“Jackson,” she breathes. “His wife had a baby yesterday,” she says, fingers gently letting go of the blue sweater’s soft sleeve. Another sleeve has already found its way underneath her fingers: a plain white cotton t-shirt with faint streaks of blue paint at the hem. “Liam,” she whispers, smiling, “An artist.” She frowns at the thin red tank top next to it. “Emma. Her brother was an alcoholic...” An off-grey thermal shirt. “Olivia. She wants to be a nurse. A starched button-up. “Lucas. He finally got to visit London....”
She continues on, following the curve of the rack, hand dragging, fingers weaving, brushing, touching. A cacophony of stories. They interrupt each other, spilling into one another, blending together, near indistinguishable. But each has a unique flavor, a taste she can sense in her fingertips, and she smiles as they whisper to her, manifest on her tongue, through her voice, her words as she names them.
She stops, having walked all the way around the rack. She finds the paint splattered shirt again, picking it out from amongst the others, and walks to the register. The old woman cashier smiles at her in recognition from above her round wire rimmed glasses and reaches for the tag.
“Just this for you today, Clair?” she asks while scanning.
Clair nods. “I like artists.”
Her closet might as well have been its own thrift shop. She had it open now, the doors inviting, the racks bursting with the colors and textures, nearly uncontainable.
She pushes the heavy hangers aside with difficulty, reaching for an unused one near the end of the row. She gingerly takes her new purchase out of the paper bag, draping it across the hanger’s outstretched arms. She smiles as she slides it in amongst the rest.
She can’t resist the pull, the draw, the invitation, and she reaches her fingers forward to the row, touching them gingerly, walking as she lets her hand drag like she did at the store. They are so closely packed, it is even more overwhelming here, where the stories interrupt each other at quick succession, one’s beginning the other’s end. She smiles as each piece brings a memory to her fingertips, each as familiar to her as her own.
The one she is trying not to think about is still there. Of course it is. Her eyes catch it regardless, hanging there in the back, behind them all. Dark brown corduroy, oversized, draped carefully over the hanger. The right collar is upturned, the wear lines deep in the fabric of the chest. It looked exactly like the day it was worn...
She looks at it for a few long moments before she turns away, blinking hard. She slides the hangers closer together so that they cover the back, and shuts the doors firmly.
She wipes swiftly at her eyes as she walks out of the room, passing her bedside drawer, passing the small, framed photograph on top of it. She and an older man, side by side. He has her curly brown hair, her straight nose, and he smiles with her blue eyes.
He wears a dark brown corduroy coat.
It was therapeutic, being back here again, and Clair let her hand drag and weave between and across the rainbows, the textures, the medley of types and the explosions of flavors underneath her fingertips from each. They insist upon telling themselves to her, stumbling upon each other in their eagerness, finding themselves in her voice, the most beautiful kind of distraction. Anything but him.
She is in a different section of the store today, revisiting old friends. She murmurs as she walks, eyes closed, but she isn’t smiling this time as she listens.
A dilapidated, worn blue suit. “Aiden. An actor.” A soft pink sweater with faded white stripes. “Zoe. She wants to go to beauty school.” A long sleeved purple shirt. “Isabella. She hasn’t seen her friends in a long time.” A plain black sweater. “Lily. Her father died – ”
Clair jerks her hand back, stopping abruptly. It hangs there in front of her, so innocently on its rack. She stares, her breathing growing strained. It’s as if her lungs had metal weights hanging off them, and her chest rises and falls quickly to accommodate.
Again, the pressure. She blinks hard, and turns to walk away, rubbing her fingers on her pants leg as if to clean them, as if she could forget.
She is already a few steps away when she feels it. A tingling sensation sparking in her fingertips. A hunger for this strange new flavor, insistent. It won’t let her go. Her chest seems to squeeze painfully, compressing, like her fingers had on the hot mug, and she looks back.
Although it was well nestled amongst the other clothes on its row, hidden from plain sight, her eyes find it easily - like a magnet pulled to its charge - the plain black sleeve hanging low. It seems to beckon her over, and she puts one hesitant foot in front of the other as she walks to it.
Her hand suspends in midair, shaky fingers slowly inch forward. She hovers at the hem of the sleeve, closer, closer, closer. A mere breath away. Her fingers find the fabric, or rather the fabric seems to leap into her hands, and then she’s holding it. But just barely.
It is like a wave washing over her. She is drowning, the flavors overwhelming, sparking underneath her fingertips. “Lily,” she murmurs. “Her father died...” A shaky breath, a sob threatening to spill out of her lungs. “She finished writing his book for him.” Barely above a whisper.
The pressure again, and she blinks hard, but it is too late. The tears come hot and fast, and they spill, running like rivulets down her cheeks.
She cannot let go, it hurts to let go, she manages to let go. She turns away, hands brushing aside more tears before they can fall, and walks quickly for the doors.
“Clair? Are you alright?” the cashier woman asks as her gaze follows Clair’s figure out the door.
Clair was already gone.
It is exactly as she left it. Dark brown, corduroy, oversized, gently draped over the hanger. The right collar still folds upturned, and the small black buttons glint at the sleeves. The clothes on each side are parted, leaving it hanging isolated in the center, and she can’t help but think of a gallows. Condemned. Unfair.
She stands in front of it, her arms folded against her chest as if she’s holding herself, unable to look away from those little buttons. Touch, they seem to whisper.
Her shy hand withdraws from its cradled hiding place, lifting of its own accord, outstretched forward as if asking for help. She is, in a way, as her shaky fingers reach for the hem of the sleeve slowly. She can feel the pulse racing in her wrist.
And then it is there, in her hands. It feels as simultaneously rough and soft as she thought it would. At first her fingers are numb, but then the explosion is unlike anything she’s felt before and her knees threaten to buckle under the weight of it as a soft gasp escapes her lips.
A slow, deep melancholia creeps its way up her fingers, and she can taste it. Bittersweet. It blossoms in her palms, her wrists, shooting up her arms and billowing through her chest. Her eyes close automatically, feeling it all, drawing it in as much as she tries to push it out, and the tears are streaming now.
His story was not as insistent as the others, but it is there. She does not speak its words. There would be too many to say.
She pulls it off the rack like a need, her arms are through the sleeves and suddenly she is wearing the coat. Her hands run across her fabric, touching, tasting, exploring, relishing the story, the memory, the words, the past. And maybe a future...