the little window and press start, the hundred degree light flashing on/off/on/off as I pass her on my way out, swinging my carrier bag, singing Highway to Hell, walking out the shop door into the clean bright sunlight, the change in my pocket saying poppers from the porn shop, a quick pint, then home.