Jill Carroll - Fiction Editor

Montana's Blue Jeans


501s 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 wrong.

    "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 month ago."

    "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 dead.

    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 veneer coffin."

    "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," I said.

    "No way," she answered.

    "Come on," I said. "Think of her as one giant Barbie doll."

    "I can't," she said. "Plastic feels a lot different than rigor mortis."

    "Please," I begged. "You touch dead people all the time."

    "They're not dead," she corrected me. "They're geriatric."

    "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 car."

    "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 jeans."

    "Are you shitting me?"

    "Really. I don't think they're mine."

    "Are you shitting me?"

    "I just have to see -- "


    "Mine had a broken belt loop. These don't. Let's get out of here."

    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 know."

    "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 and petty."

    "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 her home.


    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.



© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 3/20/97