It was the fourth time Anita had swung by my desk.
“The clothes will not fit me, Anita.” I pronounced her name with tight-lipped diction, my exasperation showing. “They’re way, way too small.”
I think she heard me but it was hard to tell. She blew by in an almost visible rush of Oscar de la Renta-scented air.
Feeling overwhelmingly size 16 in a size 8 world, I got up from my desk and poked my head around the cubicle divider. Down at the other end of the hall was Anita’s desk, although at the moment I couldn’t actually see it. The desk was covered, mounded, piled high with bags and bags of new and lightly used designer clothing. A gaggle of giggling middle-aged women were pawing through it like ants at a honey sale. Smart little jackets, pencil skirts and leather stilettos from Italy were held up, tried on, snatched and coveted by my excited co-workers.
In an alternate universe where fat wasn’t my curse, I would be there with them, snapping up all that juicy free stuff.
Madeline, a secretary from the front office, came and stood beside me.
“How come you’re not over there?” I asked.
“I couldn’t wear them,” she whispered.
“Yah, you could. They’d definitely fit you. Maybe too big, if anything.”
“No, no,” she said. “They’d fit. I could just never wear them. I’d be too weirded out.”
I looked at Madeline like she had three heads.
“Don’t you know whose clothes they are?” she asked.
“They’re Anita’s friend. She was cleaning out her closet or something.”
Madeline lowered her voice even more. “They’re not Anita’s friend. They’re Anita’s. She’s got cancer and it’s terminal. She’s dying.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I don’t think many people know,” she added. “You might want to keep it to yourself.”
Madeline and I watched the women digging through the pile of clothes. Inexplicably I thought of grave diggers. Soon the top of the desk was visible and only a few items remained. The happy, chattering women went back to their cubicles, arms loaded with treasure.
Madeline went back to her desk. I went back to mine but no sooner had I opened up a new file than Anita showed up.
“This,” she said, “will fit you.”
She put a stunningly beautiful scarf in my hands.
“It’s pashmina. The real deal. Very expensive,” she said.
Jewel-toned and soft, heavy and luxurious, the scarf was unlike anything I had at home in my closet.
“Wow,” was I all I could say. Then, “thank you, Anita. It’s gorgeous.”
“No problem. I wanted you to have something,” she said, as she bustled off.
Her exuberance in the office never ended. Right up until her last day.
As I dressed for her funeral I remembered her positive spirit lighting up even the dreariest days. She brought doughnuts every Monday. She decorated her cubicle for holidays. She always had a smile on her face. Always.
I pulled the pashmina from my lingerie drawer and unfolded the tissue paper I had wrapped it in. The paper rustled, like a whisper, and the heavy garment slipped unfolded like a sigh.
I draped it over my rounded shoulders, over my sensible black dress, and I didn’t feel weirded out at all. In fact, I smiled. Through the tears, I smiled.