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No Quarters

by Leslie Elman

About the Author: Leslie Elman is the author of several books of trivia and quizzes and a regular contributor to


“No quarters,” she said, watching him fumble in his pockets for change.

He couldn’t ignore her. They were the only two people in the place. If she was talking, she was talking to him. Most likely. She might spend a lot of time talking to herself.

She was right. The machine had no slots for quarters. He’d have to buy a card for this one load of wash. Two dollars wasn’t a lot to spend. Too bad he didn’t have it on him.

He patted the front pocket of his shirt willing a wallet or a folded bill to materialize there, not turning toward her so she wouldn’t see the frustration on his face.

“Use mine,” she said, when she saw his shoulders slacken inside his old brown plaid shirt. She held out a plastic card with a computer chip embedded in its face. “Come on. It’s all right.”

He turned to face her.

“Newcomers’ discount,” she said. “First round’s on me.”

Her hair was red at the ends, white at the roots, and brown in between. Was that intentional or a sign of neglect? All of her could have gone either way. She wore what his mother would have called a house dress, a shapeless cotton thing in a pinky, yellowy floral pattern with a zipper up the front. He hadn’t seen one like that for years yet this one looked new with no sign of fraying or fading. Her red-orange toenails peeked out from beaded slippers; the kind his mother called scuffs.

He took the card without speaking and fitted it clumsily into the payment slot.

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