I had a lot of free time on my hands yesterday and I got carried away and thought it would be fun to write a laundry-themed parody of Divergent, called Detergent:
One wash can transform you.
I rub my palms down my pants again, trying to dry the sweat that insists on collecting on them.
At the sound of my name, I walk to the testing room and sit in the chair in the middle of the room. A young woman with dark hair—clearly from Clorox division based on her tattoos—introduces herself as Trina. My division believes drawing attention to one’s physical appearance is selfish and wasteful. The Clorox are more bold and reckless.
Trina hooks me up to several wires while she explains what the test will be like: a simple simulation where I will have to make choices. I try to stop my heart from pounding so hard.
She inserts a syringe full of blue liquid into my neck, and suddenly I’m in a different room. There’s a table in front of me with two items: a spray bottle of Febreeze and a lint roller.
“Choose,” says the women behind the table.
I don’t understand and shake my head at her. The table disappears and suddenly a there is a white couch in its place. From the doors behind me, a large dog comes bounding in and jumps on the couch, rolling and bouncing on it.
Now I see how the items might have been useful if I had chosen one. The couch is quickly becoming covered with dog hair and I can smell his canine stench. Obviously I’m supposed to get the couch clean. An idea comes to me. I coax the dog off the couch and flip the cushions over. There, no more hair, no more smell. It looks clean again.
The scene changes and I’m on a bus. I’m standing, gripping one of the metal poles in the center. The bus jolts forward and the man sitting on the seat across from me spills his coffee.
He looks up at me, and I see his face is covered in scars, as if he’s been burned.
“Do you know how to get this stain out?” he demands, pointing to the dark spot on the fabric of the seat.
My mind races. I think I do know how to get coffee stains out, but I can’t remember. The man keeps demanding.
This isn’t real. It’s a simulation. It’s a test. I tell myself. Other passengers are getting angry at the man, yelling at him for creating a stain. He looks at me, desperation in his eyes.
“I….” I begin, “I don’t know how.”
“Yes, you do, I can tell by your face. You’re lying to me! You’re lying!” He continues to scream at me as the crowd encircles him, becoming angrier and I suspect, violent.
I am awake, in the testing room, panting and sweating on the leather seat. Trina looks at me, a crease forming between her eyebrows.
“Uh, wait here.” She says and darts into the hallway. My eyes wander around the room. Anxiety rises in my chest. Did I do something wrong? It feels like Trina has been gone for hours. Is it possible to fail an aptitude test? I breathe a sigh of relief when Trina reenters.
“Your results were…unclear,” she says, “You could fit in equally in Tide, Clorox or Spring Fresh. They call it Detergent. Don’t tell anyone else. It’s not safe.”
I cover my hand with my mouth to keep from crying.
We file into the auditorium behind the other Spring Fresh members. This is the last time some families will stand together. I wonder how many other 16-year-olds are still debating their choice. Most will choose to stay in the division they were raised in. Can I do that? Can I force myself to conform to the simple lifestyle of the Spring Fresh, characterized by their use of generic detergent? Or do I abandon my family forever and join the daring Clorox where I might have a chance of fitting in?
Bruce, one of the leaders of our division, stands in the center of the room. Behind him is a table with four large bowls of water. Each division is represented by their laundry soap: Bounce, Tide, Spring Fresh and Clorox.
“Welcome to the Selection Ceremony,” Bruce says and the crowd quiets, “Today you begin the rest of your life.”
When Bruce finishes the introduction, I watch as my schoolmates go up one by one and make their choices. Most have picked the division they came from. A girl who was in my history class chooses to join Clorox. I see a woman who must be her mother sobbing in the Bounce area she has left behind. Only a few others opt to transfer.
Finally it is my brother’s turn. I know he will choose to stay in Spring Fresh. He fits in the way I never have. He begins the ritual. He approaches the bowls, bends over and removes the sock from his right foot. I watch as he places it in the Bounce bowl. He doesn’t even waver.
I thought I knew my brother. He would never leave my parents. I cannot leave them now. I cover my hand with my mouth to keep from crying.
I am next. They call my name and I walk up to the podium, my heart pounding against my rib cage. Like all of the other initiates, I have already removed my shoes and left them with my family. I slowly and methodically peel my sock off. Clutching it in my hand, I raise my arm, the sock dangling between the Spring Fresh and Clorox bowls. I take a deep breath, my hands trembling, and drop the sock into the bowl on the right: Clorox.
I chose Clorox.
Clorox initiation is more brutal than I expected. Stage One is physical training. We learn how to fight with washboards, with irons and ironing boards. We beat each other up until we pass out. Everyone is competitive and crazy and I’m just relieved no one got stabbed in the eye. I could spend a long time talking about all the things we do, but it’s not really relevant to the plot, and you want to find out what being Detergent has to do with the story, so I will move on and spare the details.
Part of fitting in with the Clorox is getting tattoos. During my first week, I decide to get one. Most initiates get the Clorox emblem, but I want to do something different. I search my favorite online pinboard for ideas. I’m torn between birds and anchors. Both seem to be equally popular. And then there’s the matter of placement. Wrist? Behind my ear? Finally I decide on three black birds flying across my collarbone, because that’s really trendy and I guess each bird can represent a member of my family, so it seems more meaningful. I stop myself from adding an inspirational quote.
The instructor for us transfers is named Three. He is hardly older than I am, but young leaders are common among the Clorox. He threw knives at my head one time, but he also touched my ribcage with his hand, so basically I have a huge crush on him. He could never like me because I’m small and have no talents or likeable qualities.
For phase two we have to go through a series of simulations. Three and I enter a test room, nearly identical to the one I took my aptitude test in. A lump forms in my throat as I remember that day. I lay back, Three inserts the needle into my neck and I’m completely confident having an 18-year-old boy with no medical training injecting me with an unknown substance.
I am standing in what looks like the inside of a giant washing machine. My breathing quickens and my heart races as water starts pouring in and the chamber begins to spin. The water is up to my knees in seconds, then my neck. I’m gasping for the last few inches of air. It’s a simulation. I control it. I remember. I pound on the walls. Water fills my nostrils. There is no air left. The water burns as it rushes into my throat. Suddenly, the wall in front of me breaks into a thousand pieces and I wake up.
Three is standing over me, furious. He grabs me by the arm, his fingers pressing into my flesh. My heart skips a beat. He yanks me to the hallway and says in a frantic whisper:
“You can’t do that again, Liss. They’ll figure it out.”
I cover my hand with my mouth to keep from crying in front of Three.
“Hey Liss!” Obadiah, jogs up to me. He was raised in Clorox, so he trains in a different group than I do. “You’re rankings on the simulations are great. We’re off to do an initiation ritual, do you want to come?”
“Why not?” I say, and follow him out of the cafeteria. We take the train with a group of other young Clorox. I’ve never been to this part of the city before, but I do recognize the building we’ve stopped at. The Sears Tower, once the tallest building in the world. We take the elevator to the roof. I watch the city get smaller as we go and I feel bigger, stronger.
I line up with the other Clorox. Some are older, already past initiation, and they ignore me completely. A tall blonde girl steps on my foot and doesn't even meet my eyes. There is a clothesline stretched from the building to the ground, thousands of feet below us. I know I should feel fear, but I am exhilarated. When it’s my turn I step up to Zack, Obadiah’s brother. He uses two clothespins, one on each of my shoulders, to secure me to the clothesline.
“Ready?” He says and I fling myself off the edge. I glide down the line. I feel free, like a bird, soaring above the world. This is the most alive I’ve ever felt. I feel like a real Clorox and for the first time, I stop doubting my choice.
But then the small wooden clothespins are not enough to hold my weight and my t-shirt slips through their grasp. I am plummeting towards the ground, still a hundred feet from landing. The group of Clorox who went before me whoop and cheer, gathering below to catch me. I cover my hand with my mouth to keep from crying out. I don’t understand why they are so excited and I realize that I have chosen a division full of the insane. Even with their bodies to protect me, there’s no way I will survive this fall.
I am in a body cast for several weeks before I can go back to training. The price you pay to be a Clorox. By the time I’ve recovered, we are moving to the third and final stage. We go through more complicated simulations now. In addition to the fear-filled ones, like the washing machine, now they involve getting various types of stains out of different types of fabric.
I wake to a soft touch on my arm. The dormitory is still dark.
“Come with me,” a voice that could only be Three’s whispers. I follow him to the simulation room.
“I want you to see my personal simulation.” Three tells me, handing me a syringe. We inject ourselves.
We are in a tumble dryer, but it’s not moving yet. Three’s breathing is speeding up. He must be claustrophobic. We begin to spin and he is hyperventilating. The simulation will move on if he can calm his heart rate.
“It’s not real,” I tell him, but I don’t think he hears me. I wrap him arms around me, pressing my back into his chest. “I’m here. Just breathe and we’ll get out of here. Breathe with me.” I can feel him starting to relax a little, but my pulse is speeding up. I can feel the defined muscles of his chest on my back, his strong arms wrapped around mine. I focus on inhaling and exhaling so that he will to, and finally, we are out of the dryer.
We’re in a sparse room. A little boy sits in front of the window, curled up. He looks up as a man enters the room. As he steps into the light, I recognize the Spring Fresh leader, Bruce. He yells at the boy, angry that he’s soiled his white shirt with blood. I notice now that the boy’s lip is bleeding. Bruce yanks the boy up by his arm and drags him to the kitchen, where he makes the boy work to wash the blood out.
Now it is Three standing where the little boy was, cowering, sobbing, scrubbing the shirt to no avail. The generic Spring Fresh detergent is not strong enough.
I remember—Bruce had a son, who left Spring Fresh and joined the Clorox. It was a big scandal. I know Three’s real name: Jonas. Suddenly it is too much, I step between Bruce and Three—Jonas—and start yelling at Bruce. He strikes me across the cheek and I snap. I muster all the strength in my small frame and slam him back against the wall.
The simulation ends and we are back in the testing room. Three stares at me incredulously.
“How did you do that, Liss?” he asks, his shoulders still slumped in fear. "Stop someone else's simulation?"
“I don’t know,” I say, grasping his hand in mine. “I didn’t know...your father….Thank you, for showing me.”
The space between me and Three is filled with static electricity, like when you take a load out of the dryer and you forgot to use fabric softener.
“I need to show you something else,” he says, “See if you can figure out why they call me Three.” The muscles in his back ripple as he peels of his shirt. I stare at middle of his back. There are three blotchy tattoos in the middle of his back, designed to look like stains, I can tell.
“You only have three stains left,” I say. I brush my fingers down them, pressing my fingertips into the small of his back. Most Clorox have only been able to conquer some of the stains in the simulation. To get down to only three is remarkable. “Incredible. Is that why they call you Three?”
“Yes, that’s why they call me Three.”
“But your real name—“
I lean in and kiss him.
The night after I become an official Clorox member, the Bounce division attacks Spring Fresh. Janelle Stevens, Bounce leader, and inventor of the simulations, has figured out how to use them against us. My fellow Clorox are mind controlled to kill the members of my former division. Being Detergent, I was able to resist the simulation, so I follow them, attempting to blend in until they reach the Spring Fresh part of the city. I quickly find Jonas, who I suspected was also Detergent, even though he told me he wasn't.
“I knew you would find me,” he says, planting a quick kiss on my cheek. I grasp his hand. We fight our way through the lines of brainwashed Clorox, trying to get to my family’s house. We are getting close when pain surges through my shoulder. I’ve been shot.
“Go,” I shout at Jonas, but he just shakes his head.
“I’m not leaving you now,” he says. I try to keep fighting. My aim is incredibly good consider I spent one day of training learning how to use a gun and my good arm has just been shot. I don't last long before the pain is too much and we are captured by one the crazy leaders of the Clorox, Aaron. He takes us to Janelle, who seems to have made her headquarters in one of the main division buildings in the square.
“Detergents,” she says, looking us over, “Alice Tryor. I’ve suspected you ever since your aptitude test. I’ve been studying simulations my entire life and I’ve never seen someone resist them like you can. But wounded you’re no good to me. You’ll be executed. Jonas, however, I can use. Yes, I know your real name. I’ve been developing a stronger serum that even Detergents shouldn’t be able to resist. It’s based on fabric softener. Guards, bring him here.”
She pulls out a large syringe filled with white liquid and prepares to plunge it into Jonas’s neck.
I clamp my hand over my mouth to keep myself from screaming. Think, Liss, Think.
“What do you want anyway?” I ask Janelle, trying to stall her.
“No more doing laundry. Imagine it: dry cleaners and laundromats on every corner. No more divisions, no more different soaps. Efficient, automated systems without all the human error. Do you know how many wool sweaters I’ve ruined?!”
“Oh, is that all? Why don’t you just talk to the other division leaders? That’s actually a great idea. I don’t know why we all spend so much time doing laundry anyway. And really, having divisions is just, well, dividing us. Our societal system doesn’t even make any sense. But killing people is not a great way to change it.”
“I never thought about it that way. You’re right.” She presses a few buttons on the control screen on her desk and I hear the shooting outside cease. She’s stopped the simulation. “I’ll call a meeting with the leaders tomorrow.”
The guards release me and I run to Jonas, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him into a tight embrace.
“I thought she was going to mind-control you too,” I say, “I was afraid you wouldn’t recognize me and you’d try to strangle me. I just read a book where that happened.”
Jonas just shakes his head at me, and then he presses his lips into my forehead and whispers, “I love you, Liss.”
And I whisper it back to him, because for once in my life, I know where I belong. Right here, in Jonas’s arms.