The Plaid Shirt
AshleyThe plaid shirt was marked 50% off, and I didn't have a hard time understanding why. The left sleeve had a tear in the elbow, and I wondered how the sales associates had missed that. However, when I glanced over at the register and saw two raggedy employees, chewing on gum and reading tattered tabloids, it all made sense. A long, red string dangled lazily from the hem of the shirt as I scratched at a glob of dried mud on one of the buttons. I picked it up off the wobbly rack and held it up, tilting my head as if it were a piece of art that isn't fully appreciated for its astounding beauty until you've looked at it a certain way.
It was still hideous. I was just about to place it back on the rack when my friend David popped out from behind a rack of puke green trench coats, probably the most fashionable items in the mom and pop clothing store.
"Hey, Asher. Look at what I found," he announced as he held up a paid of dapper pin strip pants, a bright blue silk shirt, and a pair of black and white bowling shoes.
"That'll be awesome for when you go back to the fifties," I teased.
"Right? I'll be the life of the swinger's party!" he played along, winking playfully as he tap-danced his way over to the rack of plaid shirts. "Are you getting that shirt?"
"No, I don't think so," I replied. David draped his arm over my shoulders as I chewed my bottom lip nervously.
"You should," David said. "Red is a good color for you."
"You think?" I asked.
"Yeah! How much is it?"
"Five dollars, which is kind of pricey for this shirt."
David smiled coyly. "What?" I asked apprehensively. I never got an answer, but walked out of the store with David and a dare to attend one of David's swanky parties wearing my new plaid shirt.
The plaid shirt brought back a flood of memories. James would wear it whenever we went camping, and when he wore it after those trips, he would still smell of pine needles and campfire smoke. I loved that, and I loved how James always seemed invincible when he wore that shirt, as if it held some secret power that only he could tap into. His optimistic mood was infectious, and it radiated throughout our small apartment in the city. His usual polished, placid demeanor faded away and he became childlike, his blue eyes gleaming with excitement and imagination.
One night he transformed our balcony into a comfortable fort out of blankets and chairs from our dining room set. He laid out our sleeping bags on the floor, put up the lantern we used for actual camping trips, and made s'mores in our microwave. We stayed up all night talking and licking chocolate and melted marshmallows off our fingers. James told scary stories and I screamed, hiding beneath a large quilt. As he finished each story, he would lower his flashlight and whisper, "It's alright, Fran, they all lived happily ever after."
I smiled against his soft lips and repeated, "Happily ever after."
The day James proposed, he wore that plaid shirt. He didn't waste time and money to reserve a table at a fancy restaurant, or to dress in a suit he would have had to rent. Everything about the proposal was positively James, positively us. He took me to our favorite camping spot along the Appalachian Trail with just a basket with a few blankets, snacks, and a lantern. When we reached the landing where we usually camped, James spread out the blankets, poured some wine into small, plastic wine glasses, and lit the lantern. We stood on the near the edge of the landing, peering out through the pine trees as the land billowed all around us.
James pointed to a hill nearby, "That's where we camped last year, remember?" I nodded. "I do, that's when I got poison ivy."
He smirked, "And I ran back into town for five bottles of calamine lotion." He pointed to another spot, this one farther down, where a creek ran through and deer and bunnies usually drank from. "Do you remember wading in that creek a few months ago? It was so hot out."
"It feels like it was yesterday," I replied. I turned to face him. "You're rather reminiscent today."
"I want to make you remember all the times we've had together. I don't want you to forget these when you make room for more moments."
"I won't forget, James."
"Then you won't forget today, either," he replied as he knelt down, pulling a small, diamond ring form the pocket of his shirt and grabbing my hand. "Marry me, Franny."
We were married the next summer, but we never went back to that landing. The time we always allotted for camping was sacrificed for doctor's visits and chemotherapy sessions, and the landing where James, though I'll never forget, would never see the return of the scrawny man in a plaid shirt and the girl that said yes.
The plaid shirt reeked of beer, but it was the only clean shirt I had. I was already running late for the meeting, and needed to make sure I caught the bus on time. I drenched myself in a curtain of Axe cologne, but I'm sure that didn't cover the stench of week old beer, since every time I moved, my nostrils were filled with the awful stink that was my strongest vice. I shot out of my apartment, struggling to buckle my belt and forgetting to lock my apartment door. I ran down the street to the bus stop just as it was pulling up to the curb. Once I was on, I sat down in the only spot left, next to a homeless man who regularly rode the bus and always smelled like dead fish and cigarettes. He probably wouldn't mind my own stench, but I did mind his.
Fifteen minutes later the bus pulled up at my stop. I practically sprinted off as the bus driver yelled at me to slow down, and ran towards the building halfway down the street. I walked in through the doors to a large lobby with linoleum floors. I looked for the sign that would tell me where to go, and when I did it led me down winding hallways until I reached one at the very back of the building. I walked into the room, picked up a name tag, and sat down on a cold, metal folding chair. A scruffy man, who looked like he could be homeless man on the bus' cousin, next to me eyed me cautiously for five minutes.
Finally, he spoke up, his voice scratchy and rough, "I like your name."
"Uh…thanks," I replied uncertainly.
"They don't sell that at very many places these days. Fuckin' bastards."
I nodded, unsure of what to say next. Fortunately, a tall woman dressed in very expensive looking business attire stood up and called together the meeting. She welcomed members who had come back, praising them for their achievements and milestones. After these individual appraisals were done, she spotted me and smiled, "We have a new member joining us today. I'll let him introduce himself."
Clearing my throat, I stood up. I stuck my hands in my pockets and rocked back and forth on my heels. "Um…Well, my name is Tab, and….and I'm an alcoholic."
The room droned, "Hi, Tab," and I was filled with an overwhelming, forlorn sense of togetherness and camaraderie, and I suddenly knew that I would be alright.
The plaid shirt was the one thing I couldn't stand about Lauren. She was wearing it when I ran into her at the grocery store, and if she hadn't flashed that brilliant smile of hers, I'm sure I wouldn't have given her a second glance. She worked for a PR agency full time, but this was her day off and she certainly dressed like it was. Her blonde hair was swept into a messy ponytail that sat above the nape of her neck, her wispy bangs hanging over the right side of her face. She bumped into me with her basket as she picked out tomatoes, placing them absentmindedly in the plastic basket. She whipped around and apologized immediately.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!"
"It's alright," I replied, falling into the sparkling emerald waves of her round eyes. I picked up a peach and held it up, smirking stupidly, "it's all peachy."
Lauren's face lit up and she let out a laugh, melodious and beautiful. She stared right at me, genuinely tickled by my lackluster joke. She held out her hand and introduced herself to me, scribbled her name on my palm with a pen she had stuck in her ponytail, and told me to call her. I told her I would, winked playfully, and when she walked away, I blurted, "Peas and carrots" as I held up a peace sign with my free hand, which made Lauren laugh once again.
I called her the next day and we talked for three hours before we made plans to meet again. That was the beginning of our two-year, pun filled relationship. I woke up early in the morning one cold, winter day, when the windows were so frosted you couldn't see past the windowpanes, and the floors were too cold to walk on barefoot. Lauren slept peacefully in my bed as I prepared a lavish breakfast before hiding it in the oven to stay warm. I placed a peach on a small white, porcelain plate and sat on the couch to read the paper until Lauren woke up.
When she did, she sauntered into the main living area, one pant leg of her pajama bottoms rolled high and the other reached down to the floor. She was practically drowning in one of my old shirts and the mess of hair that sat at the nape of her neck. She walked past the couch towards the kitchen, the chair squeaking against the hard wood floor as she sat down at the table. I heard the soft motion of Lauren picking up the peach from the plate, the soft bite into the fruit, and then I heard what I was waiting for: the clink of something metal against the porcelain plate. Lauren gasped as I stood up and walked around the couch to kneel in front of her. She stared intently at the ring on the plate until I picked it up and held it between my thumb and index finger. She looked at me with wide eyes.
"Lauren, I love you so much," I began. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. 'Peas'….would you marry me?"
"Oh, Maury," she siged, tears streaming down her face. I wiped them away, whispering, "Stop, leeking." She laughed.
Bursting into full-blown sobbing, she threw herself into my arms and whispered, "Yes."