Dawn Corrigan

I had developed an irrational fear of the bag full of secondhand clothes my mother brought to me on her last visit. The bag was a large, two-handled paper shopping bag, the kind with a reinforced cardboard bottom. The clothes—tops and sweaters designed for a woman much younger than me, though no smaller—were wadded into the bag densely. There seemed no end to them. For days I ignored my own closet and drawers full of clothes in favor of the bag. In the morning I'd stagger over to it, stare into its depths, pick around until something struck my fancy.
The first day it was a tie-dyed hoodie, of a material so thin it was practically transparent, and studded with stones in a vaguely tribal pattern on the front. I layered this over a t-shirt and a pair of skinny jeans I'd actually paid money for, an extravagant present to myself that we couldn't afford, and which I'd bought right before my mother had shown up with two similar pairs of skinny jeans, fancier than my new ones, hand-me-downs from a stylish cousin who'd just given birth. However, I continued to favor the jeans I'd purchased over the ones that were gifts, though normally I loved hand-me-downs.
I went to lunch with my parents dressed in the bedazzled hoodie. "I'm dressed like a 12-year-old. Even more so than usual," I said as we settled into our booth at the Mexican restaurant.
"No you're not," my mother said sharply.
I normally loved hand-me-downs because there was both a treasure hunt element about them, and a whiff of fate. It was pleasing to me that within a bag of someone else's discards you might find just the thing, something that was just what you wanted, though you hadn't known it until that moment. Stores were too full of things you wanted; it was overwhelming, and their wares gave little satisfaction once they were owned. And yet, one needed to acquire new things in some fashion, since old things eventually wore out.
I'd been the recipient of the stylish cousin's hand-me-downs for years, but recently my coworkers had taken to bringing me their unwanted shirts and purses and shoes as well, and now there was this enormous shopping bag, the largess of someone I didn't even know.
Was I concerned that my sources of charity had proliferated? Did I feel this fact reflected poorly on our fortunes, which admittedly had taken a turn for the worse since the wedding five years ago?
I was not and I did not.
But why, then, this fear of the shopping bag? Every day I promised myself, Today will be the day. I'll get to the bottom at last. I'll decide what I want to keep and what I don't. With the latter I'll pack a smaller bag and bring it to work to give something back to my coworkers, since they like treasure hunts, too.
But every day I did not do this. The cats began to take over, pulling clothes out of the bag and nesting in the piles. They worked until they'd reached the bottom, at which point Dot, the mama cat, jumped inside. From her deepest nest she eyed the other cats as they rolled in the clothes.
Perhaps I was afraid of the smell. Though some of the clothes showed signs of pilling or other wear, they were all clean. But they'd been washed with a detergent I didn't like. It reminded me of an old lover. "I love the way you smell," I'd told him, but in fact I did not; his smell was too acrid. It said being clean had to hurt. I favored sweeter scents: vanilla, almond, caramel. I didn't really like the scent of the detergent we used, either, but it was soft enough that it was easy to cover up with other things. My husband smelled of Old Spice deodorant and cigarette smoke; like home.

When I'd said "I love the way you smell" I'd meant I loved him.

I should mention that although my parents had no money, I was never subjected to hand-me-downs as a child. I was first born, fawned over, much loved. My aunt sewed, and on Easter she'd make matching outfits for me and the stylish cousin, beautiful dresses worn once and then discarded. The rest of the year I was dressed like a miniature version of the television stars of the day—Marlo Thomas, Mary Tyler Moore. Short skirts and geometric prints, mostly, occasionally interspersed with soft, feminine florals.
At the time I hated those clothes. Made of polyester and acrylic, they itched, and when I wore them I felt something like rage swelling up.
Now, though, looking back through our photo albums, I see that I haven't dressed as well since.

Dawn Corrigan has had work in The Paris Review, Opium, Dogzplot, Monkeybicycle, Bound Off and many others.

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Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Knitting Iris.

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