A Ghost Story
She found them in a charity shop, run for the local hospice. An old woman arranging nick-nacks in the window and an unhappy looking girl in her late teens at the till. It wasn't the sort of place where she'd normally look for clothes but she had wandered in while waiting for a prescription to be filled at the chemist two doors along. Everything else on the rack was labelled, and far too small for her husband, a tall man, and oddly shaped now, after too many years sat at a desk looking at numbers. The jeans were new, she thought, or at least barely worn. One belt loop was unstitched but Imelda, who helped around the house three days a week, could sort that out. The girl asked the old woman to price them. She handed over a fifty pound note and got two twenties, plus change, in return. She had done a good thing, she thought, but left the rather tatty little place with a feeling of unease.
They were a super fit. Comfy, yet flattering. He tucked his shirt in and they walked down the lane to the Two Brewers for dinner. Dennis seemed more relaxed than usual. He lingered at the bar while refreshing her gin and tonic, and said something to Sally, the landlord's niece, which made her giggle and blush. She watched him walk back, glass in hand. The jeans seemed to narrow his hips, which in turn made his shoulders appear broader. His habitual stoop had gone, or had she imagined it? Seated, he smiled at her more than she was used to. He tipped generously and they walked home, his long arm around her waist. They kissed on the doorstep then he pulled her inside, slapping her backside like a teenager. She brushed her teeth, agitated and aroused. Stepping from the ensuite she saw the jeans at the foot of the bed and her husband asleep, his body twisted into a awkward shape, as if he'd been shot.
He only wore them at the weekends, at first. He took to leaning against things with an unconsidered air. One foot off the floor, like a cowboy, she thought. He whistled when he wore the jeans, but not at other times. He stood taller still when he had them on. Women noticed him, and she noticed them noticing him. Soon he began to change into them as soon as he got home from work. The evenings were lengthening and he found excuses to be away from her, dogwalking, hedge-trimming. But she told herself that nothing had really changed.
“So we've decided to start having casual Fridays at work,” he told her. “Relax a bit. Clothes do not maketh the man, after all. Or woman.”
“Whose idea was it?”
She watched him move in his armchair.
“It was my idea,” he said eventually.
She pulled the washing machine out from the wall and smashed the pipes off the back of it with a glass candlestick. She put her laundry into the back of the car and drove into town. It took three hours to wash and dry everything at the laundrette. Five pounds for parking and handfuls of coins for the machines. She smoked a cigarette outside, watching the clothes dance in the dryer, then threw the packet away. Folded everything and put it back in the basket, in the boot. Except the jeans which sat on the passenger seat as she drove half a mile to other end of the high street. She walked in to the hospice shop and put the jeans on the counter. The old woman recognised her as she turned to leave.
“No,” she said. “Not quite.”
“Would you like to exchange them for anything?” She shook her head and walked back to the car.