Forever 21 by Taylor Byas

Forever 21

The blouses on the clearance rack have gone ghost in the armpits, where the past two women’s Secret dries in streaks. Someone’s breasts have stretched the mesh on this red one to tearing. I check the size, and it’s too small.

“Can I help you find anything?” An employee whisks by with hangers and mismatched crop tops in her hands. If I’d needed it, she wouldn’t have heard.

The warm brown of someone’s week-old jawline marks the top of an off-white turtleneck. The crotch-snap on a baby blue bodysuit is missing a button, the silver nipple wrenched from its stitching days ago. From the button’s hole, a string of thread hangs like a tail, licking the dusty floor when it moves. I pluck the onesie from the rack and drape it over my arm.

The employee in the dressing rooms sees the castaways I’m holding and doesn’t bother to give me a number for my door. “The empty rooms are open,” she says, turning her back to me to re-rack the dressing rooms’ leftovers.

I pick a room where a few of the vanity bulbs have gone dark, and the lock on the door doesn’t fully catch. In my bra and underwear, I pinch my stomach’s fat between two fingers. I ask myself in my boyfriend’s voice, “Is it the birth control? Stress?”

I try on the first piece, a strapless black jumpsuit. The crotch area is too long and almost reaches my knees. The fabric bunches beneath my stomach, cotton smile-lines around my waist. I push the jumpsuit down to my ankles, toe it into a dusty corner.

As I tug the baby blue onesie over my head, I hear another dressing room door close, then a woman calls out to the silence, “Throw my pants over the door, come onnnn,” her tongue pressing the top of her mouth as she drags the word out.

I clasp the two remaining buttons on the onesie, and the hanging thread tickles the inside of my thigh. I hear rustling from the other woman’s dressing room, and I imagine her shimmying into a pair of skinny jeans, or black pleather leggings. Then after a moment, her voice in frustrated Spanish, “Mierda. Mierda.”

The onesie fits and doesn’t fit, the cleavage perfect, the pudge above my underwear’s elastic band doubling into rolls. Even though it’s missing a button I reason that it’s a small loss, that the light blue against my skin tone makes up for it. I tell myself I will buy it as an incentive to lose weight.

“Ay, dios mio,” from the other room. “None of the shit looks right.” And then the snapping of a shoulder spaghetti strap or a g-string. In my mirror I catch a spot of purple lip-stick on the neckline that I didn’t see before. I wonder how many women have tried this bodysuit on, how many before me have been waiting for the fabric to love them, only to leave it behind.

 

Forever 21

 

Taylor is a black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received both a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in English and a Masters in English, Creative Writing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is now a second year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati. Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, HobartPidgeonholes, Empty Mirror, and others.

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