It was the crispness of the sweater that made me stop. Folded firmly, it was starched with the wind and the sun of the country it was dried in. Australia. I pushed it up to my face and breathed in deeply. Just the stale scent of the plane remained, not the detergent she used to wash it. But it was enough, it was enough. I placed it over my face and let my head drop back as the memories of the trip washed up through my senses.
Inhale. Long flights and airport reunions. Exhale. Her bedroom in that little apartment, his dirty dungarees and white ponytail past the door. The curtain-sifted light in her room and the darkness sitting, brooding in the corners. Inhale. The wind, the constant wind around the house, through the windows, playing tag with the screen door. Exhale. Arguments. Speed-walking through pale, yellow brick streets under a muggy grey sky. And quiet conversations in the dusk; thoughts waiting on pillows.
Then a dark morning in the house, fumbling with suitcases, the sorrow that started in the back of my throat as I gently woke her to say goodbye. Her sleep-muffled words. The sudden panic as the taxi light shone through the window, the pull in my heart as I closed the door behind me and wept through the black of early morning. The last look at the yellow light in the front room, wishing I had turned it off.
I pull the sweater off now and feel the same tug in my throat as I unfold it and place it on the hanger. And then I stop. I don’t want to unfurl the memories it holds, suddenly afraid that they will disappear when the starch relaxes and the scent fades. It’s always like this, though. I would hide something forgotten behind after every time she left, away from the light and air, and push my nose in the fabric trying to find a place or a time or a feeling that connected me to a past; something to make me feel real again.
Under the heat of my hands, the folded sweater relaxes anyways. I hang it up in the back of the closet, away from the light and air. I never liked the smell of planes.