“No,” I say. “no, thank you.”
He opens the boxes and dumps their contents into a bigger pile of clothes, and even though I know that it’s time for me to walk away, I can’t help but stare. they are no longer Ben’s clothes. they are just clothes in a pile of clothes mixed with other clothes.
What have I done?
Like that, they are gone.the man has taken the large pile and shoved it into the back room. I want those clothes back. Why did I give someone else Ben’s clothes? What will he wear? I want to jump over the counter and sort through what they have back there. I need to get his clothes back. Instead, I am frozen and in shock over what I have done. How did I do that? Why did I do that? Can Ben see, from where he is, what I have done?
“Ma’am?” the man calls out to me. “are you okay?” “yes,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
I turn around and get in my car. I can’t turn the key in the ignition. I can’t shift the car in drive. I just bang my head against the steering wheel. I let the tears fall down on the beige interior. My cheek is blaring the horn and I don’t care.
I leave the keys on the front seat of my car and I get out. I just run. I run and run even though it’s cold outside, even though my body is starting to heat up faster than it should. even though I feel like I’m giving myself a fever. and then I stop, instantly and abruptly, because I realize that I cannot outrun myself. I go across the street and walk along the sidewalk until I see a bar. I don’t have my wallet, I don’t have my keys, but I walk in anyway. It’s early enough in the day that they let me right in and then I sit at the bar and I drink beers. I drink beer after beer until I can’t feel my nose. When I’m done, I pretend I’m going to the bathroom and then I sneak out the back, not paying, not tipping, not even saying thank you. By the time I get home, knowing full well I’ve locked myself out, I’m just plain sick.
I puke on my own front lawn. It’s barely 8:00 p.m. neighbors see me and I ignore them. I sit down on the grass when I’m done and I pass out. I wake up around 11:00, and I’m too discombobulated and inebriated to remember where my keys are. I do the only thing that I can do to get back into my house. I call ana.
“At least you called me,” she says as she walks up to the sidewalk to meet me. “that’s all I care about.”
I don’t say anything. she walks up my steps and unlocks my front door. she holds it open for me.
“Are you drunk?” she says, rather shocked. If it were any other time in my life, she’d probably think this was funny, but I can tell she doesn’t, even though I kind of do. “that’s not like you.”
“It’s been a rough couple of days,” I say and plop myself down on my own sofa.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Well, my husband died, so that was hard.” I don’t want to talk to her about any of this. I don’t want to talk to anyone.
“I know,” she says, taking my sarcastic remark as something genuine. she can’t possibly think that was really my answer. Instead, she is treating me sincerely so that I have no choice but to be sincere. It’s crafty, I’ll give her that.
“I moved his stuff out,” I say, resigning myself to the therapy session that is going to come my way. I don’t want to talk to her about our last conversation, about our fight, although I’m sure she’s going to force that on me as well. she moves toward me on the sofa and puts her arm around me. “I gave away some of his stuff to Goodwill,” I tell her.
Goodwill! that’s where my keys are.
“I’m sorry, elsie,” she says. “But I’m proud of you. I’m really, really proud of you for doing it.” she rubs my arm. “I don’t know if I’d be able to do it if I were you.”
“What?” I say. “you were insisting that I needed to start moving on! you said I should do it!”
She nods. “yeah, because you should. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t know it was hard.”
“Then why did you say it like it was easy?”
“Because you needed to do it and I knew that you could. no one wants to do it.”
“Yeah, well, no one else has to.”
I want her to leave and I think she knows that.
“I’m sorry about the other night. I was out of line. I’m truly sorry,” she says.
“It’s fine,” I say, and I mean it. It is fine. I should be apologizing too, but I just don’t want to talk to anyone right now.
“All right, well, I’m going to go,” she says. she gathers herself and leaves.
“I love you,” she says.
“Me too,” I say back, hoping it passes for an ‘I love you too.’ I do love her, but I don’t want to say it. I don’t want to feel anything. I see her drive away out of my front window, and I think that she is probably going to meet up with kevin somewhere and she’ll tell him all about this little episode of mine and he’ll grab her hand and he’ll say, “you poor baby, that sounds difficult,” as if the world has conspired against her, as if she doesn’t deserve this. I hate them both for being able to sigh, make a couple of serious faces about how hard this must be on me, and then go to the movies and laugh at dick jokes.
I walk to the Goodwill the next morning and get my car. My keys are sitting on the front seat where I left them, and yet, no one has stolen anything. It pisses me off, to be honest. It pisses me off that of all times, the world conspires to help me now.
At work on Monday, I am scowling at strangers. When they ask me to help them, I do it with a frown on my face, and when I’m done, I curse them under my breath.
When Mr. Callahan makes his way toward me, I have little energy left.
“Hello, my dear,” he says as he moves to touch my arm. I instinctively pull away. He doesn’t seem to take it personally. “Bad day?” he asks.
“You could say that.” I grab the handle on a cart of books to reshelve It’s not technically my job to put them back, but it seems like a good way to graciously end the conversation. Mr. Callahan doesn’t get the hint. He walks with me.
“I had a bad day once,” he says, grinning. It’s a classic cheerup routine, and it’s wasted on me. I don’t want to cheer up. I’m honestly not sure I even remember how to smile naturally. What do you do? you pull the corners of your mouth up?
“Bad joke,” he says, waving his hand in an attempt to both dismiss the joke and let me off the hook for not laughing at it. “anything I can do for you?”
“Oh,” I say, my eyes focused on the bookshelves above me. I don’t even remember what I’m looking for. I have to look at the book in my hand again. the details aren’t registering. the call number falls out of my head before my eyes make it back up to the shelf. “no, thanks,” I say.
“I’ve got two ears, you know!” he says.
My face contorts into impatient confusion. “I’m sorry?” “For listening, I mean. I’m good at listening.”
“Anyway,” he continues. “you’d rather be alone. I get it. Just know the offer stands. I’m always here to listen.” He looks at me a minute, perhaps trying to break through my empty stare. “and I wouldn’t say that to just anybody,” he says, smiling as he pats my hand gently, and he leaves me to the cart.
I wish I had it in me to tell him he’s a good man. I wish I had it in me to say thank you. I just don’t. I can’t smile at him. I don’t even say good-bye. I let him walk away and I turn to the bookshelves as if he was never there. I forget, once more, the number of the book I have in my hand, and instead of checking again, I drop it right there on the cart and I walk away.
I step outside and take a breath. I tell myself to get it together. I tell myself that this situation I’m in is no one’s fault. I am by the bike rack, pacing, when I see a young couple with a baby. the man has the baby strapped to his chest, the woman is carrying a diaper bag. she is cooing to the child, the man is looking down. she kisses the man on the lips and laughs as she maneuvers awkwardly around the baby. they play with the baby’s hands and feet.