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Loretta had decided to take a shower, but she could not find any shampoo in the bathroom. Her shoulder-length hair, it appeared, was to go unwashed. She eyed her reflection for a moment, looking for any obvious gray in her hair, but found none. Searching for gray was either a habit or a tradition—Loretta was never sure which. She tossed her terrycloth robe onto the toilet seat, wiggled her toes for a moment in the loose fibers of the floor mat, and stepped into the tub with a single stride. The spray casually doused her pale shins and knees. Cold. Colder than usual. She made no quick attempt to stretch an arm toward the temperature dial, but instead chose to walk forward, her feet rolling against the textured latex. Mist spread up the length of her body: to her thighs, hips, belly, breasts. The old shower nozzle insisted on sneaking a thin stream of water through the space between the pink tiles and the white shower curtain, and while the cold spread up toward her chin Loretta reached out with her right hand to stop the escape. She closed her eyes, tilted her head upward to let the droplets hit every part of her face, and slid her hand down the edge of the white curtain to seal it against the wet tiles. The stream sputtered on the plastic, trapped. It’s no man’s land out there. Be smart, and stay in here where water belongs. It’s no fun to scrub mildew off of a hard floor. Hard on the knees. Hard. She blindly fiddled with the knobs. For a full thirty seconds, hands at her sides, Loretta stood perfectly still, with most of her weight shifted to her left foot. The water warmed her face; she opened her eyes slightly and stared blankly at the nozzle as if watching the floors change on an office building elevator. She counted the pink tiles one, two, three, four, five, six, down to the soap tray and carefully picked up the partially used bar of Dial. Loretta spun around, let the water drip down her back for a moment, and began to soap up quickly. She took a washcloth from the edge of the tub and scrubbed, rinsing away the suds. For a few minutes she alternated back and forth between bar and cloth: suds, scrub, soap, wash. No one ever gets cleaner than this. Certainly not me. And everyone always says to conserve water. She rotated each knob clockwise, stood for a moment, and stepped out onto the soft rug.

With skin and hair dry, Loretta wandered out into her bedroom wearing the terrycloth robe. Near the head of the bed she reached down to switch on the ceramic lamp she had purchased at a department store sale the month before. Still the steal of the year. Amazing how the light through that shade softens the room. The perfect lamp. The steal of the year. She turned away, not bothering to glance at the clock-radio. She admired the clean condition of the bedroom for a moment, and then moved toward her dresser to select underwear from the middle drawer. She walked back across the room, entered a small walk-in closet to the left of the bathroom, and pulled a length of string barely attached to the light bulb on the ceiling. She looked down along the twin lines of hangers for several seconds and without much consideration selected the blue dress with the small white polka dots. It’s always comfortable. Always. Loretta set each item of clothing on the down bedspread, hung her robe on the bathroom door, and slowly began to dress. In the corner beside the dresser she found an appropriate pair of pumps, and set them by the bedroom door.

She did not sit down at her desk, but instead tilted the small vanity mirror upward and bent over slightly. She rapidly applied base, rouge, liner, and mascara, and then brushed her hair until she felt satisfied with its condition. Days before she had tossed most of her lipstick into a drawer in the bathroom, but her eye caught one tube laying behind the vanity mirror near the back corner of the desk It was a burgundy she had not used for some time, and she applied it without hesitation. She recalled the times during her college years when she and her roommate had danced around their dorm room holding lipsticks like tiny microphones. They sang Blondie and Donna Summer songs, and laughed, and had pillow fights. It’s true. Nothing else was ever quite like disco. Really should go poking around in storage to find those records. She began to look through her jewelry box for a pair of earrings and her favorite necklace.

When the doorbell rang, Loretta walked to the bedroom door, slipped first her left and then her right foot into its corresponding black pump, and switched off the ceramic lamp on the bedside table. He did sound nice on the phone. Perhaps this one will be handsome. Loretta stepped out of her bedroom, strode down the hall, and began to descend the stairs. At the base of the stairs she looked across toward the small table where she set all outgoing mail and money for the paperboy. She always left her purse on this table before a date—it was either a habit or a tradition—and this evening was no exception. Loretta warmed up her usual front door smile, picked up the leather purse, and turned the doorknob.