Folding Priscilla's Laundry

I feel closest to the women, most like I'm walking in their shoes and dying of their heartaches, not as they sit in the chair next to the desk, eating their soup and telling me about their days, but as I fold their laundry.
Tonight I'm folding Priscilla's laundry.
After lights out, I stealthily navigate the puddles in the laundry room, gather her whites and colors, and tiptoe back to the monitor bed to fold them.
I'm more careful, more focused on sharp corners and destroying wrinkles with her clothing than I am with my own.
Priscilla is a gentle lady. She has a polite, gentle voice and never complains when she has to wait. She keeps to herself but lets her tender side out in small doses to the guests that have been here longest. She is always the first in and my night always begins with a soft, "Priscilla - 12." She always asks for the same long-sleeved pink nightgown.
Her clothes are simple. Jeans, not cut according to the latest fashion. Plain colored poly-cotton blend tank tops.
I fold a tee-shirt I remember her wearing one of the many days I've seen her sitting outside the shelter, waiting for intake, her back against the building, her elbows on her knees, staring at the garbage-littered remains of grass we have in front. Just a white tee-shirt.
Priscilla's clothes fit her, which is somewhat uncommon among the ladies. Gwen probably has three dresses that honestly fit her; she's a big lady so she needs bigger clothing, and she usually has to settle for too big. Maybe the ladies lose whatever clothing they have quickly. Maybe it gets stolen. Maybe it quickly gets disposed of, since once every two months they have a chance to do laundry here. Maybe that's why they'll take anything in the clothing closet that they're able to get on.
I fold some laundry I've never seen Priscilla wear before. Clothing not appropriate to walk around or sit outside a Chicago shelter in. A skinny, lacey black slip kinda thing that she wouldn't be washing if she wasn't wearing somewhere. .
I worry that maybe she is doing some prostituting. I want to say no, no way. Not Priscilla. But other ladies have surprised me, too. More do it here than I realize; everyone I've learned I've been told about by another volunteer here. I'm still new.
She has patient holes in her clothing. Holes that were not ripped in a quick, violent action but holes that have been quietly worn and will quietly disintegrate her clothes with time - that great decay-er, that has perhaps also worn out holes in her hope. She no longer talks to case workers.
I fold a John Mason High School tee-shirt and wonder if that was the high school she went to. Then I look at the birthday sheet and see she's nearly forty years old. Forty? Such a soft-voiced, bright-eyed, cheerful person that looks so unmarred by impatient neighbors and demanding surroundings. hard to believe she's not younger.
Priscilla has six pairs of underwear, three pairs of white socks, and one pair of gray socks. Six pairs of underwear is high class here, yet I can remember giving her at least two or three of them two weeks ago.
Folding Priscilla's laundry, I hear gunshots outside. No one stirs.
I fold a shirt with a band name on it she's probably never heard before. But you won't find some people raising noses at her because it looks like she's into Godsmack, just like one wouldn't raise noses at Martha, the self-proclaimed witch doctor, who wears a Lynard Skynard shirt. . and is black. People that raise their noses at the ladies have a lot of other reasons.
I fold a shirt with some cigarette brand logo on it and wonder how much money some kid trying to look "alternative" would pay for it in a thrift shop.
I can't find a mate to one of her socks.
I set Priscilla's folded laundry in a basket on the chair near me and hope no one will take anything during the night, though no one usually does. Priscilla. Kind, tired, tidy, humble, patient Priscilla. Who's always sitting outside during the day and mostly keeps to herself. Whose favorite jeans are the ones with the rip across the ass.
It's about 1 AM. Darlene's laundry should be done by now.