2022 Fiction Third Prize Winner
by Deanna Hanson
Pearle decided it was time to clean out her husband’s side of the closet. Her original familiarity with his belongings, now scattered about everywhere, reminded her of his love, of their love, was also fading and morphing into something different lately.
Family, friends, and neighbors had been pestering her for the last year to get rid of his things. Why people think they have a right to tell a person how to handle their loved one’s belongings was beyond her. Friends would say, “You can’t start anything new until you get rid of the old.” Her family would chime in, “Don’t you want the extra room?” Her kids were the worst with the whole rhetoric, “It’s time you started moving forward, don’t you think? You can start by getting rid of a few of dad’s things.” Pearle had heard it all. Each and every statement would make her angrier. She started to resent the people around her, letting them go instead with unreturned phone calls and routine rendezvous deliberately forgotten.
Her hands caressed the worn flannel shirts and then the dress shirts, the fabric smooth and cool under her hands. She inhaled and was saddened when she couldn’t detect even the scent of laundry soap anymore. Konrad’s smell was one thing she missed most and failed to capture. It was forever eluding her, destroyed by the minutes of the clock, taking him away from her, along with the lingering smell of his sweat after a night of lovemaking.
She grouped the clothes and brought them to the bed to be sorted for donation. Someone might feel comforted in his old clothes. Pearle believed his energy was still attached to what was once his, and being a good man, well, only good energy would spread. She made several of these trips until all his clothes covered the bed.
As if in a trance, Pearle curled herself up on top of the clothes with Konrad’s favorite fleece coat wrapped around her. Surrounded by him, she fell asleep.
What in the world? As if the clothes deserved an explanation, “I’m not doing a good job at this closet-sorting, am I?” An icy cold chill crept up her spine. Grateful to have his jacket on, she slid her hands into the pockets and felt a slip of paper. Pulling it out, she felt almost giddy from the surprise. Carefully she unfolded the square and read:
“I love you darling wife, I hope you are enjoying life as much as I am enjoying the afterlife. I loved you in this lifetime and will again in many more yet to come. Love, Konrad.”
She kissed the paper as if it were her late husband’s face.
Tears found their way down her cheeks. She grabbed the suit jacket from the pile next to her and searched the pockets. Another slip of paper caught her fingertips. She snatched it out–
“Wife, you were the best part of my life, my only regret is I wish we had met sooner.”
She put the two notes together and hugged herself. With her eyes closed she felt him there, whispering those things into her ear, the heat from his soft breath tickling, hand softly on the side of her face.
Ugly crying could not be helped. The sobs found their way out from the deepest depths of her darkest pain, and floodgates of tears she didn’t know her body could produce erupted. The pain, thick in her chest, lumping her throat, clogging her breathing into hyperventilative cries for help from her lungs; it was an animalistic release. Pearle was blubbering all over Konrad’s clothes.
Feeling panicked, she went through the pockets of all the shirts, pants, and jackets. A total of 47 more notes, 49 in total, stacked neatly on the nightstand. She decided to open them one week at a time because she might die from a broken heart if she read them all at once. A weekly dose of love from Konrad, beyond the grave, sounded too good to be true. She wondered about the rest of the closet- his shoes and hats. His Marine dress blues, and the ties. Perhaps there were more love notes to find. The dresser was still filled with his socks, boxers, and shorts. She looked around the room and thought the whole place could have notes spread about.
“It’s just like you, Konrad, to leave me notes, to assure me even after your death that our love was true. Oh, what am I supposed to do without you?” Pearle looked at the ceiling as if it held the answers. She landed her gaze on the antler chandelier hanging above their bed. Something was folded over on one of the antlers. How had she never noticed that before?
She stood on the piles of clothes and her toes and barely reached the object, another note. “What a funny place to leave me a note. What if I had never found it? What then smarty pants?” she said to the pile of clothes as she unfolded the message.
“Keep living life lover, do all the things you love most, spend your days happy, until we meet again, in the clouds, love eternal, Konrad.”
Timing is a funny thing, Pearle thought, looking at the disaster she had made, searching through all his belongings for more notes. She had almost reached enough for a year. Now she could get rid of his things, having his words to replace them. The notes deserved a special place. Where is Konrad’s kid box? In the back of the closet under his shoes was the metal lunchbox that held all the important mementos from his life. The perfect place to protect his last words to her. She opened the box, and laughed, “Ooh husband. . .” a note stared back at her from atop the collection of Konrad’s keepsakes.