I die and have to go back to retrieve my birth clothes. They’re in a pile, warm, like they just came out of the drier. I fold them carefully, awestruck by how small I used to be. I put them in a wicker basket, which I hoist onto my shoulder because I have to walk a very long way, to the only Goodwill store for miles around.
The store is calm in its solitude, like a horse sleeping, surrounded by fields and lawns, trees, parkland and wilderness, gardens. I go inside and there’s all these people shopping, clothes of all sorts hang from racks, books, cups and dish sets, some brown furniture, nothing remarkable, the same things you’d find at a Goodwill anywhere else.
I go to the back with my birth clothes; I hand them to the lady, so grateful I don’t have to sell them. They’re still warm. The lady smiles at me, as she examines each piece for tears. “Look at this,” she says as she shows me the collar of a tiny undershirt, so worn and soft it’s almost transparent, a little blank label.
“There’s room there for you to write something,” she says, “for the next person who’s going to wear your clothes.”
There’s so much I want to say, and there’s so little room in which to say it. My hands are trembling so much I keep dropping the pen.
“That’s ok,” the lady says, and she writes what she always writes, in letters too small for anyone to read.
Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in Gravel, Joyland, Vestal Review and Psychopomp. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast. He is a member of the non-ranked faculty collective bargaining team at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he edits the journal Eleven Eleven.
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