Page 45 Review by Stephen
Thirteen-year-old Marjorie has more to contend with than most.
And it shows. Her poor, heavy eyes are so sad.
Her Mom died last spring, "and then Dad sort of did, too."
He's become a ghost of a man, floating silently round the house, barely lifting a finger, leaving Marjorie to tend to her brother and run the family business single-handedly, all outside school hours. Unsurprisingly, in spite of all her hard work, the business is starting to crumble.
Some of the customers are far from supportive. Mrs. Waffleton, with eyes like Eastenders' Angie Watts, cuts her no slack for being even a minute late, while her spoiled daughter Tessi stares, self-absorbed, into the distance.
"Tessi Waffleton always looks like a spring holiday basket.
"But, like, one that you give for revenge or a prank or something that is sort of pretty but is filled with saw blades and worms."
It's a perfect description of the overly-made up, pouting girl in pearls. Tessi demands to be the centre of everyone's attention at school, keeping her entourage in check by denigrating their personal quirky speech patterns. It's very effective.
These aren't the worst customers, however.
Mr Saubertuck immediately grates but seems harmless enough to begin with: eccentric, with lips constantly pursed under a bushy moustache, hair affectedly sculpted with brilliantine and glasses shaped high so as to add to his primly supercilious air. He's fastidious too, and from this florid suit (everything he wears is patterned) he plucks what I suppose must be a handkerchief but looks more like a pair of pink-patterned panties, and proceeds to wipe down the windows, loudly, squeakily, critically, until he's drawn attention to himself.
"Oh, don't mind me.
"I thought this place could use a little TLC."
He buys a potted plant and plonks it on the counter.
But later he'll be bringing other things into the laundromat, he'll find a way of letting himself in, and his self-regard, meddling and presumption will grow increasingly sinister. He has an agenda. I don't think I've disliked a character in comics more since the loathsome Rusty Brown in Chris Ware's big red ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY h/c. And that's quite the accolade.
Yes, I found this very affecting in places - very angry-making too.
Wendell, meanwhile, is a ghost. A ghost of the kids-popping-a-bed-sheet-over-their-head-for-Halloween variety. This will prove important.
We first meet Wendell in a ghost town of small suburban shacks and the pinks and mauves and violets give way to an eerie, ethereal, green-tinctured grey. He's not adjusting well to being dead - he died very young. He'll tell you how eventually, but for the moment he's attending group therapy and telling epic fibs about how extravagantly he kicked the bucket.
"See, it all started when I was taken captive by a crew of mutant pirates."
His tale grows even taller but, in spite of abusing the therapeutic process, his fellow ghosts invite him to the bathhouse.
"Yes, the house with all the baths."
It's not just the colours which prove a pale version of reality - even the smells do:
"They just got a new scent of Ghosturizer: Vaguley Vanilla. I hear it's better than Barely Bubblegum."
Isn't this well written?
Wendell opts instead to go home alone, to stare mournfully out of the caravan window all night. Then from the ghost town he hops on a forbidden ghost train to take him back to the human world, and wakes up in a wicker basket to a glorious sunrise. Tentatively, he tries to make friends with other sheets, flapping in the breeze on a washing line, but they don't respond to his pokes. Instead he hears the sound of a piano being played, floats up to the open window and sees Marjorie sat at her Mom's favourite place, the piano. Then... then he ventures downstairs and...!!!
When Wendell discovers the laundromat it's like the ultimate spa for ghosts! So many luxurious treatments! A sauna of steam, an iron to work out those knots in this sheet's shoulders, but the centrifugal force of the spin-dryer may give him a bit of a shock!
The profound irony of all this I will leave you to discover for yourselves, but if you think this is where it becomes all comical an' cute, and Marjorie and Wendell become best friends, then think again. This is, instead, where the nightmares really begin and I honestly believe I've told you quite enough already. As in, I've laid out all the specific elements which will come into far from clean play.
Marjorie spends a great deal of time huddled, constantly under threat from all corners. Alternatively, she's left to stroll on her own down streets which can feel as lonely and as desolate as the ghost town's, even when strewn with such beautiful, bright autumn leaves.
And the colours are exquisite, absolutely exquisite, the neon pinks of the senescent leaves striking a contrast with the yellow-green lawn they've fallen upon.
As I say, very affecting, and fine for all ages.