Too Much Fabric, Too Much Color

E. Christopher Clark

He sits on the edge of his daughter’s bed and stares out the window at the distant pond where he used to skinny-dip with her mother. Oh, the fun they used to have. Down there. Up here. Up here, in this very room, back when it was his.

 

With his big toe, he traces the contour of a deep knot in the old hardwood floor. Pam scratched her ass up on this very spot, once upon a time. She bled so much that, when they were done, he accused her of being on the rag without telling him. Truth be told, she told him, she hadn’t even noticed the wound until the end. He’d been hitting the spot so good, it was like the whole damned world had disappeared.

 

His other foot catches on something as he slides it absentmindedly across the floor, and he stops what he’s doing to see what he’s found. He pinches the piece of fabric between his toes and hoists it upward, his knee and hip creaking in protest at his middle-aged attempt at flexibility.

 

It’s a bikini bottom, he sees now. He runs his fingers along the synthetic fabric, dust flaking off of the forgotten thing, and he wonders whether it belongs to Alice. Belonged, he corrects himself, now that he’s kicked her out and she’s left it behind. It’s his now, he supposes, like every other scrap in his now empty nest. But whose was it? Old Occam would say it belonged to Alice—all things being equal, the simplest solution is the right one—but Alice has had so many girlfriends up here over the years. It could have belonged to any of them.

 

Truth is, this was probably too much fabric for his daughter. This, right here, was more Ashley’s style. Ashley. Just the thought of her name makes him smile, the sweetness of that ee sound at the end—the sweetness Pam denied their daughter, their sharp, sibilant Alice. Ashley. Cute little brunette. A little shy, but always so nice.

 

He remembered how Ashley sat with him last summer, waiting for Alice to come home from a night out with Eddie, the same Eddie who was now—he checked his watch—Alice’s husband. It was just after Pam left him for good. They sat at the bar in the kitchen, he and Ashley, eating Jello out of the little single-serving cups that Alice lived on during the summers, and they talked about the Sox. Ashley had no idea what she was talking about, but she tried, and that counted for more than he dared say.

 

He takes the bikini bottom with him as he leaves, not sure if he is audacious enough to do with it what he is imagining doing with it. The computer in his den is still on, his web browser still opened to the same site. With just enough hesitation to make himself feel better about himself, he heads that way. He clutches the fabric in his fist, trying to remember which color it was that Alice wore all the time, and which color was Ashley’s. As he steps into the den, locking the door behind him, he hopes—prays—that Alice’s color was not purple.

Originally published in slightly different form in 2010 in Device as part of their “She Was Gelatin” exquisite corpse project

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