Donna was generally so afraid of dirt, and of food, that there was never a chance she’d get any on her clothes, and since she would never exert herself, there was never a chance of B.O., either. Still, she’d bring me an outfit (or two, or five) every day to wash out the perfume, which she changed daily. In a typically brainless gesture, she dumped the pile right on the stack of laundry I had already folded.
Debra came in right behind her. Debra, who was a year older and about ten ounces heavier than Donna, always called her clothes by their proper name. “Ashley, here’s my Spanx,” she announced, “And my Juicy pants,” with their name iced across the velour buttcheeks, “and… my cotton-candy Betsy Johnson cashmere shrug.”
Debra was the big fan of designers, but Donna obsessed on the other labels: the little shiny white ones sewn in the seams. She rummaged through the pile she’d just tossed down, and located each care label, holding it up to my face to make sure I saw the little ‘x’ through the icon of the iron, or to have me decipher washing instructions printed in a European language.
“Here’s my Nancy Ganz,” she sung out, holding up a leopard-print bodyshaper and giving Debra’s Spanx a superior look. Debra let out a tsk! with an exasperated breath as Donna fished for the label. “Hand-wash sep-a-rate-ly.” She turned her great big brown eyes on me, checking for understanding. I held her gaze deliberately, pressing my lips together to keep from saying something, and using all my willpower to avoid rolling my eyes at Debra. “These are power Lycra—see?” Donna pulled the waistband out two feet and let the elastic snap back to doll-size. “Steel-stretch!”
“Those are sure some super underpants,” I nodded very slowly and appreciatively, as I did several times a week. While I was nodding, I noticed my brain wondering why, at seventeen, Donna felt she needed tummy control. Nod, nod, nod. I said, “I’ll make sure they smell dainty-fresh!”
Linda has helped me, since, to understand that Donna and Debra’s body and food issues were inflamed by their perfectionist mother (the only one in the family who actually needed old-fashioned foundation garments to make her clothes work)... but back then it baffled me why a size negative two would need such a thing. But just as I opened my mouth to say so, Sylvia, who entered a room chin-first (as if that made her taller somehow, and her cheekbones more aerodynamic), came through the swinging doors of that laundry room. Donna’s babbling stopped cold. For a moment there, I it seemed as if the fog clinging to the windows was frost.
Now it was Sylvia’s turn to hand me a silky bundle. “I need this pressed, dear.”
Quite baffled, I very emphatically did NOT point out the factor that, if there’s a wrinkle in your girdle when it’s hanging limp in your hands, it’s not gonna be there the minute you stretch it across your hiney. Instead I said, “Sure, Sylvia,” in a forcefully cheerful tone—my best way of maintaining my distance and avoiding any possibility of a fracas.