SepSceneWriMo #14

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.


20 thoughts on “SepSceneWriMo #14

  1. https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-dirty-history-of-soap

    “Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.” That’s what the CDC has advised all Americans to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during this pandemic.

    It’s common-sense advice. The surfactants found in soap lift germs from the skin, and water then washes them away. Soap is inexpensive and ubiquitous; it’s a consumer product found in every household across the country.

    Yet few people know the long and dirty history of making soap, the product we all rely on to clean our skin. I’m a historian who focuses on material culture in much of my research. As I started digging into what’s known about soap’s use in the past, I was surprised to discover its messy origins.

    From animal fat to coal tar, what goes in tends to be pretty dirty.

    Gross Ingredients to Clean Things Up

    Ancient Mesopotamians were first to produce a kind of soap by cooking fatty acids – like the fat rendered from a slaughtered cow, sheep or goat – together with water and an alkaline like lye, a caustic substance derived from wood ashes. The result was a greasy and smelly goop that lifted away dirt.

    An early mention of soap comes in Roman scholar Pliny the Elder’s book “Naturalis Historia” from A.D. 77. He described soap as a pomade made of tallow – typically derived from beef fat – and ashes that the Gauls, particularly the men, applied to their hair to give it “a reddish tint.”

    Ancient people used these early soaps to clean wool or cotton fibers before weaving them into cloth, rather than for human hygiene. Not even the Greeks and Romans, who pioneered running water and public baths, used soap to clean their bodies. Instead, men and women immersed themselves in water baths and then smeared their bodies with scented olive oils. They used a metal or reed scraper called a strigil to remove any remaining oil or grime.

    By the Middle Ages, new vegetable-oil-based soaps, which were hailed for their mildness and purity and smelled good, had come into use as luxury items among Europe’s most privileged classes. The first of these, Aleppo soap, a green, olive-oil-based bar soap infused with aromatic laurel oil, was produced in Syria and brought to Europe by Christian crusaders and traders.

    French, Italian, Spanish and eventually English versions soon followed. Of these, Jabon de Castilla, or Castile soap, named for the region of central Spain where it was produced, was the best known. The white, olive-oil-based bar soap was a wildly popular toiletry item among European royals. Castile soap became a generic term for any hard soap of this type.

    The settlement of the American colonies coincided with an age (1500s-1700s) when most Europeans, whether privileged or poor, had turned away from regular bathing out of fear that water actually spread disease. Colonists used soap primarily for domestic cleaning, and soap-making was part of the seasonal domestic routine overseen by women.

    As one Connecticut woman described it in 1775, women stored fat from butchering, grease from cooking and wood ashes over the winter months. In the spring, they made lye from the ashes and then boiled it with fat and grease in a giant kettle. This produced a soft soap that women used to wash the linen shifts that colonists wore as undergarments.

    In the new nation, the founding of soap manufactories like New York-based Colgate, founded in 1807, or the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, founded in 1837, increased the scale of soap production but did little to alter its ingredients or use. Middle-class Americans had resumed water bathing, but still shunned soap.

    Soap-making remained an extension of the tallow trade that was closely allied with candle making. Soap itself was for laundry. At the first P&G factory, laborers used large cauldrons to boil down fat collected from homes, hotels and butchers to make the candles and soap they sold.

    Workers tended to soap in large tanks in a French factory circa 1870. Image from Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images.
    From Cleaning Objects to Cleaning Bodies

    The Civil War was the watershed. Thanks to reformers who touted regular washing with water and soap as a sanitary measure to aid the Union war effort, bathing for personal hygiene caught on. Demand for inexpensive toilet soaps increased dramatically among the masses.

    Companies began to develop and market a variety of new products to consumers. In 1879, P&G introduced Ivory soap, one of the first perfumed toilet soaps in the U.S. B.J. Johnson Soap Company of Milwaukee followed with their own palm-and-olive-oil-based Palmolive soap in 1898. It was the world’s best-selling soap by the early 1900s.

    Soap chemistry also began to change, paving the way for the modern era. At P&G, decades of laboratory experiments with imported coconut and palm oil, and then with domestically produced cottonseed oil, led to the discovery of hydrogenated fats in 1909. These solid, vegetable-based fats revolutionized soap by making its manufacture less dependent on animal byproducts. Shortages of fats and oils for soap during World Wars I and II also led to the discovery of synthetic detergents as a “superior” substitute for fat-based laundry soaps, household cleaners and shampoos.

    Today’s commercially manufactured soaps are highly specialized, lab-engineered products. Synthesized animal fats and plant-based oils and bases are combined with chemical additives, including moisturizers, conditioners, lathering agents, colors and scents, to make soaps more appealing to the senses. But they cannot fully mask its mostly foul ingredients, including shower gels’ petroleum-based contents.

    As a 1947 history of P&G observed: “Soap is a desperately ordinary substance to us.” As unremarkable as it is during normal times, soap has risen to prominence during this pandemic.

    Judith Ridner is Professor of History at Mississippi State University.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story. You still do the inside out thing but that’s obviously your stylistic stamp on tone. Paragraph five is out of place. Move it up, dump some of it and roll in the third paragraph. Look at five as a setup instead of backstory dump. Which direction are we always headed and why are we circling back? Cool riff. though.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. His take on sentence structure. I don’t know if it’s an affectation, or how he hears melody or is truly his desired productive outcome. It drives me nuts but I might not be, probably am not the intended audience. My take is Anything that functions as a pothole or speed bump stylistically should be re written logically unless the tempo requires potholes or speed bumps.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Its interesting that you mention tempo. The sound of words sort of is like music, isn’t it? I think we sense that when we know that the word that comes next should have three syllables with an emphasis on the first, or when to split an infinitive and when not to.. I think everyone has an ear for different melodies.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. It’s a habit I have of writing sentences in a somewhat flip-flopped fashion where the sentence generally ends with what it should have started with.

        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.

        She saved each bar in a ziplock bag. Some bars were new, some worn thin, but each was tagged with a note: child’s name, city and date.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I think that the order of a sentence plays a huge role in how the meaning of it ought to be understood, or how it is at least being offered to the reader. It can mimic someone’s thought pattern. Some people meander, others are orderly, still others are plain nuts. I dunno how up on your Latin you are, but I remember how each word had its particular form as a subject or object or whatever, so you could arrange the words in a sentence and the plain meaning would be the same, but your arrangement would additional meaning and emphasis. “The dog bit the man” and “the man bit the dog” are two very different sentences in English, but in Latin you could order them as you please. Really sorry if you know all that already.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m thoroughly ignorant of Latin, but I take your meaning.

            English word order is critical. The subtlety and nuance of this language must drive 2nd language students bonkers. (It drives me nuts, too, most often when PH points out my inverted phrasing [smile].)

            Liked by 1 person

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