In the kitchen, the women were studying laundry detergents. They had jugs of concentrate spread across the marble surface of island bar, boxes of powder piled into stacks at the circular table in the breakfast nook and drop in packets lined up along the window sills of the bay window. Each of their containers had some drawing or comment scrawled across their brands making note of the similarities.
Clara Wells stood in the center, her sharpie pen poised before her. “Lets see.” She said looking around at the various labels. “Is there anything else?”
Myrah grabbed a corn-chip from a bag and dipped into a bowl of salsa. “If you can come up with one more thing to say about all this that you haven’t already said before then you’ve earned whatever they’re planning on paying you.” She said popping it into her mouth.
Clara smiled. “Whirlwind patterns.” She cooed grabbing a box with letters that appeared to be caught mid-spin and drawing arrows around them.
The women applauded.
Clara was not attractive. She was big boned, broad shouldered and she carried herself like a man. She wore tweed pants that clung to her hips and ended too high at the ankles. She had a flat nose, heavy brow, and a sharp chin. She was downright frumpy looking by conventional standards but at least her hair was not a concern. Like the rest of them, she went to Hellcatz and they’d managed to talk her into a respectable but low maintenance pageboy.
Tara wrote out her words, then put on her glasses and began reading from the list. “Let’s see, we’ve got - One-word names, bright colors, three to four colors per label, lots of blues and reds, airy lines, no shading, out-lined fonts, no human models… flowers?” She paused suddenly, glancing up at the woman pensively. “I put a question mark next to flowers because there were only one or two brands that used them.”
“That’s true.” Clara smiled. “Do you know why that is?”
“No.” Tara said.
All the women leaned forward waiting for an answer.
“Because of allergies!” She beamed. “The one thing that people have allergies to more than laundry soap is pollen and pollen comes from flowers. It would be foolish to use them to sell something that people are already so nervous about giving them the itches.”
“Wow.” Jill said, impressed. She’d already given up trying to keep her hair styled in the way that it had been when she’d left the salon on Thursday. For the party she had it tied back into a pony-tail. The dark strips and pink streaks clumped together to make her head look like some sort of comet streaking through the galaxy with a human face. Myrah thought that it worked considering the theme.
“And do you know why blues and reds?” She asked the room.
Myrah grabbed another chip. “Reds bleed all over everything so no, I sure as hell don’t understand that.”
Clara picked up another box tapping on it with her sharpie. “The reds are always outlined in crisp definite shapes.” She said. “They want you to look at them and say, ‘Wow! That’s really bright and it stands out so well!’ They don’t make them that way by accident. They want you to not even think about them bleeding.”
“I guess that’s why all of Gary’s shirts ended up pink for the first year of our marriage.” Tara laughed. “I was fooled by marketing into believing that my reds wouldn’t run.”
“So true.” Clara said holding the box close to her bosom. “Now what about the blues?”
Jill unconsciously raised her hand. “Water?” She asked.
Clara nodded. “Not just water but clean water.” She said.
“I don’t get the lack of models.” Myrah quipped. “They put people on everything so why not laundry detergent?”
“Good point.” Carla answered pointing to her with the pen. “People don’t want to think of themselves doing chores. They want to put themselves in the position of enjoying food or interacting with their pets and sick family members as a caregiver but they never want to clean up a mess. You won’t find a human being on any type of cleaner no matter what type of product it is.”
“Good Lord girl!” Myrah shot back. “Do you ever stop thinking about this crap?”
“It’s impossible. It’s all around you.”
“I don’t think about it.”
“But you do!” Clara chirped. “You just don’t realize that you do. Everything that you like is giving off signals that are designed to make you like it. Enjoying these things isn’t natural. No one wants to go out and buy this stuff yet, there’s this underlying compulsion in you that makes you feel incomplete without more and more stuff. It’s hidden in the packaging. That’s why people pay me so much to analyze it. I’m the snake charmer.”
There was a moment of silence as all of the women considered her words. The television mounted on wall of the breakfast area showed scenes of people walking back and forth at mission control. It beamed this image on top of plain yellow wallpaper from between decorated plates that were hung from hooks. A man spoke over the image. “There’s a lot of anticipation in this room.” He said in dulcet tones.
Tara raised the pen that she’d been using to make the list and put it to her mouth. “Fabric softener always seems to use purple.” She said tapping the tip on her bottom lip.
Clara nodded. “Of course.”
“Purple isn’t a very crisp color.” Tara said thoughtfully. “It’s not even a blue or a red.”
“But it’s a soft color.” The woman answered. “Purple is a soft color. It makes you think of soft things. It goes perfect with soft things so you’d want it to be associated with your fabric softener. Not your detergent.”
Jill raised her hand once again. “Don’t they make detergents with softener?” She asked. “I swear that I’ve seen them before.”
“Yes.” Clara agreed. “They use purples and yellows and lots of pastels.”
“And little furry animals.” Jill reminded her.
“Real animals would be too risky.”
Jill smiled. “I think that little bear in the commercials is cute.”
“The fur on the real ones is a problem.”
“How come.” She asked, playing with a black-tipped strand of her ponytail.
“Allergies.” She answered grabbing a box with flowers and tapping it with the tip of her sharpie.
All the women nodded as she speckled the box with tiny little dots.
Myrah grabbed a chip and threw it into her mouth. “Why is it that I don’t even think when I’m doing the laundry?” She asked. “Why do I just grab the dirty clothes, separate the colors, throw them in the wash and pour in whatever detergent that I have without even considering what I’ve done. It’s only when I’m folding the clothes that I realize that I’ve just screwed up my entire day.”
Clara set the box that she was holding down and picked up another one. “Do you see this?” She asked pointing at the name.
The women nodded once more as the read what was printed on the label.
“This here tells you what you’re in for.” She said sagely as she underlined the letters. “It spells your day out for you in clean, crisp detail but it does so surrounded by flashy colors and it comes with coupons. The chemicals inside it may be worth only one dollar but you’ll gladly pay ten just because you feel a connection to the word. When you see it, you’ll think to yourself that every stinky pair of drawers in your hamper will just take care of themselves because of this brand. You’ve woken up, taken the kids to school, done the groceries and put it in your cart to take home and love. You’ve given everything that your day has put in front of you, your All. Why shouldn’t you reward yourself with a brand that understands you? Why not pick this up and put it in your basket? Why not let it give you everything that it’s got like some lovesick cowboy? It’ll do your clothes for you because it understands what you go through as a mom and a wife. It will take care of you. It will always give All of itself to you. It understands you.”
Everyone could only sit silent and dumbstruck as they watched her hoist the box over her head.