The closet company sent someone to count her clothes. She would need the proper number of inches to hang things in the master closet she was making out of Chad's empty bedroom. The company suggested categories divided up by butternut-colored panels from ceiling to floor. The top part would house blouses and the bottom pants or skirts, with special hooks for suits and belts, a glass-fronted cupboard for sweaters.
She put her white clothes in one section and the blacks in another. Since she'd been on leave from work, she'd cut down on colors -- changed her look, so to speak. She put together the 'moving on' clothes that she had deliberately collected in past months. But those still didn't make up the majority of what she owned.
She did the best to organize her husband’s things, and asked him to help, but he mostly laid on the den couch, flipping channels and sipping. He said the closet was a useless expense —
lately he said nothing was worth buying. Nothing, that is, except whiskey or back-to-back, pay-per-view movies, despite that he’d never had use for anything except the business channel; they’d had that in common. She tidied his clothes best she could, bit her tongue.
When the wall units were finished, the closet-maker added a matching island in the center of the room — right where Chad used to hunker down and play with multi-colored Legos that matched his bedspread. The island consisted of a 4 ½-by-8-foot counter on top of three sets of drawers on either side. Her husband didn’t even bother to put his socks in the drawers, but she utilized all of her space: in one she tucked her underwear, from which she carefully culled the ragged or provocative, and in another she arranged her jewelry. One drawer held her workout clothes—though she couldn’t seem to get enough energy for that of late.
In the bottom drawers, she put mementos: a glass chalice that had been a favor at a college dance, her high school diploma in a black plastic frame, love letters from her husband when he’d been in boot camp her senior year. In a heavy linen envelope was the commendation he’d received for leadership. Her mother’s handkerchiefs, a few she used herself on special occasions such as weddings or funerals, and a set of silverplated spoons that her great-grandmother had collected from vacations. In the final drawer, the one nearest the door, she placed Chad’s plastic army-men, and his little rusted cars, his burnt orange baseball cap with the white longhorn stitched on the bill. There was also a math test of word problems he’d taken for Mrs. Peminta’s 3rd grade class — with a huge red ‘A+ / ‘You’ve got a future!!!’ on it. Two yellow-stained batiste rompers she’d embroidered for him, and his size six ragged blue jeans. The blue flannel shirt that matched his eyes. The plaster imprint of his hand from Sunday school. She wrapped each of these items in acid-free paper and determined not to paw through them for a long long time.
When all the pants were hung, all the blouses freshly pressed on padded hangers, all the black jackets aligned like sentries facing her, she put her hands on her hips, and surveyed the result of her labors. She should have been relieved. With a leather-shoed toe, she shut the memento drawer with Chad’s things. It bounced open, then was still. The memory of his bunk-beds, with rumpled cowboy sheets, shimmered in front of her, and the smell of him clung to this disinfected room.
“Honey,” she yelled toward the den. “Come look.”
He didn’t come until she’d called him three times, then came up behind her, put his heavy palm on her shoulder. The despised plaid robe fell open. He hadn’t showered in days. She leaned against him anyway, and sighed.
Cynthia Sample’s stories are forthcoming or have appeared in SLAB, Summerset Review, Wichita Falls Literature and Art Review, Love After 70 and elsewhere. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College and a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Texas at Dallas.