To the Store
I finally noticed pulling the car up to the curb at bank. I’d missed it all day. Sisters, height-matched, side-by-side, each holding her right arm in salute to shield her eyes from the bright afternoon sun. Dressed exactly alike – polyester (blend) slacks, mock turtleneck (a dickie, if you must), button-down shirt (Oxford, if you must), worn open. Forgettable loafers for one. Signature Keds (black) for the other.
We drop the loafers sister at her home. I bring it up to the Keds one. “I noticed you and Aunt Nettie had the same look today,” I start, buckling my seatbelt.
She shakes her head, blinking to attention. “What’s that?,” she asks. “I was out there – with the cows.” Brangus graze in the next pasture. Land’s too soggy for efficient beef production. No matter. Cattle make for tremendous tax exemptions.
“With the turtlenecks?” I prompt. I shift her Toyota into reverse, twisting over my right shoulder to back down the long driveway. “And the shirts?” I back into the empty street before shifting into drive.
Her right hand goes to her sternum, strokes the ribbed cotton. “Yes, I suppose we did,” she says.
“You think it was on purpose?” I ask. I fold the sun visor back into place. The sun and the heat of the day are both behind us.
“Well,” she trills, stretching the word into three syllables. An equivocation. Her elbow rests on the window sill. Her jaw is propped on the middle joint of her bent index finger.
“Did you tell her about the button-down shirt?” I ask. My grandmother had instructed me years before on the art of the button-down shirt. Specifically, that it took an outfit from “around the house” to “going to the store.” In our East Texas town of 8,000, “to the store,” covered 25% of places available to go. Alternatives: church, school, doctor.
In her closet hung a reasonable number of button-down shirts. Not so many it creeped toward hoarding, not “one to wear, one to wash.” A perfectly appropriate number. They weren’t stuffed in. They had room to breathe. If she died in the night and her female relatives (why pretend it’d be anyone else?) sorted through her closet, no sensible woman could say, “She had too many button-down shirts.” Some were striped, always vertical stripes.
“I certainly didn’t tell her,” she replied, taking her elbow off the window and sitting up straight. Always a nervous driver and a more nervous passenger, her eyes follow the lane changes of the other traffic. “I stopped giving advice a long time ago,” she says. “Long time ago.”
The latter claim was patently untrue. We drive in silence. My grandmother doled out advice and warnings. She blurted unfiltered observations to her immediate regret. “That just popped out of my mouth,” she’d say, one hand covering her mouth, clear blue eyes wide with surprise.
“I take that back,” she says a few minutes later, palms resting on her lap. “I guess Nettie did dress like me on purpose.”
“How’s that?,” I ask, glancing in the rearview mirror as I enter the highway.
“I’ve slipped a few in her closet,” she says, nodding as if she’d made up her mind about something.
“A few what in her closet?” I ask. “Shirts? When you don’t want them anymore?” It’s dusk. I delight in the orange bulbs twinkling from the pipework at the ExxonMobil refinery. My handsome grandpa commuted there for 30 years. I would’ve thought they’d become ugly by now, lost their magic. They haven’t.
“No,” she tisks. “New ones. Of course I take the price tags off. I put the whole outfit in there – the pants, the dickie, the button-down shirt,” emphasizing each element with an open palm.
“The whole thing?” I ask, signaling for our exit as the city recedes.
“Sure,” she says, “that way she knows what goes together.” She extends her right hand as if to help stop the car as we approach the light.
“You just put them in there? Like on hangers?” I ask. “In a grown woman’s closet?”
“Sure, on hangers,” she says, responding only to the easiest question. “I wouldn’t want them to get wrinkled.”
“But you’ve never said anything?,” I shift back toward the steering wheel. The light changes. I accelerate gently.
“Why no, I’d never say anything,” she says. “That’d be too pushy. You know I don’t like to give advice.” She leans forward, pointing toward the next intersection, “Here, you’ll miss the turn.”
Kelly Turner lives in Houston, Texas with her family. She works as a scientific grant-writing coach with clients in Zurich, Switzerland and Houston, Texas.