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Monday, 28 July 2014

Endless Bars of Soap

By Mary Mack

I met Bonnie Baker once before, about 10 years earlier, when I was about 12 or 13 years old. That day, I remember, the maples and oaks were noticeably numb, suspended as they were in the thick summer air while heat waves rippled across the black macadam roads as Darlene and I hiked the back streets which led to the Baker’s house.

Darlene said we’d watch her two little cousins for about two or three hours while Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Kenny went out for dinner. Why not? I had nothing better to do. I might as well tag along.

The Baker’s house was located a little outside of town on Franklin Street just past the fire house and about eight blocks from my house. If you didn’t know it was there, you could easily miss it as it sat far back from the road and the only sign of life was the enormous spider web which entombed the handle of an abandoned lawn mower resting haphazardly at the edge of the driveway.

Notably, several old rubber tires, metal hubcaps, rusted bicycle frames and a few cracked clay flower pots decorated the front yard as well. But the old and tired beagle, tethered to the powerfully ugly front porch, who barely lifted his head as he let out a low and pitiful bay as we approached, troubled me the most.

That, of course, was before the front door swung open.

Darlene and I climbed our way past thick briars that chocked and surrounded the front porch steps, the beagle, some decaying house plants and endless spent bottles of whiskey and milk until we reached the front door.

Darlene, without hesitation, tapped on the door while I began to wholeheartedly regret my decision to come along. But in an instant, the two little boys, Dwayne and Kenny, answered the door - shirtless, barefooted and as pale as a morning in January.

“Hi, Darlene, who’s your friend?” they asked, the harmony of their little voices trailing high above the hazy summer sky.

Darlene said not a word to them as she led me into the house. I got as far as the threshold when the sickening-sweet stench of the Baker house escaped and quickly pushed me backwards and engulfed my senses.

Barely inside and it was already the kind of stench you could taste, even the walls smelled polluted, grimy and grubby. And, upon closer examination, the children, the poor children, had filthy dark rings of dirt encircling their slender necks and the blackness of neglect covered the shoeless soles of their tiny little feet.

Bonnie waved for me to come inside but I couldn’t take another step. I grew up watching my father mow the lawn, religiously, every Saturday morning while mom scrubbed the linoleum floors on her hands and knees with a bucket and a rag.

I didn’t understand the Baker’s house and I didn’t want to. All I wanted to do was go home and I did, after making some excuse about my mom needing me there.

And I ran the entire way home until I found my mom in the back yard hanging up clean sheets on the clothes line to dry. My face was stained with tears as I grabbed and hugged her tightly.

She calmly set down the laundry basket and sat in the grass beside me. She explained that there were people in the world, like the Bakers, who were without pride. Because no matter how poor you become, she said, you can always afford a bar of soap. Don't forget it, she told me, as she stood and continued to hang the clean sheets.

Ten years later, after Mom died, Dad tried to get on with his life at the age of 65. It was just another summer day when he invited his new lady friend to our house for dinner to meet me.

Naturally, I recognized her immediately; it was Bonnie Baker. But I never whispered a word of recognition to her, this woman without pride, as memories and the sweet, sweet smell of Mother's clean sheets once again sailed the summer winds.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Oh Mary - what next? You can't possibly leave us hanging like that? Had she changed - what impact did she have on your father's life - on your life? How did you deal with it? Please please give us the next instalment! Excellent story - had my skin creeping.

You are a wonderful storyteller.
I took each step with you.
The photo looks like the 1950s.
I wore those shoes, loved the smell of sheets on the line in the sunshine. Thank you.

That is a very good story with a surprise ending.
So, are you going to keep Jeanette and I in suspense?

Another great story Mary. You have a gift of remembering things and organizing them into a story. I especially like love and respect you show your parents in your writings.

Oh, I never thought about writing more....my father did end up marrying Bonnie and they had a child. Maybe I'll write more, thank you for your kind words.


You have a great gift for using words! I can't wait to learn whether your dad's ways influenced Bonnie's, or the other way around.

Hurry up and let us know!

You left me wondering what ever happened to those two barefoot boys. You need to write more to satisfy all our curiosities and didn't your dad miss the wonderful smelling clean sheets from the clothes line? Excellent story telling on your part, thanks.

I, too, wanted to hear an ending to the story. As I read the comments, though, I began to think of so many reasons why Bonnie might have been slovenly then and perhaps changed later: ill health, depression, discouragement if in an unhappy marriage, not enough money, etc., etc.. I hope she and your dad were happy, and I would love to know if she changed with happiness.

Yes, fascinating story. What kind of relationship did you
have with Bonnie and your half-sibling and stepbrothers?

I would love to hear the rest of the story.

I was left with the feeling of what happened next. Please write more.

More! More! You have a great way with words.

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