BY MARY CHAPMAN
Copyright is held by the author.
I HAD my first taste of laundry detergent when I was 10. I was kneelin’ over the bathtub scrubbin’ at grass stains on the knees of my only jeans. My mom had smacked the back of my head when she saw my pants. I paid her no mind. I changed into shorts and went to wash my jeans. I loved scrubbin’ the fabric until the suds climbed up my wrists and the contrast of the bubbles on my ebony skin. I imagined how it’d feel to be them jeans — crisp and spotless. I brought my soapy arm to my face and breathed in real deep. I took a tentative lick and my tongue exploded with flavours. I licked my arm clean, scooped another pinch of detergent from the box and added a little water to make a paste in my palm. I licked the grainy goodness off my hand. I savoured the taste on my tongue as I wrung out my jeans and hung them on the shower to dry.
By the time I was 15, I was eatin’ laundry detergent several times a day. The moment my eyes opened each mornin’, I walked into the washroom, licked my two fingers and dipped them into the box of detergent we kept under the sink. The salty-sweet, sour granules feel so right in my mouth. I love how it cleanses me. I feel refreshed on the outside as well as the inside.
The first boy I let kiss me whispered, “you smell so good, like a clean pillowcase” as we slow danced at semi-formal.
Every time I have some detergent, I feel complete and the craving disappears. I think to myself, ’s all OK now. I feel real good for a while . . . til I need to do it again.
Last night, I dreamt about my favourite childhood memory. I am in our tiny backyard on a warm, sunny day. Through the patio door, I can hear my mom and her boyfriend screamin’ and the crash of things breakin’ as they argue. As soon as they start, I always come out here. The sound is muted and the closed door makes me feel far away from all the fightin’. The gentle breeze brings the addicting scent of cleanliness to my nose. We don’t have a machine so my mom washes our clothes in the tub and hangs them to dry on a line. There are two rows of billowing sheets, white towels and long pillowcases. I walk between the rows, arms extended, running my fingers lightly over the fabrics. I can see my shadow on the sheets; my kinky hair is like a halo ‘round my head. I press my face into the damp laundry and inhale til it hurts. It smells so pure — so safe.
I wake up with an intense desire to be back between them sheets. I rush to the washroom and close my eyes as the crystalline flakes of laundry soap dissolve and disperse on my tongue.