(A far off voice on the radio, speaking persuasively) “In today’s era, every household takes pride in its arsenal of cleaning supplies. We have them in the greatest variety – under our sinks, in the closet, in the bathroom, in the toilet, on top of the washer, in the garage, at the cabin. They take over our shelves with their brightly colored packaging.
(The voice on the radio continues, now closer.) “Today, even friendship between two girls is endangered by the stain on her blouse, a ‘Mission Impossible’ laundry saga.* Thankfully, a ‘benevolent’ chemistry fairy appears, stirring rod in hand. Her eyes bugged out, she screeches, ‘Grab the pink!’ And as if with a magic wand, the stain vanishes in front of our eyes, saving friendships and propelling small family run restaurants into prosperity. But in this medium,” the voice spoke into my ear, and in that moment, I knew what would come next.
“There hides a little secret…” I murmured to myself.
“There hides a little secret,” the voice continued, “until the moment you turn the glossy packaging over to reveal a warning sign. That black ‘X’ over an orange triangle: “Irritant” or “Harmful,” but what could it mean…” The voice, as though it were sizzling, evaporated like a sweltering haze.
“What happened?” I said to myself, startled to hear my own voice. I found myself bewildered, holding a bright bottle in my hand, whose label reads, “Vanish!” I slowly turned my gaze to the back of the package. Without thinking, I feverishly began reading the list of ingredients: Water, sodium lauryl sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoamphoacetate, PEG-4-rapeseedamide. “What’s happening?”
I continued to puzzle over the words because none of it was making sense. PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate, polyquaternium-7, tetrasodium-EDTA, methylchloroisothiazlinone, methylisthiazolinone, butylphenyl methylproprional, cl 15985. Complex chemical formulas began to swirl in front of my eyes and then, POOF! I vanished “Without a Trace.”
I awoke at the dining room table. I wasn’t sure if it was Thursday or Sunday, or maybe Tuesday? I pinched myself, “Ouch!”
“So,” I said to myself, “I must have dreamed that I vanished like smoke. This isn’t good.”
For many months I’d been working in my little laboratory, trying to produce that little white block, which I’d heard of in whispers, that which those in the know call, “Soap.” Until now, I’d tried everything—I even tried combining the oils with molten gold—to no avail. Apparently luck is not on my side.
I leaned back in my chair, my ears ringing, and let my gaze wander. “I won’t give up.” At that moment, I discovered it. A book, lying on the table, perched like a bird, quietly and calmly as if it were watching me. Strange. I peered at the title, it was in English. I tried to translate, Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, I sounded out the names.
“I wonder who left this here?” I couldn’t bear it. I grabbed the book and flipped open to the exact page. I already knew.
The answer to my question was: “42.”
*This scenario references a television commercial for Vanish brand stain remover that was widely aired in Bulgaria. In the commercial, a young girl lends her friend a shirt who returns it the next day with a stain. Just before the little girl can end the friendship over the atrocity, a bright pink fairy appears and screams frantically to “Да се хванем за розовото!” or “Grab the pink!” referring to the pink bottle in which Vanish products are sold.