Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ghost Stories: Words Left Unsaid, Katy Comber

The Sweatshirt
By Katy Comber

Kendra perched before Adam in the worn out Penn State sweatshirt. She never just sat flat on her rear. Always antsy; never quite comfortable with the surfaces the world provided. The sleeves of the sweatshirt were frayed from years of being constantly twisted and stretched into balls tucked over and into her consistently icy hands and her impossible habit of gnawing on the cuffs whenever she wanted a cigarette. Her unwashed hair in a lopsided auburn knot and the heavy bags under her eyes made the words he'd planned to say halt midway and form a lump in his throat. For some reason he wanted the sweatshirt back. It was more hers than his at this point, but--but it felt wrong to see her in it.
Adam cleared his throat and smiled gratefully up at the waitress refilling his water. He could feel Kendra eyeing them both warily. Adam didn’t dare look in her direction. He knew the smug expression he’d find if he did. The expression would say the words Kendra could not say out loud: “See? You treat everyone better than me. Everyone. Even the dumpy waitress gets that megawatt smile.”
Adam sighed and straightened. Cleared his throat again. Kendra cleared hers too. Was she mocking him? Adam refused to look at her. The person across the table, picking at her pizza like a bird, was not the person he met four years ago. She was a stranger. There was too much to say. The right words were on the tip of Adam’s tongue.
“I think we should end it.” Her words rung in Adam’s ears. Then Kendra pulled off the Penn State sweatshirt, folded it neatly onto her chair, and left.
Relief swam through Adam.

Kendra perched on her chair. The seats were sticky from a mysterious red residue. Hawaiian punch? Maybe? Kids spilled their drinks so often at Tony’s that she hardly ever found a clean seat. The sweatshirt hung loose on her shoulders. She and Adam used to be about the same size. They were both so tall that when they first started dating, Adam put on a pair of her jeans as a joke. The denim hugged him so well and the skinny jean was so on trend, that Kendra joked that his ass looked so much better than hers and he should just keep them. Kendra remembered how much fun they had pulling them off, too.
Now, her athletic build was shrinking and his was expanding. No more jokes about sharing clothes. The sweatshirt was falling apart, but she wore it today with optimism. A reminder of the good times. Adam had only glanced over at her once the entire meal. He woofed down his half of the pizza while she could barely chew. Her stomach wrestled into knots.
The waitress appeared. Kendra scanned her body. A full-figured beauty. She watched Adam smile at the waitress like he used to smile at her. She looked down at the shirt-sleeve cuffs and dared herself not to chew on them. She’d quit smoking months ago. Adam coughed and seemed annoyed when she choked back the sob that had been welling up since the moment Adam walked in and looked at everything and every person in the room but her. She knew this was it. She knew that the month of separation would be extended indefinitely. They didn’t talk anymore. Too many things had happened unremarked and ignored. She had to be the one to say it. This would be her final gift to him. He never liked being the bad guy.
“I think we should end it.” He still wasn’t looking at her, but the relaxed slumping of his shoulders indicated gratitude. The sweatshirt felt suddenly tighter. Suddenly confining. She took it off. Folded it. Placed it on the chair. And without hesitation, walked away from the best and worst four years of her life.

The waitress looked at the couple occupying table 18. They were in here a lot less than usual, but regular faces just the same. The guy always tipped well and would occasionally come in without his girl. Lately he’d been ordering a large all meat to go. The girl always ordered broccoli and pineapple. The first time that order came through Tony asked if he was being punked. Then he took one look at the cheerful redhead, grunted, and made the order with more pineapple the waitress had ever seen on a Tony’s pizza. The girl was stunning. Even now when she appeared unshowered, sleep deprived, and shrinking into that raggedy sweatshirt. When the guy ordered his usual, the waitress looked over to his date in shock. The girl just smiled wanly and nodded. Now, the waitress observed her quietly picking off the meat and playing with the slice in front of her. What was the guy thinking? It looked like they were going to break up. When it looked like the guy was about to speak, the waitress hurried over to refill his water in hopes of overhearing something. He smiled as she poured. That smile chilled her to the bone. He looked up in her direction, but his eyes went right through her. As though she were a shadow and he was smiling at everything behind her. She did not return it. She did not know how. Instead she retreated to another table. A family of four. Goofy and a mess, but warm. The next time she looked at the couple’s table, the girl was gone and the guy with the absent grin was zoned out and munching on the last slice of pizza.

The bells on the door tinkled lightly as Adam left the pizzeria. The sweatshirt hung limply by his side. An overfilled trash bin sat on the corner in the opposite direction of where he needed to go. He looked down at the tangible ghost, now gripped tight in his white knuckled hands. The threads of blue and white drifting out from the cuffs and the stretched out collar. A phantom of a memory: A morning after. Finding Kendra curled up in his sweatshirt. His heart ready to burst with joy at the sight of this girl. His girl.
The bells of the door chimed behind him. Adam jumped. The waitress started at his expression and quickly turned to busy herself with locking up for the night. She's pretty. The thought struck Adam as he walked over to the trash bin and dumped the sweatshirt on a pile of overflowing refuse. 
The waitress shuddered to herself as she remembered that haunting bemused grin from before. In order to walk back to her apartment, she had to walk by him. It was the most efficient way to go. Her entire body ached from a double shift. Even her hair hurt. She just wanted to go home. She swiftly passed him hoping to go unnoticed. Her heart thrummed and then slowed. He wasn't looking at her. He was just very still and dazed. One of her final thoughts was how odd he seemed standing there staring down at something he'd thrown away. 
Adam looked up and observed her from a slight distance; he watched the sway of her hips as she strode. Then, without thought or invitation, he began to follow-- leaving the sweatshirt, seeped in memories, in its own wake.


  1. love this and the shifting points of view. beautiful and so well done