50/50 Poly-Cotton Blend
Sepia afternoon light filters through the display window, igniting dust motes,
illuminating the display windows full of secondhand hernia trusses on Flatbush. It’s a
little after five, and herds of homebound workers climb up out of the station, flooding the
sidewalks, an incoming tide.
“We closing in twenty minutes,” the West Indian woman behind the thrift store
cash register announces to the almost empty room, never looking up from her word
search. I flip through the shirts, feeling for that particular crush of poly-cotton softness, a
perfectly cured tshirt. One worn thin and drapey after two hundred spins in the dryer.
When you left, I lost half my wardrobe, an added bonus of gay girl break ups. Our
same-size jeans and shirts and sweaters, separated. Suddenly our shared studio closet was
all mine, four feet by two feet and cavernous. But you’ve been gone for three months.
Ninety-two days, and your toothbrush is still in the Happy Secretary’s Day coffee mug
next to the sink.
The shirts are organized chromatically, and I have searched through red, orange,
and yellow. Squarely in the middle of green, my fingertips graze shoulder after shoulder,
slide the wire hangers down the rack. So many shirts: all too scratchy, too new, too big,
and then, a prickle like static electricity when I feel a familiar weave--a tri-blend
crewneck, heathered green. I pull the shirt off the rack and the world lists like a ship. I
lean into the embrace of a one-armed mannequin. I know this shirt. 4-H Entomology
Camp 1995 printed in yellow letters across the chest. Impossible. Someone else in the
city went to the same summer camp, twelve hundred miles from here, fifteen years ago.
But there, on the tag, are my initials in my mother’s faded magic marker.
I let you wear the shirt the first time you slept over. You stole it. Even when you
moved in, mingled your clothes with mine, you kept it to yourself. And now here it is,
orphaned and smelling like old sheets, inexplicably found. Home again, home again,
wherever that is.
“Three fifty,” the cashier says. She doesn’t look at me, just holds out her left hand
for the bills as she circles a word in her puzzle, something long and diagonal. I pay for
my shirt and imagine you carelessly throwing it into the donation bin—good riddance.
The last time I saw you, two weeks ago, you were in the cereal aisle of the
market—our corner market, certainly inconvenient to the place you now call home. It
was just after seven and the crowd was so thick it was like swimming. I saw you with her,
the rugby player, your hand on the small of her back. Seeing you like that, I felt naked,
even in three shirts, a sweater, and my raincoat. I got what I needed and stood in line,
wanting to get away before you saw me. But then as I was standing there, you walked by,
so close I could touch you. I could feel the charged particles between us, but you didn’t
notice. Was I even standing there?
When I get to the apartment I will scour the place, I promise myself, sweep the
rest of you into the dustpan. I flick on the buzzing bathroom fluorescent and interrupt our
toothbrushes, still guiltily intertwined. I pick up yours, let it hover over the wastebasket,
then put it in my mouth, dry bristles rough against my tongue
Kilby Allen recently received her PhD from Florida State and is currently in the process of moving to the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in Nashville Review, Drunken Boat, Day One, and elsewhere.