The Saddest Six Word Story
“Oh, now this one! You know there’s a story behind this!”
Hannah picked up the wedding dress and held it up in front of her.
“I’m going with… nasty divorce,” she said.
Hannah pinched the edges and shook it out. The intricate beading shimmered under the fluorescent lights.
“Or the wife wanted to donate it,” said Claire.
“No, if you want to donate your dress, you give it to one of those charities, the ones that give prom dresses to homeless teens and stuff,” said Hannah. “You don’t give it to a thrift store. No, that’s something you do out of spite.”
“Well, then, what’s the story behind it?”
“I’m going with… cheating spouse.” Hannah pressed the dress to her body and started to dance. “And not just any infidelity. I’m thinking…” Hannah twirled. The dress fanned out away from her. “…really toxic marriage, lots of fighting. Punched walls and broken dishes kind of fighting. And he didn’t just cheat. He, like, Tiger Woods style cheated.” Hannah stopped and peered into the cardboard moving box that the dress came in. “I mean, were there any broken golf clubs included in the donation?”
Claire laughed. She enjoyed when Hannah speculated like this. Most of the items donated were pretty standard: old clothing that had gone out of fashion a decade ago, kitchen appliances with a grimy film that no amount of scrubbing or soap could remove, toys that were popular when Claire was a kid. But every once in a while they’d get something interesting. A video game console that was practically brand new. Lingerie that was clearly not new. Things that were begging for their backstory to be revealed, or created.
“No, this marriage… this was an unhappy one. Maybe from the very beginning,” Hannah continued, dancing around. “My money is that she knew it was a bad idea, to get married. She knew it and she did it anyway. She went in preparing to get divorced. That’s why the dress is so fancy. She wanted a nice wedding out of it, at least.”
“And you really don’t think that she was just doing some spring cleaning?”
“Are you kidding me? Dresses this nice don’t just hang in your closet. They get preserved. Put in display boxes and all that jazz. And this came in like a wadded mess.”
“So, you’re thinking she pulled down the display box, pulled out her dress…”
“Maybe even put it on one last time, tears in her eyes, sobbing over the mess her life had become…”
“Wow. Okay. Now that’s just depressing.”
“Fine, fine! Let’s see what else we have, then…”
Hannah draped the dress over one of the plastic tables and continued to rifle through the moving box.
“Oh, the plot thickens!” Hannah’s whole face lit up, grabbing a handful of onesies with the tags still on them. “Ever hear the saddest six-word story ever? ‘For sale: baby shoes. Never worn’.”
Claire stopped sorting through her pile and stared at the ground.
“Oh, shit, oh… Claire, I’m so sorry… that was… oh wow…”
Claire waved her coworker’s words away.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “And, yes, I have. I have heard it.”
Hannah went silent, went back to sorting. She tossed the baby items into a bin and hung the wedding dress on a rolling rack and continued digging through the box. Claire went back to her pile. The hum of the fluorescent lights filled the room, the muffled murmurs of the customers leaked through the walls.
With her back to the dress, Claire began thinking of the wife. No one donates their expensive wedding dress to a dirty local thrift store, not unless they wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Claire imagined this woman. Maybe she, too, had her Masters in Literature and had studied Hemingway and knew that six-word story – even knew the scholars that refuted that Hemingway wrote it in the first place. Maybe she, too, felt like her entire life, all her future plans, had been tossed into a cardboard moving box and given away.
And the baby clothes. The onesies with the tags still on them. Did they try for kids? Was she ever pregnant? Did she know what it felt like? Did she know what it felt like to feel the sob well up within you when the doctor can’t find a heartbeat and you’re alone in the room and your husband didn’t come with you and the doctor offers to get you someone and goddammit you don’t want another stranger in the room with you?
Did she know that sometimes there isn’t a box of tissues in the room, and you find yourself directing all your anger, all your rage, to that oversight? How dare these people not have tissues. How dare they leave you without anything to soak up your sorrow with. How dare these people offer strangers and not tissues.
She was grateful her shift ended when it did. She couldn’t stand to be in the same room as the wedding dress anymore. She kept seeing a woman in it, hanging in the dress, strung up on the rolling rack, the top seams pressing into her underarms, her toes just grazing the ground.
Claire’s drive back home was a quiet one. Radio off. Windows down. The swelter of the heat, the suffocating humidity filling her car. She passed by the local bank, the town hall. Maybe she’d try for a job there, apply even if there wasn’t anything available. She’d be a good teller. Or a good clerk. She had her Master’s in Literature, after all. She was highly educated. Too smart for the dirty, local thrift store.
A part of her screamed at the idea. Screamed immediately and loudly and reverberated in her skull. She was thinking too small. Too local. She was the one with her Master’s in Literature. She needed to stop thinking within the confines of the town. It was slowly building barricades around her, and she was starting to forget she could leave the town, even on a drive, even on a set of errands. She needed to escape, and escape fully.
Perhaps the community college a town or two over needed a writing professor.
Or maybe the next state over.
Or maybe farther than that.
But it wasn’t like being a town clerk would be that bad. Or a teller.
Maybe she could get a promotion at the thrift store.
She could worry about that tomorrow.
It wasn’t like she was going to apply that day, anyway.
She drove up to her home, onto the gravel driveway, and got out. Randy was home, his pick-up truck in its usual spot. He must’ve gotten off shift, too, although these days she never knew his schedule.
“Hello?” she said as she opened the front door.
“Hey,” a voice from the other side of the house called out. “Finished work?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “You?”
Claire walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Nothing looked appealing, and there was nothing she wanted to make. She pulled out a bottle and popped the cap. She hated when Randy dove into a beer immediately after coming home, but now here she was, repeating his patterns, perhaps understanding why, too.
“Did you have a good day?” Claire asked, walking into the living room.
“It was alright,” he replied. She waited for him to ask back, even though she knew better than to do that.
“Work was good,” Claire offered anyway. “We got a really beautiful wedding dress as a donation.”
“Hannah thinks the person had a terrible divorce and donated it out of spite.”
“She thinks the person was never happy in their marriage, and the guy was unfaithful, and that was the final nail in the coffin.”
Randy cleared his throat.
“Is there something you’re trying to get at, there?” he asked.
Claire reflexively gave out a, “No,” and stared at her husband, the way he slouched against the couch, the way he hadn’t met her gaze the entire time. Who was this person? What happened to the sweet boy she met her freshman year, the one who stared starry-eyed at his bookish girlfriend, who wanted nothing more than to take her back to his hometown, to show her off?
Where was the man she loved?
What had happened to her life?
“Want to hear the saddest six-word story?” she asked into the silence.
Abby Rosmarin is the author of four books, including I'm Just Here for the Free Scrutiny and In the Event the Flower Girl Explodes. Her newest collection of Poetry, Venom, is due to be released in July of 2019. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, the Esthetic Apostle, Storgy Magazine, the Bangalore Review, and more. A former commercial and fashion model, Abby now lives in New Hampshire with her husband.