Clara lost the laundry detergent account. The company had chosen to go with a more retro advertizing motif and she was trying to sell her concept to the competition just to prove them wrong. She stood in the aisle of the grocery store flanked by Myrah and Jill staring at the array of brands that was spread out before her.
“What is it that they don’t understand?” She said throwing her hands out at the brightly colored rows. “Look at this crap! It’s all spelled out for them exactly what they need to do to sell their stupid soap.”
Myrah put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Calm down.”
“Why should I?” The woman spat. With her pen, she pointed to a box which bore the painting of 1950’s housewife on its cover. The woman was depicted fighting a cute little puppy for a white towel in a field of pastel flowers. “This breaks all the rules. It’s insanity! It’s advertising at it’s worst and it cost me a big God damned bunch of money that I really need right now with Dan being an invalid and all.”
“How is Dan?” Jill asked. “Thom said he doesn’t have any arms anymore.”
Clara shook her head. “Dan’s fine.” She said. “He’s stupid and reckless but he’s going to live.”
Beside the woman, a cart sat filled with packages of white cotton bandages and antiseptic topical cream. They’d come here from the Mall where Jill had purchased a pair of jogging shoes for Thom and gotten her hair curled with white highlights added to it. She looked like a sexier version of Frankenstein’s bride which, oddly enough had been exactly what she’d been dressed as for Halloween when she handed out candy to all the neighborhood children.
“What happened to him?” She asked.
Clara shook her head. “I’d rather not say.” She said.
All of the neighborhood women had questioned her about Dan’s injuries after he’d been seen being pushed into their home in a wheel chair. He had a personal nurse who’d come with him from the hospital and a physical therapist that visited the house twice a week. The evidence of his condition and care were constant and all around her but still she refused to disclose the nature of whatever had caused him to become locked into such a grievous state.
Myrah reached over her and grabbed a box. “This doesn’t even make sense.” She said pointing to the slogan that was printed along its base. “What the hell does ‘Take’s You Back’ mean anyway?”
“It’s part of some stupid market research that the other ad firm did.” The woman answered disdainfully. “They’re trying to evoke a more simpler time when people actually did their own laundry, back before domestic chores got so segmented and outsourced.”
“Well I don’t do my own laundry but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to start just because some box tells me that it’s going to ‘Take Me Back’.” Myrah said thumping the words with her index finger. “I think ‘Wash on the Excitement Cycle’ is much better.”
Jill nodded. “We have a maid.”
Clara turned. “How long has it been since either of you has had to do a load of clothes?” She asked facing the two of them.
Jill shrugged. “I don’t know.” She answered. “Sometimes I’ll put in towels and dirty underwear if I think we’re getting low. Our housecleaning service only comes twice a week.”
Myrah laughed. “I just go out and buy new ones if that ever happens.”
“So you’re looking for new!” Clara said sounding suddenly intrigued. “You want fresh colors and crisp fabric.”
“I just don’t want to do laundry.” Myrah answered. “I cleaned too many pairs of crapped in drawers when my son was little to ever have some burning desire to be ‘Taken Back’ to those times.”
“Is that what you think of when you look at this box?” The woman asked tapping the item that Myrah held with her pen.
She looked down at the woman and her dog. “I don’t think of anything at all.” She answered after a moment.
Jill took one off the shelf and held it before her. “I don’t either.” She said squinting.
The grocery store where the women did most of their shopping had been built by Jack two years ago. It had hardwood floors and each of its sections were designed along a theme that matched the items that were stocked in them. The produce and milk area looked like a large cartoon farmhouse with big red doors and fake stacks of hay. The frozen food aisles had plastic icicles dangling from the ceiling. The part that they now stood in, where the cleaning supplies were sold was arranged to look like it was constantly being scoured. Above them, giant bubbles hung on wires and molded suds dripped from the corners of the displays.
“You can’t think of nothing?” Clara said sounding annoyed. “Everything in the world has been engineered to make you think of something. Come on! What does this box make you think of? Laundry, fresh linins, the smell of flowers? What?”
Myrah looked at the box again. “I don’t know.” She said nervously reaching up to adjust her glasses.
“I just keep looking at the dog.” Jill offered. “He’s so cute and tiny.”
“Yeah.” Myrah agreed. “The dog is definitely the thing that my eyes are drawn to.”
Clara turned and tapped one of the boxes sitting on the shelf with her pen. “What does it make you think about laundry?” She probed.
Jill shook her head. “I don’t think about laundry at all.” She said biting a fingernail. “I mean, I look at the dog and the woman playing with him and I just think that it looks like fun.”
Myrah nodded. “I’ve never seen a cuter damned dog.”
“But put it all together.” Their friend chided. She took the cap off her pen and circled the picture. “The stupid sunset? The field of flowers? The ugly dog? Does any of this push any buttons in your heads that makes you think of laundry?”
They both shook their heads.
“I hate this brand.” Clara spat bitterly.
From behind them a heavily accented voice spoke. “This dog reminds me of my dog as he was when I first bought him.” They all turned to see Sanjay from Decoys and Deer standing in the aisle. He was holding the handle of a shopping cart that was loaded to the brim with vegetables, spices, soda, beer, meats, paper towels, frozen pies and magazines. He smiled reaching over them to grab one of the boxes from the shelf. “The woman is too skinny.” He continued pointing at the picture of the girl. “It is the dog that makes me want to buy this product.”
Jill smiled. “We were just at your store!” She said excitedly. “I bought a pair of jogging shoes. I looked for you but you weren’t there. I really wanted your help.”
He nodded. “Today is my day off.” He said seriously. “Shoes are not my area of expertise. I would not have been a good person to help you in your purchase.”
“Why are you here?” She asked. “You look like you are getting ready for a party or something.”
“Yes.” The Indian smiled. “I have come to shop for a celebration that I intend to have tonight with several of the people that I used to work with at NASA. We have recently been notified that our services will soon be required again.”
“So you’re getting your old job back?” Myrah asked. “Good for you!”
“Indeed.” He said nodding again. “I have been asked to return to the space center on Monday so that my security clearances might once again be verified. All of the planetary geologist are being brought back.”
“That’s really something!” Jill beamed.
Clara tapped his box. “You like this dog?” She asked.
“Yes. This dog justifies the purchase of this product.”
“What about it’s cleaning power?”
“It is soap.”
“Don’t you care about how it’s going to clean your clothes?” She said growing more and more flustered. “Don’t you worry about your colors running together? Don’t you wonder if it’s going to irritate your skin?”
Sanjay took another long look at the box. “These things are secondary to the nature of this dog.” He said at last. “When I look at this picture, I do not think about my dirty clothes or the unhappy process of cleaning them. These are generally not the things that I wish to be reminded of when I am shopping for a party with my friends. All I care about is that this takes me back to a moment when my dog was a puppy.”
Clara shook her head.
The man tossed the item into his cart. As he began to walk away she grabbed the box from Jill and drew devil horns on the dog. All the women laughed at her clever act of vandalism.