The Shirt Off His Back

by Carly BERG

Since quitting work, I got used to doing whatever I wanted, and I didn’t want to answer the door. But whoever was outside wouldn’t quit ringing the bell.

I finally answered it but nobody was there, just a shirt floating in mid-air above my porch. A long-sleeved, dark blue work shirt. The red embroidery on the pocket spelled “Douglas.” My ex- husband. He said I took the shirt off his back in the divorce settlement.

“Very funny, Doug.” What was he bothering me for? Granted, I’m sure his little skank closed her busy legs once she got to know him. Didn’t we all. I felt around for the strings holding the shirt up but didn’t find any. I searched the hedges for a blower or something. Nothing.

The shirt held out its cuff for me to shake. It raised its sleeves as if to impress me with its biceps. It clasped its cuffs together, begging.

“Oh, all right,” I said. “Come in, then. But one word about the messy house and I’ll get out the ironing board.”

I don’t usually have shirt visitors, so I forgot it didn’t have a mouth or anything. I fixed two bourbon and diet Sprites, like I used to when Doug came home from work. The shirt hovered above Doug’s place at the kitchen table. It rested its cuff on the drink, maybe to smooth over my gaffe. More likely, knowing Doug, to show off somehow.

Dinner was ready. I made friendly conversation while serving myself. “So,” I said, “How’s your sleazy ho?”

The shirt landed face down on the table.

“Not so good?”

It quivered all over. I couldn’t tell if it cried, laughed, or pleasured itself at the mention of its sleazy ho. Her name was Hester. Really. Like Hester Prynne.

“Can you move?” There wasn’t enough room to put down my plate of spaghetti. I felt weird not offering him any, but what would he do with it?

“Hey, guess what? I had a pool put in.” I opened the vertical blinds. My Caribbean blue, built- in swimming pool sparkled, beyond the umbrella clothesline. It took up nearly the whole yard.

The shirt’s shoulders slumped.

A mean glow warmed my heart and spread through my chest. I paid for the pool with my fat, tasty divorce proceeds. You’d think divorce would make you poorer; after all, you’re dividing assets, not multiplying them. But Doug had an inheritance, and I got half. He deserved it. If he got smart with me, I’d march him straight to that clothesline and hang him out to dry again.

After dinner, we moved to the living room to watch TV like we used to. I curled up in a corner of the couch. Doug’s shirt hung above his recliner.

“My God. Why would anyone put a hundred grand into opening a restaurant without even working in one first?” I asked.

“Ha ha, the Chef Enforcer is right,” I said to Doug’s shirt.

“Look, he’s made the man cry!” I noted with relish.

Doug’s lapels tipped forward, nodding. Doug and I had talked about opening a restaurant.

The Alaska reality show was next. A family poked around the ruins of an ancient village, picking up artifacts. The father found a stone mask.

“Wouldn’t that be neat, to find something like that and hang it on your wall? Here we get so used to our regular life, we forget so much more is possible.”

Doug and I had discussed tossing it all and running off somewhere exotic, but then he ran off with Hester the exotic dancer instead, Hester the Molester.

Bedtime came around. It had been a lovely evening. I didn’t know what to say so I just went to bed.

The shirt lurked in the bedroom doorway.

I closed my eyes, not giving it the chance to turn me down.

The shirt settled on top of me. Doug’s delicious man scent carried me off to sleep and I slept straight through until morning for a change.

When the alarm went off, I made coffee and poured two cups before remembering. The shirt waited above Doug’s customary kitchen chair.

The collar descended for my morning good-bye kiss, then Doug’s shirt sailed off down the street.

Doing some chores calmed me, putting away dishes, making the bed, taking out the kitchen trash. The house would be tidy when Doug’s shirt returned from work that evening. I was glad we had managed to work things out.

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