EXCHANGE by Chloe N. Clark

Sometimes he goes into clothing stores to buy things that he doesn’t really want. He’ll shop around, for maybe twenty or thirty minutes, looking at different t-shirts. It’s always t-shirts. He likes the ones with no graphics—just words. He thinks he might be able to find himself in those words eventually. He’ll usually pick out at least two and try them on. He wants to believe that he’s really going to keep them. The one that fits perfectly, that has the most interesting feel of fabric, and the right pairing of colors. He’ll look in the mirror and study his reflection with the shirts on: tall, lean in a not too thin and not overly muscular way, and try to find the one that hugs his flesh in just the perfect way. That’s the one that he’ll take up to the counter and purchase. He always pays in cash. It makes it easier later. He likes the bags that each clothing store will hand over to him: some are simple plastic, some are paper with the store name printed across the front, some of them go all out with brilliant colors and bold fonts. He’ll put the bag into his backpack and then get on his bike to ride home. He bikes everywhere and always smells lightly of sweat but not in an overt or unpleasant way. It just is there, lightly hovering over the smell of clean.

Once he’s at home, he’ll wait to take out the bag. He wants to have the feeling of having made a decision to last for a little while. He’ll make a cup of tea—always rooibos, always with a spoonful of honey stirred in. He’ll drink the cup of tea, while reading the paper. He reads the local section first and then the sports. He never reads the national section, because it is filled with too much of everything. When he has had the last sip, he will take out the t-shirt and stare at it.

Today’s is a simple black with “Abalone” written across the front. He already knows what will happen. He can already feel the disappointment of not having picked the right one.

The next thing that he does is wait a day. He always gives it twenty-four hours, just to make sure. Then he goes back to the store. He carries the shirt in its bag like some sort of protective barrier so that he doesn’t have to feel the fabric that has let him down in such a way. This is the part that always fascinates him. The return of the product. He likes these abbreviated exchanges with people. The simplicity of them.

He goes into the store and hands over the offending item. The clerk looks at him, smugly,

“Sir we don’t do returns.”

“What do you mean? I don’t want this. I just bought it yesterday. Certainly I can return

it.”

“Um, like, no. Store policy.” She points to a sign that he didn’t notice: No returns. No exceptions. Exchange only. He looks down at the shirt. He doesn’t want an exchange. With something that complicated, there can only lie disappointment. “Fine. I’ll just keep this one.”

“Okay. Whatever. Have a nice day.” The clerk says as he takes the shirt back.

He walks outside and stares at the T. He decides, then and there, that he’ll just have to become the person to fit these words.

Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Banshee Lit, Drunken Boat, Flash Fiction Online, Hobart, and more. She can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

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