August 24, 2007
The Adventures of Dirty Rachel
Mary Fallon Fleming
The tub sat in front of the fireplace where Althea had built an enormous blaze. The windows were closed for the night, and the room had grown warm. They were in the blind old woman’s room, Althea, Miss Margaret, Gabriela, and Rachel. Miss Margaret said that would be the safest place for Jamie and Rachel to sleep. Jamie would get the big bed, and Rachel would get the diminutive day bed that Althea and Gabriela had moved up from the sun room.
It was an old tub. It was dented in places, and Rachel could see a few scattered spots of rust. Still, it looked like it had been well-cared for, polished and scrubbed and dried carefully every time it was used.
Rachel stood waiting quietly for the first boiling pot of water to be poured in, her small scrawny body nude and comfortable beneath the great big fluffy towel Miss Margaret had brought her. Rachel eyed her new clothes, draped on a chair, which was her promised reward if she went through with the bath. How she wanted to feel the soft flannel night gown against her skin, and how she dreaded the bath tub.
“There, dear, you see? It’s not so bad so far, is it?” Miss Margaret said.
Gabriela brought the first big pot of hot water from the fireplace and poured it into the bath tub. It sloshed and hissed and steamed. Rachel stepped back fearfully. I hope they know there’s something called too hot, she thought.
The whole process was so tedious. It seemed to take hours. Rachel thought they would never finish. Finally they had heated enough water, and it was time to add the cold water and the scented soap powder.
Whoosh! Althea poured in the cold water just as Miss Margaret added the soap.
“There now, dear, stick your hands in and stir it all around,” Miss Margaret said.
Cautiously Rachel approached the tub. What if it’s too hot? She thought. But she did as she was told, and soon a massive flurry of bubbles appeared on top of the water.
“Ooh!” Rachel squealed as soon as she saw the bubbles.
“Are you ready to get in now?” Althea said. Gabriela stood with her unsmiling visage, her arms folded in front of her.
“Oh, you have to help me,” Rachel said.
“Here you are, honey lamb, just give me your hand and step in,” Althea said. “Just put your big toe in first.”
But it was impossible for her to put in just one big toe. Before she knew it, she had stuck one leg in up to her calf.
“How is it, dear?” Miss Margaret asked. Rachel moved her foot around on the bottom of the tub. “Do you think you can get in now?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Rachel said. Slowly she put in her other foot, and then she sat down in the tub with her short legs stretched out before her, resting herself on the back of the tub. Just like Miss Margaret had said, she was surrounded by fragrant, enchanting bubbles.
“And those will make you clean, honey,” Althea said. “Warm enough?”
“Yes, Miss Althea,” Rachel said.
“Well, good, honey. You just play in there for a few minutes. That’ll get you clean,” Althea said.
“Oh, no, this young lady needs a wash cloth,” Miss Margaret said. Rachel looked up and saw Miss Margaret kneeling next to the tub. Next thing she knew, her whole body was being rubbed with the wash cloth from head to foot. Miss Margaret even got her face. Then she had Rachel lean back in the water so her hair could be washed with liquid castile soap. Althea rinsed Rachel’s hair with tepid water.
“All right, now, baby, out you come,” Althea said. Rachel stood up and Althea dried her naked little body with the big fluffy towel. Rachel stepped out of the bath tub. “Come on, here’s your new night gown,” Althea said.
Soft as velveteen, the new white night gown with the tiny pink flowers went over Rachel’s head. She had never felt anything so luxurious in her life. All the clothes at the orphanage were old and scratchy.
“Have a seat at the vanity,” Althea said. “Let’s get this hair combed out.”
Rachel looked at herself in the mirror as Althea gently combed her wet hair with a real tortoise shell comb. Her big blue eyes were bright, just like Gabriela’s. Her wavy dark hair had auburn highlights, just like Althea’s. To Rachel’s own eyes she had been transformed. No longer a pitiful waif, she was changed into a pretty young lady.
The new blue dress, a diminutive petticoat, a camisole, panties, and spanking new black leggings all lay across the chair, as promised. Rachel could hardly wait to try them on.
“Miss Althea, can I please try on my new clothes before I go to bed?” she said.
“No, it’s too late,” Miss Margaret said. She pulled back the quilt on the day bed and patted it with her hand. “Climb in,” she said.
Rachel pouted. “When’s Jamie coming?”
“Oh, Jamie’s a big boy,” Miss Margaret said. “He gets to stay up till ten.”
Rachel had never slept alone. In the orphanage she had slept in the huge, drafty ward, along with all the other children. She was afraid to be left alone. She could see Miss Margaret had read her thoughts.
“Don’t worry, dear, Miss Althea will stay with you until you fall asleep,” she said.
So Rachel climbed into the day bed, and Althea covered her with a warm quilt. The hot bath and big supper made Rachel sleepy. Dirty Rachel, dirty Rachel. Over and over she heard it in her thoughts, the nick-name she had been given by the other children at the orphanage. As she closed her eyes she thought, If they could only see me now.