She smelled pink, like bubble gum and babies’ feet. When she would laugh, I could almost see music. We met for lunch one day, and by the end of that day, she was gone. Even now, my eyes are almost swollen shut and so red that a passerby might think I have something infectious. There’s no need to steer clear of me, though. I’ve already tried to pass this pain to friends, and yet this sickness refuses to leave my body. They came over for a while, patting me on the shoulder, mumbling meaningless words that I can remember now about as well as if they had been spoken in a foreign language. They quit calling and coming over a long time ago, though. When I wouldn’t leave the apartment, they gave up.
I haven’t left our apartment for weeks now, but every muscle aches as though I’ve run a marathon. I can only do what I have done every day since the accident. I call around the corner for a pizza; I don’t have to tell them my address anymore. Then I open her side of the closet. I thumb through the clothes, anticipating our after dinner rendezvous. I take my time, and time passes quickly. I usually make my way to the end of the closet just as the doorbell rings. I leave just long enough to throw some money at the boy and close the door again. Both she and I had life insurance on ourselves, and that has sustained me, but I hate every second I physically touch that money. It’s filthy and feels like sandpaper.
The food is left in the living room to get cold. I don’t eat until the wee hours of the morning, long after the restaurant is closed, and the stiff, room temperature cheese tastes like cardboard, but then, so does everything else. Everything looks like grey and feels like ash ever since the pink that surrounded my life left me. I vaguely think about this as I stare at the box.
“Did you get pineapple on it?” she asks. The whisper tickles my ear and I swat at it, feeling like a bee has just tried to crawl in. I realize I’m not at my peak, but I know I didn’t just hear that. It’s just a ritual we used to have. So I play along.
“You know I hate pineapple.” I say out loud. And there she is now, standing in front of me with that pout. Certainly she can smell the sickly sweet pineapple, but she pouts anyway. “That’s why I got it on only half the pizza.” The pout turns into a big grin, and she leans over and kisses me on the cheek.
“Thank you, baby.”
You can’t get pineapple on just half a pizza. The juices spread, contaminating every part of it. I eat it anyway. At least on my half, it’s not quite so bad.
When I’m done, the box is thrown on top of the stack. The ones on the bottom are starting to smell, but not like pineapple. More like decomposition. I can’t bear it, but I don’t do anything about it, either. So I move back in to the bedroom, where the closet door is still open.
“I have too many clothes” she says. The blouses and dresses and jackets and other items are bulging from the small space, but that’s okay.
“No you don’t. We just need a bigger place. We’re going to get a house of our own one of these days. You can decorate it any way you want- paint the walls, plant a garden, anything you want without having to get the landlord’s permission. We’ll have extra bedrooms, too. For when we start a family. Just as soon as I get that promotion at work, I promise.”
She smiles, not knowing that I lost that job a long time ago, probably about a month or two after I quit showing up for work. My boss is a pretty good guy. He had called and said that he was sorry to hear about my loss, and that I could take as much time as I needed. But then, that wasn’t exactly true, because after the first couple of months, he stopped leaving messages on our answering machine. I never called him back and I’d erase the messages as quickly as I could. I didn’t want her to overhear me have to explain that I couldn’t go back to work. Not just yet.
As usual, I take all the clothes out of the closet and lay them on the bed. I bury my face in the fabric, but this time, something’s wrong. Oh, I see the problem. The articles of clothing that are always on top have lost her scent. Well, that’s understandable. I peel off a few layers and try again to know her scent. But still, it’s not there. Out of the corner of my eye, explosions of color fly past, as my arms flinging one thing after another on the floor, searching.
It’s gone. How could I have been so careless? I took her clothes out and allowed them to air out too many times. And just like that she’s gone again. I can’t lift my head from my hands. Why is my collar all wet? I didn’t think I had any more tears left.
“There’s still a way.”
“What?” This time, I know it wasn’t my imagination. I realize I’m not at my peak, but this time, I know I heard that. Because this is something new. I don’t remember ever hearing her say that phrase before. And then there it is- that whiff of pink. Could it be true? I can not let myself believe, but I can’t ignore her either. I never could.
Her laughter. I can see the music again. “Do you really miss me so much?”
“More. Oh, God, please talk to me.”
“Then don’t forget my clothes in storage, silly.”
Of course. I jump up from my slumped position on the edge of the bed and scramble through the boxes and bags on the top shelf of the closet. Nothing. Old trinkets break easily when I let them fall on the hardwood floor.
No answer. I drop to my knees and claw at the mounds under the bed. What’s this? I can’t believe I didn’t remember this. The ridiculous vinyl storage bag she’d seen advertised on TV.
“You can suck all the air out of it, and it’ll preserve your clothes.”
I had teased her about buying this, and I couldn’t help feeling ashamed about that. But the important thing now would be to not let all the pink out of these clothes, like I had the others. I would not foolishly squander this second chance.
My hands shaking, I open the ersatz hermetically sealed bag. The smell hits me so strongly I fall back a little, catching myself from falling all the way back. This is like pink champagne, and now I am intoxicated. That’s when I hear her again.
“I miss you so much. Come closer.”
I oblige, pushing my face in further, soaking up the scent, so strong I could swear she is standing right beside me. All thoughts of trying to preserve these clothes disappear, and all I want to do is get closer somehow. I continue to breathe her in, burrowing ever deeper.
“Closer. Closer. You’re so close now. Reach out to me, baby. I’m right here. Just a little further.”
The landlord didn’t find me until after the neighbors started complaining about the smell. I knew I should have done something with those pizza boxes. I know it wasn’t me. I was in that vinyl bag, my face obscured by the textured plastic, and my hand still pressed firmly against the inside of the bag, reaching out. And all around me now, only her scent. The smell of pink.