Tucked away, high on a closet shelf, arranged by date in three reinforced shoe boxes, Mandy’s collection of used soaps sat exuding a chaotic scent of a hundred scrubbed bodies. Each bar, some nearly new, others worn to thin disks, had been sealed with a note—child’s name, city and date—in a ziplock bag and saved.
From time to time Mandy would retrieve the boxes and spread her treasures upon the bed. Pinks and lavenders, sea-foam greens and cornflower blues and of course creams and ivory whites, all aligned in chronological order leading back decades. With most she could recall the exact moment when she’d first held and sniffed the waxy pucks.
The first bar Mandy stole, while babysitting a neighbor family’s four year old girl—with a father, handsome and kind, whom Mandy thought about years after—had smelled of the man. Or so she’d imagined. After the young girl’s bath and bed, Mandy had run her hands through the man’s hanging shirts and slacks. She buried her nose in his socks and underwear. In the master bathroom she caressed the father’s kit. The shower still held moisture from an earlier run. On the tray, the rounded bar, a scented thing from Europe, begged to be touched.
She held it firmly as she made her way to the kitchen to locate a plastic bag. Securely stored in her teenage-sized purse, she waited, watching TV, smelling the scent on her hand, never questioning why she’d taken the soap.
Thievery had never been her motive. As a child she’d memorized the words the soft-spoken man with the musty sweater had repeated from behind the frosted glass, ‘attachment disorder’.
With the bars arrayed on her bed, she would examine their notes and fill her nose with their memory. Each bar gave her joy at the recall, the sense of peril at the theft, the risk of exposure and the elusive feeling of shame.
She no longer sat for children. These days she was hired to sit for pets.
And she’d started a new fad: brushes, hair brushes, toothbrushes, the odd silken brush used to apply blush to a woman’s dull cheeks. As before, she tagged each with the name of the pet, the date and instead of city, she described the ethnicity of the family who’d hired her.
“Someday, I’ll write a paper,” she told herself. “And, in a few years, I think I’ll begin sitting elders.” She’s already begun collecting jars for dentures.