Jill Carroll - Fiction Editor
Montana's Blue Jeans
A SHORT STORY BY NANCY KERN
I never minded Montana's whoring around so much until she started
doing it in my clothes. She'd call me up at ten of seven from some Hoboken
corner and beg me to come get her, and there she'd be, sporting a vest or
a blouse of mine, cursing like a pirate and chewing her nails, telling me
how wonderful he (or they) had been but how she'd been asked to leave
early since he (or they) were brokers and had to be at work by eight.
The funny thing is, I would have been able to get another wear out of
those clothes if Montana didn't wear that stale perfume, which was given
to her by an old boyfriend's mother for a high school graduation gift, I
think. It was one of those smells that gets permanently sealed into
fabric, like moth balls or cigar smoke.
So here she was, looking rather smug I thought, lying in a shiny,
black coffin lined with satin, wearing a fresh pair of Levi 501 button
flys. My button flys.
Sandy, my roommate before Montana
-- she moved out to go live with some guy on the upper West Side about
six months ago
-- elbowed me as soon as she saw. I made like I was praying and waited
to discuss the matter with her until after we expressed our sympathy to
Montana's family. I say "expressed" our sympathy rather than
"gave" our sympathy because "giving" implies
"accepting" and "accepting" requires
"understanding," and "understand" us they did not,
since they were straight from Ecuador and spoke no English.
Sandy had taken Spanish in nursing school but knew little more than
"Donde le duele?" (Where does it hurt?) and
"Tiene aseguros?" (Do you have insurance?), so we were
stuck there for a few minutes in the front of the funeral parlor, acting
like a pair of mimes to a very sad audience.
Sandy knew I was pissed. She must have seen my jaw grinding. When we
were living together she would just close her door and wait until I cooled
off to discuss things. But as soon as we took a seat in the rows of
mourners she turned to me and said, "Boy does she got big balls. Not
only did she go and die owing you rent, but now she's going to spend
eternity in your clothes!"
"She didn't go and die," I said. "She was hit by a
drunk ass driver. And she's not spending eternity in my clothes. We gotta
get those jeans off her."
She looked at me as if to say she wasn't even going to think about
having any part of it, but she knew she was in. The Spanish priest was up
front now, leading everyone in what I assumed was the Lord's Prayer, by
the Christ-like way he held his hands out from his side, palms facing the
ceiling. As we filed out of the room with the mourners I tugged on Sandy's
sleeve and pulled her into the john. She gave a little squeal but waited
patiently while I told her the plan. As long as she didn't have to touch
anything, she said, she was okay with it. Then she asked me what would I
do with the jeans after I had them and I told her it wasn't about my
wearing the jeans again, it was about the difference between right and
"No part of me is dying before my time is up," I said.
"And those blue jeans are a part of me, girl
-- they're seven years old. I used to ice skate in those things.
Besides," I said. "It's a matter of principle." She knew
what I meant by principle. Once, when we were sixteen we saw a neighbor of
ours dump an old couch into the river. That week we got Sandy's brother to
drive us over to the falls in his pickup, and the two of us dragged the
couch out of the river, where it was lodged between two boulders. When
nighttime came we drove it over and dumped it onto our neighbor's lawn and
tried setting it on fire, but it wouldn't burn, it was so soaked.
She knew I had a point, so she waited with me in the bathroom stall.
We heard the air conditioner shut off and then the undertaker walking
around, turning out all the lights. When he cracked open the door and
turned out the bathroom light we held our breath.
After a minute I whispered, "Get out your lighter."
"I don't have it," she said. "I went cold turkey a
"Bullshit," I said. "Get it out."
She groped in her purse and we suddenly had light. We tiptoed past the
grandfather clock and I looked around the corner to make sure the
undertaker was gone. Through the front window I watched the headlights of
the hearse turn on, back out, and pull away. I motioned with my hand for
Sandy to follow me, and she did.
As we walked to the front of the room I could see the sparks of static
electricity kicking up from the carpet at our feet. "Hey," I
said. "Light this candle here."
She held her lighter over the wick. "It's brand new," she
said. "If we burn it, someone will know that we stayed."
"Oh," I hissed. "And they won't notice Montana lying
here in her skivies."
"Good point," Sandy said, and she lit the candle.
"You do nothing but be the lookout," I said. "I'll take
care of everything."
Sandy tried asking once again if I was sure about this and told me to
think about the family, but I told her I didn't give a damn, because even
if it was according to a last request written in Sanskrit, nobody should
bury their beloved in blue jeans.
Of course, what I didn't tell Sandy was that I was also mad that
Montana always looked better in my clothes than I did. Even when she was
So I put my hands out in front of me and groped around in the shadows
until I found the coffin. I could feel I was shaking a bit. I had to move
the flower arrangement that was on top, and when I did, the smell was
overwhelming. I wasn't sure if it was the embalming or the flowers. When
I got my sense of balance back I pulled the bottom half of the lid open.
It was surprisingly easy to lift, so I knocked on it.
"What are you doing?" Sandy asked.
"It's veneer," I said. "Cheap bastards gave her a
"Jesus, Jody, get on with it," she said. "I think I'm
breaking out in hives."
I ignored her and started going straight for the buttons, trying not
to touch the body. They were easy enough to undo, since Montana weighed
about 10 pounds less then I do, but then I realized I needed to slide the
jeans off her legs.
Sandy heard my moving around. "You almost done?" she asked.
"No," I said. "I gotta take her out. Come here,"
"No way," she answered.
"Come on," I said. "Think of her as one giant Barbie
"I can't," she said. "Plastic feels a lot different
than rigor mortis."
"Please," I begged. "You touch dead people all the
"They're not dead," she corrected me. "They're
"Close enough," I said.
I was already pulling at the body, and before I knew it, Montana's
legs were half out.
"Sandy, if you don't help me I'm going to drop her," I said.
"And then we'll really be in deep shit."
That was all I needed to say. Sandy took the shoulders and I took the
feet and, somehow or another, the next thing I knew, Montana's body was on
the floor on top of Sandy.
"Oh God and Baby Jesus, Jody, get this thing off of me!" she
cried. "I can't breathe!" She wriggled her feet and hands.
I took Montana and rolled her onto her side. Sandy stood up and dusted
herself off. "Look what you did," she said.
I looked at Montana. Her head was dumped into a flower arrangement
that said, "Beloved Daughter."
"I'm gone," Sandy said. "I'll be waiting in the
"No you won't," I said. "We got this far."
I crouched down and struggled with the pant bottoms, trying to shimmy
off one leg at a time, but I was getting nowhere. I knew I had to work
from the hip, so I turned Montana back over, and got real close. I pulled
at her belt loops and suddenly I stopped. My body went limp.
"Jody," Sandy whispered. "What are you doing over
there, taking measurements?"
"Jesus H. Christ, Sandy," I said. "These are the wrong
"Are you shitting me?"
"Really. I don't think they're mine."
"Are you shitting me?"
"I just have to see
"ARE YOU SHITTING ME?"
"Mine had a broken belt loop. These don't. Let's get out of
So we ran. Out the door, across the lot, and into the car. We locked
the doors and I started the engine. Sandy's hands shook. She held up a
cigarette and flicked her lighter four times but got nothing but sparks.
All the way into Manhattan we drove without a word. I could have been
steering the Q.E.II for all I knew, that's how much attention I paid to
the road. Finally, when we got past Lincoln Center Sandy turned to me.
"You feel bad?" she asked. "Because you shouldn't, you
"I know, I know," I said. "But I can't help it. I can't
stop thinking of how much like animals we really are, you know? We might
read on the toilet and brush our teeth in the morning, but when it comes
right down to it, most of the time we're all just territorial, possessive
"I hear you," she said. "But don't let yourself lose
any sleep over it."
"I won't," I said. "I won't." But I didn't tell
her what I knew would make me lose sleep, the image that kept coming to
mind: Montana standing there on the corner, with her arms folded across
her chest to shield her from the morning cold, waiting for a ride to take
Nancy Kern, who taught English for several years in New Jersey, is enrolled in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of
South Carolina in Columbia.