By Abby Frucht
I find it lying on the bed in the purple room Ė a deep blue shirt with long, soft sleeves. It belongs to my son, the older or the younger, I wonít tell. But since the purple is the guest room, and weíve no guests today, today the purple room is mine.
The shirt reminds me of a certain cigarette, just after I quit. I was walking along on a sidewalk. There the cigarette lay, untouched, where it had slipped from a pack. It was a test I wouldnít pass. I knew that, the second I laid eyes on it. So I picked it up and hid it in my curled-up fingers and took it to a quiet spot and smoked it, obediently.
Like that, I pick up the blue shirt, and scoot where no one will see me, and bury my face in it.
When I was a girl, my mother remarked that the flavor of a thing can not be described without naming the thing itself, tautologically. Like a strawberry tastes like a strawberry, and olives like olives.
The shirt smells of cheap deodorant. And of sleep and body odor but not of tobacco or leather as grown menís clothing is so often said to. Thereís maybe a molecule of cologne. I decide to purchase a pricier deodorant, one that wonít reek so obviously of deodorant.
I wrap the shirt around my arm, as if itís my sleeve, slink to my bedroom, pull open my underwear drawer, and thrust the shirt behind a tangle of panties and bras.
Every third or second day, when nobodyís home, I rummage around in the panties and bras, pull the shirt from the drawer and bury my face in it. The blue is neither navy, cornflower, nor sky. Neither teal nor azure, itís more of a gray with a frayed, open collar, the buttons mute against my eyes.
Sometime during the second week, feeling, I donít know, demented or something, I put the shirt in the laundry. Properly, I wash it, dry it, fold it. The little episode fades. It turns foggy, uncertain, the soft, fragrant color of dryer lint.
When the mail comes, I sort it like laundry. Todayís brings a sealed, white folder for one of my boys. My surname is their middle name, but here itís represented by only the F and an empty space. The return address reads: Selective Service System, P.O. Box 94732, Palatine, Il. Below Palatine, the bust of an eagle folds its wings in a stern, arm-like way before the words, ďitís the law,Ē and ďItís quick, itís easy. Register Today!Ē
Iíve never heard of Palatine. To some friends I remarked, not long ago, when we were chatting about television anchor people, like whatever happened to Elizabeth Vargas, who we like much more than Katie Couric, for instance, ďItís not impossible theyíll reinstate the draft, you know.Ē
Beneath the sink in the kitchen is the garbage pail, but we never throw paper away, these days. Out the door to the garage is our box of recyclables. In the fireplace lies a heap of bank statements and credit card applications with identity theft potential, for burning.
Iím reminded of my son turning five, his teeth falling out. I was speechless at the sight of the bloody gums, the morsel of nerve, the crazy idea that he was falling apart ... until I realized I was looking at a normal aspect of childhood development.
I wish I never took it out, the shirt from the drawer. I wish I never put it in the washing machine. I wish Iíd thought a moment, about what it would be like not to have it any more.
I prop the letter in the fruit bowl where he picks up his mail, but soon I pick it off the pears and lay it flat on the counter where he might overlook it. It has no color, no smell. Iíd have to pick it up and eat it, in order to smell it.
Abby Frucht is the author of five novels and a collection of stories. You can find more of her work online at Salon and at Narrative Magazine.