DEAD MAN’S CLOTHES • by Dick Noble

If I hadn’t lost my job, I wouldn’t be wearing a dead man’s clothes.

If I hadn’t punched my supervisor, I’d still be a wage slave.

With my new circumstances, all my duds come from a second-hand store. But with every piece of clothing, I wonder about their journey.

Dressed in my new-to-me red and black check Viyella shirt, I plunk myself on my regular bench in Memorial Park and roll a fat joint. The flame from my Zippo ignites my doobie and smoke fills my lungs. On the slow exhale, various scenarios tease my thoughts.

I imagine a silver-haired, teary-eyed widow sorting her husband’s dresser drawers, packing items he’ll never use again. She caresses each item as she folds them and lays each memory into a moving carton she bought from Lowes. The widow pauses in her packing to stroke her cheek with his favorite shirt and inhales the lingering aroma of his scent for the last time.

Or does she stuff the items into the carton without looking because the emotions are too raw to deal with right now? Maybe in six months or a year, she’ll come to terms with the gap in her world.

Perhaps it was an impatient daughter, frustrated by her mother’s dithering, and refusal to move on. She throws her father’s possessions into the boxes she got from the liquor store, keeping the watch and cufflinks aside in case they’re worth a few bucks. The dutiful daughter hauls the bulging boxes to her white SUV and jams them on top of her yoga mats. She rubs her hands in satisfaction over a job that needed doing, jumps in the vehicle and hauls the debris away before her mother can change her mind. What thoughts flash into the daughter’s head? I’ll have to talk to mom about a care facility. That house is too big for her. I wonder what it’s worth in today’s market?

Maybe the donor wasn’t dead, but tired of his current wardrobe. Would he feel a warm glow of satisfaction for doing something nice, or was he clearing space for the latest fashion to impress his peers?

I giggle at the thought of Mr. Up and Coming grabbing his clothes from the back seat of his Beemer and tossing them into the donation bin while avoiding the hungry stares of the gaunt-eyed lurkers who haunt these locations. I’ll bet he never removed the hangers or took the time to put the clothes in bags.

The joint has burned low, and I place it in an alligator clip, so I don’t toast my fingers. Five pigeons flutter from the light pole, cooing and fawning for handouts. Sorry birds, the Twinkies in my backpack are my after-smoke snack.

On further thought, I see an angry wife gathering her philandering husband’s precious belongings, grimacing as she rams them into green garbage bags. Her first inclination was to dump his treasures on the front lawn and run them over with the Lawnboy. Her second thought was donation, knowing how he’d cringe at the thought of strangers pawing at his possessions.

However the clothes ended up in the store, I’m grateful and whisper a prayer of thanks to whatever god is listening. I crushed the dregs of my joint beneath my scuffed work boots. My unemployment insurance runs out in the fall, and I’ll have to find a job. Many companies hire temporary staff for the Christmas season, which will take care of my needs until January. After that, I’ll take a bus to Vancouver and wait out the winter on the beach.

But, for today, I’ll head to Cash Corner and pick up some day work. It’s early summer, warm enough to sleep outside, and the fall is a long way off. Life is good as long as you don’t colour too far outside the lines.

Dick Noble is a Calgary writer whose non-fiction has appeared in the major US and Canadian outdoor magazines. His short story and flash fiction have been published by Close To the Bone, The Scarlet Leaf Review, and in the anthology Blood on the Holly. He is a member of the Alexandra Writer’s Society and frequently critiques on the the Scribophile Website.

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