It was Saturday afternoon, and my wife and I decided to go to the mall to pick up a pair of pants I’d bought there and had altered. We couldn’t find a parking space outside so we drove into one of those high-rise parking garages and wound around in circles until we eventually found a spot. Too many stairs, so we took the elevator down after making note of the floor we were on. We didn’t want to be looking for the car until we reported it stolen, then a week later have the police find the car where we’d parked it. We walked into the department store where I’d bought the pants, and we agreed to meet at the ground-floor escalator in half an hour. My wife could go to the cosmetics area to look for special offers and hit them up for samples, and I could get my pants and browse for a while on my own. We parted, and I headed for the men’s department. My wife had found the pants two weeks before on a sale table. Half price, camel colored, neutral, versatile, only the length needed to be altered. A salesman greeted me, and I got my claim ticket from my wallet and told him I’d come for the pants. He gave me a practiced smile, took the ticket, and said he’d be right back with them. I started to look around and I noticed that things had changed since I’d been there before. In the rear of the department, where the dressing rooms used to be, there was now a wide stairway going down. Wooden handrails, dark green carpet on the steps, the whole thing looking as if it had been there for years. I asked myself how they could have pulled off a construction project like this in less than two weeks with no sign of dust or rough edges. I went on browsing, looking at ties, and it began to worry me that the salesman had been in the back room for so long. Finally he appeared empty-handed and said he’d been unable to find my pants, but he was going to check on the other side of the sales floor. He kept the smile coming at me and hurried through a doorway. Again he was gone longer than I expected, and when he returned his smile was showing some wear. I’ll try on this side again, he said, and as he walked away I looked back at the stairway. I was thinking that if they could put those stairs through the wall and floor within two weeks they should be able to find my pants. The next time the salesman appeared he still didn’t have the pants and his focus seemed to have switched to the claim ticket. You know what, he said, I’ve just noticed that this ticket has the store number written on it for our location at the other mall. Could you have bought the pants there? I answered that I’d been to that mall recently but I’d never set foot in their other store. Let me give them a call, he said, and see if we can find your pants over there. I told him I didn’t see how that was possible, but I couldn’t fault him for trying to find my pants. So I stood at the service counter while he called. He apologized for taking so much of my time and said he couldn’t understand why the claim ticket would have the other store number on it. He shrugged at me as I fidgeted, but soon I could tell by the look on his face that someone had come on the line. Great, he said, let me tell the customer. They have your pants at our other store, sir, would you like them to be sent here or do you want to go pick them up? I asked him how they could have gotten there, but he had no explanation, and I said I’d drive over for them today. He told the person that I was coming by for the pants, hung up, again apologized, and then asked if I was sure I hadn’t been in their other store. I told him I didn’t even know they had a store in the other mall. He told me the name of the salesman to ask for and I shook his hand. When I met my wife at the escalator she noticed right away that I wasn’t carrying the pants. Did something go wrong? she asked, and I told her that my pants were at their other store. We’ve never been to the other store, she said. We then discussed how we’d been together when I bought the pants and wondered how they could have ended up at the other mall, pants couldn’t walk without a person in them. They must have taken
Aisha Sabatini Sloan
Episode 22: “Form and Formlessness”
In an essay specially commissioned for the podcast, Aisha Sabatini Sloan describes rambling around Paris with her father, Lester Sloan, a longtime staff photographer for Newsweek, and a glamorous woman who befriends them. In an excerpt from The Art of Fiction no. 246, Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti discuss how writing her first novel helped Cusk discover her “shape or identity or essence.” Next, Allan Gurganus’s reading of his story “It Had Wings,” about an arthritic woman who finds a fallen angel in her backyard, is interspersed with a version of the story rendered as a one-woman opera by the composer Bruce Saylor. The episode closes with “Dear Someone,” a poem by Deborah Landau.
Rachel Cusk photo courtesy the author.
Subscribe for free: Stitcher | Apple Podcasts | Google Play