On Saturday I awoke to find five of my hangers bent, the hooks askew this way and that. The hooks of a humpback’s wardrobe, Alice called them when I told her.
“How would that work?” I asked, trying to picture it.
“Not sure,” she conceded. “But it sounds good.”
I nodded. Alice’s typically unkempt hair was particularly frizzy today, her brown-framed glasses fogged around the edges. She looked like a librarian who hadn’t left the library for three days.
“Have you been twisting a lot lately?” she asked.
“I haven’t noticed.”
“Maybe they’re just adapting.”
“Do hangers do that?”
“Everything does,” Alice said. “All the time.”
Alice told me she was organizing her bookcase, but really she was just taking the jackets off all her books and cutting them up before returning the naked hardbacks to the shelf.
“Try it,” she said. “It’s liberating.”
I pulled a book from the shelf and slid off its jacket, Alice handing me the scissors. I set the book down and went to work, cutting the jacket into thin strips and letting them float to the floor.
“No more covers,” Alice said, looking at me pointedly.
“No more covers,” I repeated, running my fingers along the newly bare canvas of Dracula.
The next morning there was a magnet on my fridge that I didn’t recognize: david’s hanger repair right next door!
I peeled off the magnet and saw that it was double-sided, with the exact same text on the back. I was certain that the only neighbors I had were an elderly couple named the Gardners who never left their porch, and I had doubts about the existence of a hanger-repair shop in the middle of the suburbs, or anywhere at all for that matter. But when I went to confirm the falsehood of my new fridge decor, I came across a small shack sitting snug between my property and the Gardners’, a little banner on the front that read: david’s hanger repair: told you so!
I approached the shack and proceeded past its rickety screen door, entering into a room hardly bigger than a walk-in closet, empty save for a scrawny man in an oversized suit sitting behind a cramped reception desk, entering data into a computer.
“David?” I asked.
“Mavis,” the man said. “The shop’s named after my dry cleaner.”
I laughed but Mavis didn’t smile.
“I’m glad you could make it–” he quickly consulted a scrap of paper on the desk– “Mr. Aplin.”
“How do you–” I started.
“It’s all in the system,” Mavis interrupted. He broke from his computer and stood, coming around the desk and standing at a disarmingly close proximity. I studied the foldings of his face; he wasn’t old, but had a bad case of premature wrinkles.
“Did you break into my house?” I asked, taking a step back and hitting the wall. Mavis looked at me like I was an idiot, then gestured for me to follow him back around the desk.
“I have here,” he said, pointing to his computer, “a diagram of this neighborhood’s hanger activity.” The screen displayed a blue map of the town dotted with pink and orange hues of color. Mavis placed his finger over a particularly orange spot. “Here’s your closet,” he said. “Orange as a Tuscan sunset.”
“Is that bad?”
Mavis lowered his eyebrows and I thought he might slap me.
“I go where I’m needed,” he said.
“It’s just that yesterday–,” I mumbled, “and then–your magnet.”
Mavis scoffed. “You think everyone’s hangers just stay even-steven on their own?” He shook his head. “Everyone needs some realigning now and then.”
Back at my closet, my hangers were bent even further than before, their ends nearly touching. Mavis had instructed me to bring only one hanger per day, and when I returned with the first, he took out a notepad and asked me what the last article of clothing on the hanger had been.
Mavis jotted this down.
“And when did you last wear it?”
It was an easy question.
“My father’s funeral, around a year ago.”
Mavis scribbled, then took the hanger from me.
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath. He gripped the hanger by its ends and proceeded to bend it back straight, emitting a prolonged groan of exertion. When he was finished, he handed it back to me and leaned against the wall, gasping for breath. I stood awkwardly and waited for him to recover.
“I was expecting something more scientific,” I said.
Mavis hocked and spit on the floor.
“You think there’s no science to karate choppers breaking a brick in half?”
“I don’t know.”
Mavis patted his bicep, swallowed in the deep of his sleeve.
I felt a buzzing in my pocket as I left the shack with my repaired hanger, taking out my phone to see that my mother was calling. We hadn’t spoken for nearly a year, and I hesitated until the final buzz before answering.
“Justin,” her voice sounded urgent.
“What’s going on?”
“Justin,” she said again, letting out a long breath. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No honey, I just needed to tell you that I’m sorry about what happened.”
I stopped at the edge of the lawn and looked up at the cloudless sky.
“You had every right to say what you did. Your father was a bastard sometimes.” My mother had never sounded so earnest.
“Well,” I said, “I know I was a little insensitive.”
“No,” she continued. “I was being fake about it, like you said.”
“I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you apologize, like, ever.”
My mother laughed. “Sorry about that too!”
I turned and looked back at david’s hanger repair, banner flapping in the breeze. The Gardners waved to me from their porch and I waved back, then thanked my mother and said goodbye.
I went to Alice’s that afternoon and told her everything.
“So you think the aligning of a hanger compelled your mother to fix the rift in your relationship?”
“It’s a theory.”
Alice stripped off another piece of floral pattern from her bedroom wall.
“How is this going to end?” I asked, “with you self-exiled in a nudist encampment?”
She shook her head.
“I’ve been working on exuding nakedness without actually being naked.”
She turned and bowed her head, then took a breath and posed. I gave her a thumbs-up.
“Keepin it tight.”
When the room was done we carried out the wallpaper in bundles of curled reams and dumped it into the recycle bin out front, leaving a strip of white lilies hanging over the edge.
The next morning I went to my closet and surveyed the damage; the four remaining bent hangers had twisted into each other now, their ends forming X’s. I was wary of what would come from another alignment, but even more curious, and so I took a carefully selected hanger from the rack and returned to david’s hanger repair. Mavis brought out his notepad and looked at me expectantly.
“A grey shirt,” I said. “Last worn to a meeting with my agent.”
Mavis cracked his knuckles and took my hanger, greasing up the wire before stretching it back to normal with a punctuated grunt.
I hadn’t gotten five steps out of the shack before my agent called and told me about the publishers who had changed their mind in regards to my book.
I went to Alice’s and told her.
“It can’t just be coincidence right?”
Alice handed me the blinds from her kitchen window and I threw them into the nearly-full box on the table.
“It’s definitely weird,” Alice assented. “I mean, not about your book being published, but those dickhead publishers coming to their senses?”
“Good save,” I said, taking down curtains from the living room windows.
“Are you gonna go back?”
I looked out the uncovered panes.
The third hanger correction, performed on a hanger of no significant prior use, brought less dramatic results: the pizza delivery boy from last week calling me to confess that he had in fact been two minutes over thirty and should have given me two dollars off accordingly, a wrong that would be righted upon my next order. The fourth aligning elicited a call from the local radio station, informing me that they’d made a mistake during their contest the other day; I had, in fact, been the one-hundred-and-seventh caller, and the coupons for a free burger from the new truck on 14th street were mine.
On Thursday I paused in front of the final bent hanger, which had coiled into a spiral. I’d been careful to avoid this one; two years after the fact, I hadn’t used it once since pulling my brown jacket off of it on the day Alice and I got divorced. This hanger was dangerous. This hanger had power. This hanger I knew I should let twist to its heart’s content.
Mavis raised his eyebrows when I briefed him on the hanger’s history.
“Juicy,” he said, then performed a series of arm stretches before oomphing and eugghhhing his way through the hanger’s contortions. When finally it was evened, he wiped the sweat off his forehead and stuck out his hand in conclusion of our business. I shook it and left the shack quickly, eager to receive a call from Alice. But my phone stayed quiet as I walked home, and the swelling hope that I would find Alice inside my house was left unrealized as I checked the empty rooms. I waited an hour before I couldn’t take it anymore, picking up my phone and calling Alice myself.
There was an uncertain quality to her voice, a prickly edge.
“Is everything okay?”
“Why are you calling?”
“Just checking in,” I said. “Why so curt?”
“Sorry,” she said. “It’s just–this is weird Justin.”
There was silence, followed by a dial tone.
I went to her house the next morning, noticing the absence of david’s hanger repair as I left, not a trace of the shack that had been there just yesterday. The wallpaper was still in Alice’s recycle bin, though the overhanging lilies were absent. I knocked on her door and waited a long minute before she opened it halfway, looking at me with a furrowed brow.
“What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why are you here?”
“To see you?”
Alice opened the door another inch.
“It’s been two years,” she said. “Why now?”
I took a step back. No.
I turned and ran to my car, speeding back home and ripping the magnet off my fridge, finding a phone number on the bottom handwritten in microscopic digits. I could barely discern most of them and called several wrong numbers before Mavis answered, his voice whispery and furtive, as if we had just closed a drug deal.
“I need the last hanger reversed,” I said, almost shouting.
“Impossible,” Mavis hissed. “It’s a one-way operation.”
“No,” I shook my head against the phone. “That’s not fair. I thought I was getting my wife back, not losing my best friend.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Mavis said, “you’ve been divorced for two years. That you talked at all was the twisted part.”
I sunk down against the fridge, the cool spreading through my back. “You knew,” I said faintly. “You knew this would happen.”
I heard Mavis hock and spit, then the line went dead. When I called back, the phone was answered by a landscaping company in Massachusetts.
I rushed to my closet and retrieved the hanger and spent half an hour twisting it back into a bundle of wire before calling Alice.
“Justin,” she answered, distant, “you’ve got to stop this.”
I hung up and threw my phone across the room, falling onto my bed and crying for the first time in two years.
I didn’t go out for three days. When I did, in the middle of a grey Monday, it was only to check if david’s hanger repair had somehow sensed my closet full of bent hangers, which I’d spent hours manipulating into compact balls of silver, and reappeared on the scene. It hadn’t. The Gardners waved to me from their porch and beckoned me over, extending a plate of apple pie as I approached. I thanked them and sat down at the table they had nudged between the couch and the bed. They smiled and rocked back and forth on their chairs.
“Doing okay?” Mrs. Gardner asked.
My head struggled between a nod and a shake.
“This week’s been kind of–” I paused. “Twisted.”
Their chairs eeked and eurred.
“You know,” Mr. Gardner said, “I used to be a humpback.”
Mrs. Gardner nodded. “A particularly humpy one at that.”
They shared a coy smirk and I swallowed another bite of pie with a grimace.
“The thing is,” Mr. Gardner continued, voice lifting, “the two of us met at a Beatles show. So many people.”
“At the start,” Mrs. Gardner picked up, “we were on different sides of the amphitheatre.”
“Then halfway through the concert,” Mr. Gardner followed, “I feel this tapping on my hump.”
Mrs. Gardner beamed. “It rose above everyone.” She said. “I saw him from across the crowd and knew I had to meet him.”
“And that was that,” Mr. Gardner brought her hand up and kissed it.
“And that was that,” echoed Mrs. Gardner.
I finished the apple pie and tried to look happy for them. They thanked me for stopping by, then rose from their chairs and stepped slowly to the bed as I got up from the table and fled the porch.
When I got to Alice’s, I found her sitting against the side of the house, chipping off paint with a knife. She stopped when she saw me and I walked over to her and just sat for a moment, looking at the hair my nose used to get lost in, the glasses she would put on backwards as a code for let’s leave at a party, the plaid red shirt we once used as an umbrella for seven blocks after seeing a movie, pausing underneath its cover and kissing all over each other’s damp faces before pulling it off and getting into the car. And now sitting next to her mostly green house, two years since she’d known me and a week since I knew her.
“I think we should be friends,” I said. “I think we should try that.”
Alice shook her head.
“I don’t think that would work.”
“It will,” I pressed. “I know it will.”
“It’s been so long.”
I nodded reluctantly.
“We can make up for it.”
Alice smiled uncertainly.
“Let’s just try it,” I said. “No covers, bed or otherwise.”
Alice took a deep, sputtered breath.
“No covers,” she said. “Okay.”
We traded the knife back and forth for a while, creating a small hump of white within the green before night fell and we abandoned the project for a couple free burgers.