The Ghost of Her Denim

June 18, 2008
By Katie Barasch, South Salem, NY

It’s dark, but that doesn’t surprise me; the lamps are thick with dust. I wipe some off and flick the switch, flooding the room with a yellow, warm glow. Her bed is neatly made, a habit enforced by our mother everyday unfailingly. I shake my head slightly, forcing back not-yet-fallen tears and get down to business. Upon sliding open her closet, her childhood is revealed to me in full color. It’s neat and categorized, and I smile in spite of myself, remembering all the times I’d teased her about her perfectionist ways. My fingers travel over worn denim, searching for a place to start. I sigh and empty the shelves simultaneously, watching as sleeves whirl through the air, a cyclone of limp arms, onto her bed. I take the first article of clothing off the pile, and am surprised to realize it’s a sweatshirt of mine, taken from my bedroom the day I first left for sleep away camp six years ago. It was my mom’s idea for Allie to have her own special part of me, all for just the three weeks I was gone. I fold it neatly and place it to the left before reaching for a tie-dye shirt, FOZZIE’S ’04 FAIR emblazoned across the chest. I stare at it, remembering the tight grip Allie had had on my wrist as the rollercoaster plummeted; our hysterical, elated screams; a burst of rainbow as the tie-dye shirt billowed behind us. The stain then screams out at me on its own—Allie had been mortified when she had dropped chocolate ice cream down the front, leaving a trail of sprinkles—I had laughed, and now I stare at the dark blotch with a curious intensity.

My hand soon hits a new kind of fabric, the silky, summery sheen of a pink and yellow dress. I see Allie tottering to the mirror in her high heels in her very first strapless dress, lips rouged with dark red, cheeks pink, as my mom, choked up as always, flutters with her camera. I had stood in the doorway—half in, half out—the only one whose eyes were drawn to Allie’s ear, where her wig was lopsided, the exposed strap tight against her scalp. Finally, she winks at me from the platform at her middle school graduation; then I am snapped back, standing, alone and frozen, in her empty room. An hour and a half has passed, and the folded pile has grown. I turn to the remainders and upon seeing it there, from so long ago, I speak, voice rusty, to Allie’s one ballet slipper, once able to fit the small foot it was bought for. “You were…so little,” I say finally, and pause—my mother’s heavy footsteps ascend the stairs and stop at Allie’s door. I turn slowly as she peeks in, brow furrowed, mouth in a surprised O. Hand to her mouth, her glassy gaze takes in the clothes—years of gifts and shopping trips, rips and tears, falls and triumphs, overalls to low-rise jeans, the unraveling seam on Allie’s oldest, rattiest brown sweater. Her eyes change as the weight of where she stands hits her with no mercy, and she retreats before I can utter a word, before I can tell her that somebody had to do it, that I was the only one who couldn’t bear the heavy silence, the isolation of her memories, the ghost of her denim. A draft seeps through the crack under the window and the breeze caresses my face as I turn towards it—the sun sets gradually, and its last beams shoot through, leaving half my face in shadows.

There is one left. As I fold the legs of Allie’s favorite pair of black skinny jeans, the pocket spits out the neon green Children’s Ward hospital band into my hand, and I flick it across the room as her face overwhelms my vision: eyes flat, mouth set, as the doctor prepares her for her inevitable, horribly too soon last day—the result of a long, exhausting fight with leukemia.

Darkness now—night has fallen. Mechanically, I sweep the clothes into a bag unceremoniously; inside it, they unfold, tumble, and tangle. I place the bag at the foot of the bed and then, before I know it, I’m on it, clutching Allie’s pillow to my face, drinking up the faint smell of her that has lingered. I curl up into a ball, imagining I fit into the same spot she did, pretending she’s still here.

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