by Thaddeus Rutkowski

I heard a loud jingling, so I got up from my child-sized desk and picked up the landline. The device was connected to a wall jack with a long wire. I untangled the wire, carried the phone back to my desk, and sat at the child’s chair. There wasn’t enough room for my knees under the desktop, so I pushed my chair back. Still, I was stuck: The chair didn’t swivel. I needed an office chair with casters, as well as an adult-sized desk, but I wasn’t about to upgrade. I’d brought the furniture from my parents’ house. Why should I buy new things when I could have old things for free?

I spoke into the handset. ‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Hi,’ a female voice said.

It was good to hear from my friend. Well, she was more than a friend, so it was more than good to hear from her. Because it was early evening, I thought we might have time to do something together. She might come to my place, or I might go to hers. If I went to her place, I might end up entertaining her children. I might have to read to them from kids’ books while she made phone calls. She was addicted to talking on the phone, while I was not. I was addicted to other things. If she came to my place, we might check out my child’s bed, also brought from my parents’ house.

She asked me to meet her at a store. The place had a suggestive name, beginning with two initials and ending with an intense descriptor: T.J. Maxx. I’d heard of the place—I expected that all of the items in it would be taken to the limit.

I had never been to T.J. Maxx, but the store was fairly close, in a fashionable neighborhood. I couldn’t quite get there on foot, so I took the subway a couple of stops. I got on in my dodgy neighborhood and got off where the streets were swept clean.

I went into the shop and found her on the floor, in a carpeted area surrounded by mirrors. She was wearing a black leather dress that fit snugly, like a glove. She turned and gestured, like a dancer. ‘Do you like it?’ she asked.

‘Yes, I do,’ I said.

I sat on a minimal seat—a smooth cube—and watched as she showed me some moves. She lifted her arms and flipped her hair as she spun around. I could see the dress from all angles, and I could smell the leather. The outfit cinched and lifted parts of her body. It was almost a harness. It matched her pointed, patent-leather shoes.

I wanted to join her in leather love. I wanted an outfit for myself: a jacket with loops and zippers, a vest and chaps, and stomper boots. All we needed to complete the ensemble was a motorcycle.

‘Will you buy it for me?’ she asked.

I understood then why I’d been called to the store. It had not been only to observe a modeling dance, a cat walk in a mini skirt, or a display of calfskin on human skin. It had also been to pay for something. I looked at the price of the dress and learned it was equivalent to a week’s income. Still, I didn’t think twice. I took out a plastic card and paid.

After the purchase, we went our separate ways: she back to her children, I to my loft decorated with child’s furniture. I didn’t know when I would next see her. Maybe it would be at a leather club, where wool clothing was not allowed. We would be dressed as brother and sister bikers. Who knew what we would do there, once we entered the garage?

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of six books, most recently Border Crossings, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his book Guess and Check won the Electronic Literature bronze award for multicultural fiction. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.