Ann Harleman

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Thoreau's Laundry

Harleman, Ann

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story


Celia has her hands full. The maxillofacial prosthetist is overwhelmed by the demands of caring for her ill husband at home. Her job - crafting replacement parts for people whose faces are damaged - is truly art but involves interacting with distraught patients and angry families. Her mother constantly telephones to offer unsolicited advice. Celia's husband, Simon, has multiple sclerosis. He has been treated in the emergency department many times and recently has been on a ventilator. Celia realizes that she unintentionally hurts Simon just by caring for him. She has never developed the knack of painlessly administering his injections. When she attaches the feeding pump to his G-tube (a feeding tube permanently set in the stomach), she induces pain by yanking too hard. Her mother, Bess, and best friend, Leslie, try to convince Celia that Simon would be better off in a nursing home, and her life would be less stressful. Although she has a lover, Celia cannot face losing her husband.

One of Celia's clients is an 8-year-old boy, Junius Jones. Most of his left ear was torn off after he was struck by a van. Celia constructs a silicone ear for the boy. She is deeply troubled when the boy's mother cancels his prosthetic fitting twice. Celia's mother is reading a biography of Henry David Thoreau and shares an inspiring quote by Thoreau with her daughter: "Live the life you've imagined" [p 120]. Perhaps Celia is incapable of imagining a hopeful future. Maybe Junius Jones and his mother are unable too.

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