Friday, March 18, 2016

The dead man's shirt

When I pulled the screws out of the pocket, I ripped the dead man's flannel shirt. He wasn't still wearing it. When Old Man Wilkes down the corner of our street died, he didn't have any family except for a spinster sister he hadn't spoken with in 20 years. The city paid my boyfriend and his best friend to clean out the house. Most of it went to the trash, some went to a secondhand charity shop, and most of the flannel shirts came home with Ben.

Ben and I went our separate ways a couple of years later but I kept one of the flannel shirts. Old Man Wilkes was a handyman, known throughout town as the go-to guy for everything from fixing a lamp to small engine repair. He also did all the woodwork in his house. The red, blue and white checked shirt came to me with a few small tears and a splotch or two of paint. I wore it for inspiration whenever I had small repairs to do around the house or yard. I could feel Old Man Wilkes' skills seep into my bones through the worn flannel.

When I ripped the pocket, some of the magic spilled out with the screws. My fingers turned into chair legs and I lined things up like Picasso. Duct tape. The solution slogged its way through my foggy brain. I grabbed a silver roll of versatility to secure the pocket to the shirt. Things went back to level and my dexterity returned. From that moment on, I kept hardware in my pants pockets. The shirt was precious.

One of the side effects of wearing the shirt for too long was a desperate need for a drink. Not any drink but gin. The cheap stuff too, the kind of gin you would swear Old Man Wilkes made in his bathtub. You could taste the juniper berries strong and fresh picked. I'd be able to finish my project but would sweat all the way through thinking about how bad I needed that gin. The second my work was done I'd jump into my car and head straight to the seedy bar on the far side of town.

I know you're thinking I should have just unbuttoned the shirt and walked away. Believe me, I tried. I was straight-jacketed into that thing until I got my gin, pinched a waitress and satisfied Old Man Wilkes. He wore me as much as I wore his shirt. The old man was a pervert. He'd stare at the neighbour's underage girl through my eyes and think about how he'd do her. It didn't bother him in the least that he was working with a woman's body now. That just made it all the more fun.

I'd go months without donning that shirt. Months as a normal woman who worked in high end retail, dated wonderful men and never touched a drop of alcohol. Then the downspout would freeze to the side of the house, a cupboard door would come loose or the roof would leak. I'd try to hire someone else to do it but I had a reputation. No one would dream of doing odd jobs for me. Everyone knew I could do a much better job.

I was the town's new handyman. So what if I was a little strange? I never hurt anyone and I did great work. I'd slip on the shirt and do the job.

And the dead man laughed.

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