by Hannah Allen
They just kept buying new clothes.
The window blinds were supposed to be temporary, provided by the landlord, and hadn’t been dusted since they were installed at move-in. Through those discolored slats came bars of light, laid over the mounds of tangled clothes that served as the floor. Clothes almost a foot deep. Layers of her clothing, her daily smells absorbed by the fabric and exhaling her, always her, as he walked over them.
When they moved into the house, they’d promised each other with bleary-eyed excitement that they would buy a cherry red Maytag washer-dryer combo. They would be the sort of young couple who invested in all the right things and planned for their future, who shouldered their mistakes and their folly and always walked forward. Moving ahead, always. There was a washer-dryer hookup in the mudroom. Its crumpled aluminum tubes hung like empty arms protruding from the wall. Their home was ugly.
With two fingers, he parted two slats of blind and peered outside. Snow was level with the window ledge, engulfing the brittle flower box outside of it. A path barely the width of a person led from the door to the street and down to the nearest bus stop. Chill air flowed from the glass, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. He smoothed them with his palm, turned from the window and sneezed. So much dust.
This neighborhood had not been their first choice. He crossed the room. His foot caught in a lacy black strap—one of her bras. He toppled into a pile of her dresses. A silk one with rough black sequins scraped his bare chest, his forearms. He stood and looked down. Like vibrant claw-marks.
They’d wanted to live downtown, near the bars and the coffee shops they loved, but it was too expensive. They ended up here, in a poorly-aged suburb near the community college. Their neighbors were shut-ins, for the most part, or were retired or drug-addicted. He had nothing to busy himself with but her, and she him. They were nestled close as eskimos in a long blizzard. For a while.
Soon, the sun would emerge from behind its cloud-barrier and fill their gutters and the storm drain with runoff, feeding the town’s stores. The submerged flower box would appear. When she went through the door this morning, she didn’t specify exactly where she was going. Hardly said anything at all. He allowed himself to assume that she was going out to buy more clothes.
He wandered into the bathroom. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. He opened the medicine cabinet and all the drawers and the plastic tubs under the sink, jostling glass bottles of her cosmetics and lotions. Her perfume. From a lower drawer, he removed a bottle with a long cord and a curled body, reposing. A pair of blood-colored cherries dangled in its ballooned belly. He sprayed it in the air, smelled her. He glanced at the toilet, still spattered on one side with yellowish vomit from where she’d crouched this morning and every other morning for the last week.
His phone rang in the living room, vibrating against the table. Clattering across its surface. He stood frozen, holding the bottle. He felt no compulsion to cross the minefield of her strewn clothes to reach the phone.
They had saved up since they moved in, saved the money they could’ve used at the Laundromat, but now they would never be able to afford a cherry red Maytag washer-dryer combo. She probably drained their savings this morning right after she left, so she could take care of things.
The bedroom, too, was carpeted in skirts and underwear and camisoles that anchored the smell of her body in the room as sharply as if she were there. He kept a hamper in the closet. Full of his own clothing, overflowing. He looped one arm through its strap, slinging it over his shoulder. He wasn’t sure if it was cowardice or anger that shadowed him out the door and into the snow, still half-naked. He told himself it was anger, assured himself. He let his phone go on rattling against the keys in his pocket and mounted the path she’d gouged away from their home.