Volume 24, Number 2

Closet Space

Sandra Ketcham

She's useless and scratchy. Too scratchy to wear. She was born this way, in wrinkles, in secret, in fire. She never really had a chance.

"Wash her in the machine," a woman says. But the tag says otherwise.

"Wash her in the tub. Soak her in bleach and scrub her 'til she fades."

The woman and her pale-faced boy watch as the girl's colors bleed and her red reaches into the water, down to the curved porcelain bottom. They watch her blue turn to gray, turn to ash.

"Put her in the oven to dry," says the boy. "Put hooks through her scrawny arms. Tie ribbons to each end of her and hang her there, over the stove top."

They hold hands and watch as the rest of her color leaks out, drips on the rusted and grimy burners. They smile and sigh as the black smoke drifts up and into her tiny nostrils.

There's nothing else we can do with her, the dark-haired woman thinks. She's too small to wear and too large and lumpy for drying our hands. She tears easily. Weak skin. Cardboard frame. Wrinkled and worn. Sales-rack quality. Garage-sale goods. Last season's style.

"I know!" shouts the little boy. "Sell her at the flea market!"

There's never been a use for her. No one will ever want to wear her. She's overstock. She's snagged and frayed. She's not fit for a thrift store.

"I'll put a sign on her belly," the woman says. "I'll sell her for a dollar. I'll give her a bright red tag to match those eyes of hers, and then I'll shine her up with bacon grease and wrap her in a bed sheet. She'll look nearly new, that way.”

Four days later, a man comes, sees her tag. He has auburn hair and a long jacket and large hands. The man wants to buy the wrinkly thing for a dollar. He had others, before, but he outgrew them.

"I want this sad little faded one," he says. "The one with the red, blurry eyes."

He likes them empty. He likes their pink shells. He likes to fill them up, stuff them and mold them into something new and clever. He has a house with many unused rooms. But the man doesn't like the quiet, and he likes to makes use of unused things.

The woman smiles a crooked smile and runs her stubby fingers across her lips. She considers raising the price.

"Just take her," she says. "Do what you want with her. Just get her out of here. I need the closet space."