We were in the middle of a rush when Ericka approached me.
"I'm so sorry!" she said, in the way that only a teenager can, "I have an older lady, like eighty, who needs a bra fitting but I can't do it. Can you?"
Nodding, I asked where she was.
"Room 9, but she might be looking around first."
Dropping the clothes I was carrying over the roll rack by the fitting rooms, I went back to check it out. She was there, and she looked very familiar. One of my regular customers, from my old store.
I smiled. "Well hello!"
She looked a little surprised, but I could tell she recognized me. "How long have you been working here?" she asked, slowly hanging up her raincoat. I noticed that her hair was still red and curly, but she had more gray at the temples.
"Just over a year. I sell insurance too, but this supplements my income. Also, I quit smoking and gained weight, so I appreciate the discount on work clothes. I understand you need to get fitted?"
We set about doing the measurements and ten minutes later, she was trying on some of my suggestions. She spoke quietly.
"I thought I was a D," she began.
"I think you are still," I agreed, "but we're going to use a bigger band size..."
I could tell she was thinking about weight gain because many of my customers do, and most of the time they say why. I wasn't ready, though.
"I have not been able to stop eating since my husband died."
I stopped and looked into her eyes. The two bras I was holding in my hand were forgotten. "I'm so sorry. When?"
She sat down on the bench along the mirrors and I did too, neither of us seemed to realize she was sitting there in a beige bra and a floral summer skirt.
"October 7th. We were married for 56 years. He was such a wonderful man. He was so good to me." Her eyes welled up.
"My husband died on October 2nd in 2002, but we were only married 9 years." My eyes welled up too. "You're going to make me cry! So, you have been through many of the firsts already? Thanksgiving, Christmas..."
She nodded. "His birthday was in March. Our wedding anniversary was in May. It's just so awful without him here. His chair looks so empty all the time."
I remembered The Empty Chair vividly.
"How are you now?" she asked.
"I got remarried, two years ago. I'm very happy now, but there's still a scar from actually losing him. I don't think you ever get over it. Actually, I still have his bathrobe, I still wear it..."
"Me too! But that's all. My oldest daughter, the one in Edmonton. She came in and boxed everything up, but she missed the bathrobe, hanging on the back of the bathroom door. My husband, he had all these lovely suits, that he would wear to the Lodge. One of them had a gold pen in the pocket. I want it, but it's gone. He loved that pen."
I could hear more people moving around outside the fitting rooms, and the buzzer for the front door was going off every few minutes. "You know, I know some widows that have made a little quilt, or a pillow out of their husband's things. That way, you get to have a piece of him with you when you sleep at night."
Her face lit up in a smile, and I went back to my work.
Two hours later, I was listening to Audioslave on the way home.
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway
I was lost in the pages
Of a book, full of death
Reading how we'll die alone
And if we're good we'll lay to rest
Anywhere we want to go
...and I just start sobbing these old, hot tears, the ones I remember from years ago. The kind of tears that feel like a bloodletting, a release.
When I got home and started telling Bill the story, I realized I had not even asked her name.