Last night at a small bookstore I passed the cashier empty handed, having struck out in my search for a novel that would catch my imagination.
As I crossed in front of the man behind the till he asked me what the story was behind my shirt, a grey t-shirt with a drawing of a man standing in a doorway across the chest, his shadow replaced by an X and in small white type the words ‘Mr. X’.
“No story,” I said apologetically. “It is just a free shirt from a company. Like promo swag, I guess?”
“Hmm… too bad. I thought there was a story,” he said.
As I walked towards the door his words hung on a synapse in my brain and I stopped. Turned to him.
“You know a girlfriend got this from a client she worked with a few weeks before we broke up. I remember it sitting on a shelf in her closet every night I slept over. We were going through a rough patch and each time I passed it I felt strange, this new thing in a familiar place. Just this little reminder that things were changing.”
“How did you end up with it then?” asked the man.
“After our break-up, when she gave me my stuff back from her apartment she slipped it in. Guess she liked it as much as I did. It was like the last gift of our relationship, so I buried it in a drawer so I could forget about it and everything it represented.”
“But now you’re wearing it?”
“Well yeah, I mean, it wasn’t the last time I saw it. A new girlfriend entered my life and at some point she must have stumbled across it in the drawer. She took to wearing it lazy nights around the house. Suddenly this shirt that used to remind me of so many negative things began to remind me of happy times. Of sitting on the living room floor eating sushi and laughing after a long day of work. Of getting up from bed in the middle of the night to check how her sleepless PhD research was going…”
“So the shirt was redeemed?”
“For a time,” I offer. “But eventually we broke up as well and I buried the shirt back in the drawer to try and forget again. Till tonight. Not sure why. I don’t know.” I pause, crack a smile to try and sell my next night, “I guess I am the Mr. Ex.”
The man doesn’t chuckle or crack a smile of his own, instead he simply shrugs, “Knew it had a story. Everything has a story.”
Another customer steps up to the cash and the man turns his attention to her.
I leave, empty handed but with a story all the same.