SUMMARY OF A LIFE
by L.T. Fawkes
She went to a Laundromat. Here’s what happened first:
A decorator did the nursery in teddy bear wallpaper six months before she was born. On her first birthday her grandfather gave her a pony and a football. Only one of his gifts was meant as a joke. When she was two she painted Cyril’s Irish setter with Mae’s night cream. When she was three she rode her tricycle four blocks from home before Cook noticed she’d left the estate and went looking for her.
When she was four she played with her Barbie dolls on a priceless Persian carpet. When she was five she wouldn’t let go of Nanny’s coat at the door to her kindergarten class. When she was six a man who owned railroads taught her to shoot marbles while they sprawled on their bellies on a marble floor. When she was seven she was photographed riding Cyril’s shoulders into a Broadway theater.
When she was eight she left a tooth under her pillow and the tooth fairy left her a ten dollar bill. When she was nine she joined Mae and Cyril on their annual European tour. When she was ten she wore her first nylon stockings to Easter Sunday Sunrise Services. When she was eleven she cried because she was worried about beginning middle school.
When she was twelve she started her period and Mae gave a “Coketail” party for her and twenty-nine friends from school. When she was thirteen the Peddicords were divorced. She stayed with her mother. Cyril moved to Arizona.
When she was fourteen she cheated on her tenth grade English final and the teacher looked the other way: divorce or no, she was still a Peddicord. When she was fifteen Mae married Lauri Quesenberry. When she was sixteen she was arrested after a destructive spree through a cemetery with a group of friends, but Mae and Lauri fixed things and got her out of trouble.
When she was seventeen she made her debut in a two thousand dollar dress. When she was eighteen she entered an exclusive women’s college and lived in a hall where there was a maid for every ten girls. When she was nineteen, and in her second year of college, she sat on a leather arm chair in a hotel suite and listened as a tearful Mae Peddicord Quesenberry informed her that Cyril Peddicord had been having bad luck in Arizona. His investments had divested him of most of his funds and he was unable to come up with the tuition payment which was due by the fifteenth.
She comforted Mae, wound up her affairs at the college, and together they returned to Cleveland. She lived there with Mae and Lauri for two months. Mae made a habit of urging her in the most polite terms to find a suitable husband.
This advice seemed sound at first, but she noticed that Mae and Lauri drank most of the time, independently of each other. When she looked at the long-range possibilities, and considered the matter in light of how Mae herself had fared, she decided marriage was not the most promising alternative. She began to look for a job.
At college she had been a history major. Very early on in the course of her job search she learned there was not much demand for former history majors or former debutantes. She was hired only after she stopped mentioning her coming out or her time in the ivory tower. The job she found was working as a clerk-typist in a factory in the Cleveland flats.
After three days’ work she was promoted to assistant manager of customer service because the customer service manager said he liked her “manners.” She was sufficiently wry to reflect that the sum total of her nineteen-year course in Better Living had paid off as everyone had always said it certainly would: at the rate of twenty-five dollars a week, since that was the size of her raise. But she was pleased about the raise and said, “Thank you.”
She used most of her first three paychecks for the deposit and first month’s rent on a small and dirty unfurnished walk-up apartment above a barber shop on Euclid Avenue in the University Circle district.
Mae was opposed to the move. “You don’t know the first thing about survival,” Mae said. “If you walk through that door, I’ll never speak to you again.”
With what was left after the rent, and her fourth week’s wages, she bought a twin-sized bed, but she only used the apartment for sleeping, preferring to spend most of her non-working hours in the more pleasant atmospheres of the Art Museum and the Public Library.
She didn’t know how to cook, so she skipped breakfast and ate lunch and dinner at hamburger stands. She didn’t know how to clean the filthy apartment, so she simply tried to ignore the grimy floors and walls, the badly stained sinks and tub and toilet. She wasn’t certain what to do about the burned-out light bulb in the living room ceiling fixture, so she paid five dollars for a second-hand lamp without a shade and used it, instead.
For two weeks, she tossed her dirty clothes into a corner of the bedroom closet until she had nearly run out of clean ones.
Then she went to the Laundromat.
Nothing happened. Except that she walked up and down the aisles reading the directions on the machines and watching what the other people were doing, and figured out where to put the dimes and where to put the quarters and which machines were the washers and which were the dryers, and how to add the detergent, and how to sort the clothes so the colors wouldn’t fade on the whites, and how to tell what was permanent press and which cycles to use for what.
Two hours later she walked out of the Laundromat with four loads of properly laundered clothes. She went back to her apartment and put the fresh clothes away. Then she went to a nearby grocery store, where she bought a few basic things for cooking and cleaning (after a good deal of label reading and consideration) and a little bit of food, and some light bulbs, and a cookbook for beginners.
On the way home she stopped in a little crafts shop and bought a handful of brightly-colored paper flowers and an orange and yellow macramé wall hanging. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she was going to be okay.
Later that evening, she scrubbed her sinks and washed her floors and made and ate a perfectly nice tossed salad. Then, after she’d set the flowers in a paper cup on the window sill and hung the macramé from an old nail in the wall, she went downstairs to the pay phone in the all-night drug store and called Mae, just to say hello.