It is only a month after your husband cut his car and himself in
half on the tip of a freeway divider that you see another man
wearing one of his shirts that you dropped off at Good Will. It is
his old Chicago Bears T-shirt, two orange rings around the
sleeves. You are at Fry’s, in the frozen foods, and underneath the
taut navy fabric you can see the man’s nipples. The man is tall
and large, unlike your husband. He is also out of shape, unlike
You walk to the man, who is contemplating the backs of two
whipped cream containers. He has hairy knuckles. It matches the
sparse, dark hair on the top of his head.
“That one,” you say, and point to the Original.
The man jumps. It is strange to see something so large move so
fast. He looks at you out of the corner of his eye and puts the Lite
whipped cream back. When he does, you glance under his right
arm, near the armpit, where a small tear resides, a hole through
which you used to tickle your husband.
The man closes the door and faces you. The cold from the freezer
has fogged his glasses. He removes them and wipes them on your
husband’s shirt, exposing his stomach. After he replaces them, he
stares down at you. His eyes are close, deep-set. His face is
gaunt for his body. He has nice cheekbones, covered in a patchy
beige fuzz. It is hard to say, but you think he is in his early
thirties, only a few years younger than you.
“Can I help you with something?” he says.
“I like your shirt,” you say.
He is obviously creeped out. You have made a significant number
of strange decisions lately: doing donuts in your Honda Fit on the
high school football field where your husband coached, destroying
your car’s axles; telling your coworker, Helen, that the way she
applies mascara looks like a swarm of bats shit on her eyes;
spanking your nephew bare-assed for putting uncooked spaghetti
into the outlets, him wailing like a storm alarm, and then looking
up, mid-swing, to see your sister back from work early, staring at
you with a crayon-white face.
It is clear in this current moment, the large man licking his small
lips, glancing all around him, looking for a hidden camera crew,
that your decisions are not getting smarter. Still, compared to the
others, this is mild. You are, you remind yourself, on the brink of
complete personality transformation. You are lonely, horny, and
this man is wearing your husband’s old shirt. You also assume
that if you slept with this man, you would feel perfectly at home
with all that weight crushing you.
You want to tell the man to pretend that you started the
conversation in another way, like accidentally bumping his cart or
simply saying you liked the shirt, because this scenario, taken
objectively, is a great one for this man. You know that he knows
that you are completely out of his league.
When he puts the whipped cream into his empty cart and grabs
the handle with his meaty, ringless fingers, you quickly say, “Do
you want to buy me a drink?”
You slide your hand onto the cart handle, right next to his. “Do
you want to go Sips, buy me a drink, get acquainted?”
“It’s ten a.m.”
“It’s just around the corner.”
“I know where it is.”
“It’s ten,” he says again.
You remove your hand from his cart. You try to check your
reflection in the freezer door, but the man is in the way, a navy
blue orb, too large for you to see anything else.
“I’m not crazy,” you hear yourself say, and you bite your tongue.
You want so badly to rub your bare upper body against the man’s
T-shirt, rest your head on the soft fabric, run your finger again and
again through the hidden armpit tear. The “crazy” comment, you
guess, has eliminated all such possibilities, and yet, it doesn’t
seem fair. The man doesn’t know about how you lost the baby at
the visitation, a trivial matter, it seemed then, only a few days
after facing your husband’s red eyes at the morgue. He doesn’t
know how when you lose someone violently, it seems like they did
no wrong. Not placing his napkin on his lap during Thanksgiving
dinners, hip flexor stretches in the kitchen doorway while you tried
to bring in groceries, the way he used to pick his nose and wiped
it, unabashed, on the bedside table: all of these seem innocent
now, even wonderful, your attitude toward them as misguided as
a pre-teen white supremacist. You also assume the man doesn’t
know, like you now know, that life does not equate to starring in
your own movie. You thought this once—not consciously, but
through the seeming significance of your everyday actions, it was
true. You thought your loved ones were also stars of their own
films, everything so purposeful, straight-set, until one day your
husband lay shredded under a thin sheet, and you said, Yes, and
he was covered back up and slid into his compartment like a
drawer of files. Now you know there is no movie, no script—or at
least no director. However cutting-edge, no director would kill a
star of a film in the cold, meaningless way your husband went.
When the silence is too much, you say, “Okay, let me start over.
I’ve been crazy, but I’m not anymore. And my husband’s dead.
And that’s his old shirt. And I’d like you to make love to me in it.”
The man snorts out a laugh. Then he sees you’re serious and eyes
you more cautiously. It seems like he considers the offer,
considers your body, your face, which you now realize is damp,
With clumsy, out-turned feet, he walks away.
N.L. Pillman has an MFA in creative writing from Iowa State
University. His work has appeared in PANK, North American
Review, New Ohio Review, Mid-American Review, and others. He
is originally from rural Iowa but now resides in southern Arizona.