While going up in an elevator, a woman exactly my height tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey,” she said. “I don’t like your sweater. It looks wrinkly.”
I’d spent a long time—almost twenty minutes—picking out that particular sweater from my sweater collection. The reason it took me so long was that all my sweaters looked quite similar. They were various shades of blue, arranged in my closet from darkest to lightest. In the end, I was unable to decide which blue suited me best. I just went with the final sweater I pulled from the hanger. Usually, people never say anything about the way I look, even though I put all this time and effort into it. I was disappointed to receive such harsh feedback.
I said to the woman, “I don’t like your sweater either. It makes you look fat.” But the truth was: I thought she looked hot. She had large, voluptuous calves. I liked how short she was. I asked her what was so wrong with wrinkles?
“It shows you don’t care,” she said.
All it showed was that it took me a little while longer than I’d hoped to get my clothes out of the dryer. But she wouldn’t understand that. So, I said don’t judge a book by its cover. And she just mouthed cliché under her breath, but loud enough that I could hear.
“The elevator is taking a while,” the woman said.
“Maybe we’re stuck.”
“That would be a bummer,” she said. “I’m tired of looking at your sweater.”
“It was a gift,” I said, even though it wasn’t. I’d purchased the sweater on sale at an outlet mall near the beach in Delaware. Whenever I went to the beach, I stopped at the outlets. It wasn’t easy to find cheap clothes of medium quality. I think that was the main reason I looked forward to the beach. I’d never been a fan of sand or sun or salty water. All those things made me uncomfortable, the same way I felt next to this woman who disliked my sweater.
“How about we ask each other questions?” she suggested. “To pass the time?” Then she smiled at me, and I noticed she was missing half the teeth in her jaw.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Exactly,” she said. “Have you ever wanted to go into space?”
“Not really,” I said. “It’s cold and dark and far away from anywhere, I’ve ever been or anyone I’ve ever known. Do you dream of space?”
“No, but wouldn’t you like to look down on earth and get a different perspective on things?”
“Why would I want that?” I asked.
“It can be freeing,” she said. Then she smiled again, and I saw her half-empty mouth. Or, depending on the perspective, maybe it was half full.
“What happened to your teeth?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “They just never came in.”
“Would you ever wear dentures?”
“I’d consider it,” she said. “If we ever get out of this elevator.”
I skimmed my tongue along the smooth, almost slimy surface of my own teeth. “Teeth are kind of weird, don’t you think?”
“If you think about anything long enough, it can seem weird,” she said. “Stare at my ear for a minute and tell me it doesn’t look weird.”
I stared at her ear. At first, it just looked like an ear. Nothing special. But then the earness of it, my concept of it as an ear, started to disappear. It became a series of ridges and indentations protruding from the head for no discernible reason.
“Weird,” I confirmed.
“Having a body is weird,” she said. “I didn’t ask for one, but here I am living in it.”
“Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a different body?”
“I can’t fully picture it. Living would be different. I wouldn’t be able to operate any of my new parts.”
“I’ve thought about flying,” I said. “How cool would that be?”
“A bird probably doesn’t think flying is cool,” she said.
“I guess you’re right,” I said.
“I’m right about most things,” she said. “Including your sweater.”
I thought about that too, about her being right. “This might be a bad sweater,” I said. “It might be wrinkly. But it’s mine.”
“Would you give it to me?” she asked.
“I thought you didn’t like it?”
“I don’t like it on you.”
Rather than anger, this filled me with a perverse sense of satisfaction. “So, you do like my sweater?”
“How do you think I’d look in it?” she asked, grinning with one side of her mouth.
“I think you’d look stellar.”
“Then give it here.”
I removed the sweater, which bunched up around my shoulders until it cleared the nub of my head. Then I offered it to her, like a gift to a pagan god.
She put it on, and I had to admit the sweater accentuated her features, whereas, on me, it had only hung limply.
“It suits you,” I said.
“I know,” she said.
The elevator doors opened.
I watched her go. The sweater was finally where it belonged. I shivered at the thought. Or was it simply the cold?