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Definition #2

Updated on October 23, 2012


1 tube white pancake

2 bx disposable contact lenses

call Battenbergs re: Sat. 18 party

A list

is a collection of objects and actions written one under the other on a scrap piece of paper. Objects which have nothing in common but need and the mistrust of the memory of that need.



8 handkerchiefs, polyester, vari-clr

call Martha re: hospital gig , every Tues??

pop trts

Sometimes written in a shorthand indecipherable to everyone but the writer. A lost list, fluttering to the floor. From whose pocket did it tumble, from whose mind did it spring? Not from Wendy’s, she preferred to keep all her needs in her head, where they could be more easily ignored or forgotten. This list, written on a ragged-edged slip of yellow paper, she swept up and threw in the trash. After closing she’d haul it out to the dumpster behind Wong’s Fine Dry Cleaning, shivering in the November dusk.

Wendy dragged the broom along—the handle jiggled in the base, too loose to push. She’d asked Wong to get another.

“Ung, ung,” he said, or something that surely meant “Maybe, maybe not,” in Chinese.

He was too cheap to get another. He even reused twist ties. Wendy leaned against the broom and sighed. The bell jangled and a customer stepped in, sending a breeze swirling through the small shop.

If the breeze blew a list to her, would she hold it up to a mirror and divine its meaning, like a message written in looking-glass lettering? Can a person be defined by needs? Can a person, could she, be defined by lacks? Perhaps every list is an imprint of a life, clear to the caring reader as a thumbprint to a forensics expert, and it floats on the wind somewhere, taunting us to pick it up.

The folded piece of legal pad leapt up and danced, then unfolded on the floor in front of Wendy, like a conjurer showing his hand.

Call Fred re: School Performance Mtch Fnd check

Check w/Brian re: pigeons

3 cases canned whp crm

Wendy picked up the list. Between swearing at the broom, leaning on it, and getting rid of the few straggling morning customers, she read.

Reorder orange and blue wig


It was a long list. A strange list. Yesterday’s date at the top. She hesitated, the paper dangling between her grimy small fingers. Sometime she might get around to polishing her nails, maybe a creamy pink. Although, really, what would be the point? Who would notice the difference? Wong? She tossed the list with the rest of the detritus into the can behind the cash register counter.

To list

is to create; fingers grasp a pen and scratch horizontal words in a vertical column. To enumerate in no particular order. Wendy tried to imagine the hand that had written “orange and blue wig,” and then “pastrami.” It was a man’s handwriting, slanting squared letters. Some so forcefully written they’d punched the ballpoint through the paper. It was a big hand, definitely. Lots of hair on the back. Ginger colored hair. Flaming, like the spice, not brown and dry like the ginger bread men mom sent at Christmas. Wendy remembered mom wiping the counter after every spill of flour. The list-writer had ginger hair springing away from the temples, fine and fly-away like a child’s on cold days. She fished the paper from the trash.

If the dry cleaners were busy, if she cared about her job, she would have left it in. But it was Tuesday morning, very slow, the way she liked work to be. She’d forgotten to pick up The Enquirer. Between that and the orange and blue wig, and the pigeons, and the whipped cream--which happened to be one of her favorite things in the world, the way the whipped white curled and fizzed--she read on.

new pckg. red ns, sz. L this time

lace-up boots, sz 22

pick up second suit at dry cleaners—chck stain

Oh. Wendy re-read the list. Which suit belonged to this list? ‘New pcgk red ns’? Of course. Not just any suit. The clown suit. The orange clown suit. Not just orange. A laundry list of colors, yellow, purple, green, magenta, scarlet, and her all-time favorite, teal. Brass buttons, all over ruffles, huge baggy ballooning pants. $22.50 coat charge, plus the extra $11.75 oversize garment charge. She’d pushed it along the curved rods last week, couldn’t find a thin clinging plastic sack big enough to put over it, and made do with the ones designed for sleeping bags.

The list, this list, must belong with that suit. She looked at the scrap of paper again. The needs of a clown. A happy person, surrounded by laughter, energy, children and brightly colored fluttery kerchiefs, his biggest problem was a blue and orange curly wig slipping down over one eye.

Wind shuddered against the plate glass, rattling the letters SRENAELC YRD. Wong yelled from the back room in his high, impatient whine. She brushed a wisp of hair back from her face. He could wait. The flush from ironing faded from her cheeks, her limbs felt cool.

What a dead end job. The most exciting thing all day was matching up scraps of paper to the coats they belonged to. Maybe she should go to manicure school. Sit down all day, only tiny bottles to lift, and they said the exams were easy. She sighed. She’d like to meet a clown. Wong yelled again, the pressing machine needed adjusting. She stuffed the list under the cash register, went to the back and checked the claim number of the clown suit.

“Waaandy!!” Wong yelled.

She ducked under the hanger rod and over to the presser just as Wong came around the corner.

He shook his head and muttered, “Gak, gak.”

He said that a lot. Wendy figured it was some kind of Chinese for “Tsk, tsk,” because he said it the same way her mom used to, with that same impatient disappointed look on his face.

She ironed. The clown stepped through a mist of steam, tripped over his size 22 shoes, and handed her a bouquet of polyester handkerchiefs. The wind guffawed, a beam of wild sun peeped out from behind clouds, a bit of rainbow hovered in a haze beyond the inverted letters.

The bell jangled, dispelling the mist and announcing the entrance of a customer. She studied people’s faces as they stepped up to the counter. The clown would have big features, a florid, unlined face. A rosy nose, a wide smiling mouth, dark brown eyes, like a black Labrador’s. Happy. She smiled. A big man. Like Santa Claus. She grinned. People entered complaining: too much starch, didn’t remove this stain, not enough starch. They left with nascent smiles.

None of their voices had the bell-like, twinkling voice of a clown, but for some reason the customers seemed a little less irritable than usual, more coherent, and less inclined to frown at her and carefully scrutinize their bills. When the after-work rush came, she sprinted back and forth. Her fingers flew at the register. A matron in pink gave her a tip, her first ever, and she thought she saw Wong wink. But none of the customers handed over claim check # 45123. Perhaps the clown would step through the door any second. Would she recognize him by his list?

Buy a motorcycle. Go to Arkansas to see Frannie. Learn to arrange flowers. Learn to say “Get lost,” in Chinese. Play tennis on a rooftop court on top of a Las Vegas hotel—looked very posh in The Enquirer. Show up in Moncton, Tennessee in a fancy dress and a long smooth car, and explain to mom and all the old high school friends who never got away from home that she was “just passing through on the way to a gig in Radio City.” Lots of things. Lots of things were better than the dull dry cleaners at the corner of Roxbury and Third, with its smell of shriveled soap and its cranky owner and its floor that always needed sweeping. Lots of things. Perhaps she should make a


to lean slightly but uncontrollably to one side. A cock of a head, puzzled. The inward beginnings of reeling, the first dip in a spiral. List, a live slope in a floating craft.

Wendy listed, her weight shifting in dis-equilibrium, the moment the short pale man walked into the dry-cleaners. It was a week since she’d begun her list, on a blank invoice page, folded over and over and over again and stuffed in her back pocket. There was a strange flush of pleasure in crossing even the first small item off—she had righted one small wobble.

A slight man, blond and almost delicate. Like someone’s kid brother. An errand boy, someone to whom you gave lists of chores.

He asked for # 45123 as if it were a business suit, with his lips pressed as thin as pinstripe. Small, neat feet. Tasseled shoes. She handed him the suit, ragged yellow paper pinned to its front. Shorter than she, he reached up for the hanger. He paid cash, two twenties. Wendy wiped her suddenly sweaty hands on her jeans, fumbling his change from the register. She took a deep breath, and tackled the next thing on her list. Lists were hard.

“Enough extra here for you to buy me a coffee,” she said.

He raised his eyebrows and looked her over. A dimple in one cheek, a lopsided smile.

“Sure, doll,” he said, taking his change and laughing like torn paper. “But I’ve got something going now.” He checked his watch. “So…..I’ll put you on my list, OK?”

The door slammed. The breeze eddied and dissolved. Wendy made another check mark, stuffed the creased page back in her pocket. She got the broom, newly repaired with some rubber bands and a bottle of glue she’d rummaged from the back, and attacked the dirty floor.



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