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.


The story features a protagonist with an unusual career whose already complex life is further complicated by her empathy. The emotional toll of being the primary caregiver to a spouse with a debilitating illness is showcased. Celia must deal with issues of obligation, distancing herself, letting go of things, and hanging on to the last shred of hope. When does hope become entirely delusion? On what basis do people decide what is best for everyone? The story cleverly looks at identity and imperfection. It calls attention to the schism between who we are and who we would like to be.

Primary Source

Thoreau's Laundry


Southern Methodist University Press

Place Published

Dallas, Texas



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