“Dead Man Dressing”

I’m wearing a dead man’s clothes, and I feel fine.

I spend fifteen minutes or more each day knotting his tie. Just so. Snug against my collar, my throat, my breathing.  My own skin should wear so well.

His widow kept asking me if I wanted his clothes.  I couldn’t find a way to tell her no politely. I had to agree that they weren’t the kind of clothes to put in the Goodwill box.  I said I didn’t think they’d fit. She assured me they would. I had always thought he was a lot fatter.

Finally I decided I could placate her if I took a few ties. At work he was well-known for his magnificent ties. I, on the other hand, had three ties, all out of style and seldom worn.

When we finally stood in front of his open closet, I could smell him.

Just grab a few ties and be done with it, I told myself.

But oh those clothes. A long walk-in closet sweeping around three sides with hanger after hanger of suits, sports coats, dress shirts, polos, khakis, slacks. Neat shelves of sweaters up top and dress shoes below. Belts.

I’d never been a “clothes person.”  I have been known to shop at Sears. I had to buy a suit off the rack at the mall for his funeral. But his clothes: Silk. Wool. Neatly pressed, finely cut, even I could tell. Italian and British names I’d never heard of.

Just try this coat, she said. I think it will fit.  Such a shame that no one can wear it.

Indeed. It slipped on like butter. Hung over my shoulders just so. A tender embrace when I buttoned. Sleeves kissed my wrists. I felt like I was on a first date.

So why hurt her feelings? A few suits, a couple of sports coats. The shoes were too small. Skipped the shirts, then went back for several. And the belts.

I hung them in my closet for months, occasionally looking, touching. Slipped on a coat when no one was home.

I started easy. A pair of khakis and a polo. Looking sharp, my co-workers told me. I grew braver. Dressier shirts. Better pants. Nods of approval when I walked down the hall. I risked a few obscure ties.

Then I was given his job. I credit the clothes. I inherited his office. His chair still carried the impression of his butt. I tried not to notice if it fit mine.

I was expected to wear a jacket and tie. For a while nobody seemed to notice that they were his. Until I wore his signature blue and yellow  tie. I could see heads jerk slightly at the recognition. That’s his Giannetti certainly, I’d recognize those Benbows anywhere. What did I care.

When I adopted his pose, all was well. Just recline in his chair, cross one leg on the other, hold a finger up alongside one cheek, and keep a small bemused smile on my face at all times. It did not escape notice that this was his exact posture. Buddha in a rolling chair and excellent tie. Meetings droned by while I meditated on cufflinks.

Turns out that a well-dressed man can get away with murder. So to speak. I tried on the heavy sighs of exasperation. Fit just fine, thank you very much. Moved on to rudeness with a smile. In my fine silk armor, I suffered no more than eye-rolling behind my back.

With little difficulty I had an affair with a young woman at work. She wasn’t terrifically attractive but she was terrifically impressed. When I say affair I mean a quick sexual liaison in my office, thankfully not requiring the complete removal of any single garment.

My wife left me. Without even finding out about the affair, interestingly enough.  She said I had become an insufferable stuffed shirt. I quipped agreeably about my recent weight gain. She said I’d become a narcissistic prig. I begged to differ, quoting the OED etymology of prig. Did I say prig, she said, I meant prick. I said  indeed, the yellow tie is powerful beyond measure and one must choose to wield it for good or

evil . . . .

She took the house.

I took to wearing the suits around my new apartment. And then to bed. I simply felt no need to remove them–why would one voluntarily remove a lung, for instance? This led, inevitably, to an increase of wrinkles, stains, wear, odors even. Admittedly this decreased the effectiveness of the clothing in the workplace. I didn’t care.

They fired me.

Rent became problematic without employment. I knocked on his widow’s door.  The measures necessary to subdue her resulted in a regrettable accident. The tie a bit tighter than intended perhaps. The scarf unfortunately heavy across her nose and mouth.

 

I know this will only curtail my time here. But if one savors rather than devours, there will be world enough and time. His closets are empty, my own locked behind an eviction notice, so I am left with just this one suit, my favorite, a gray gabardine with a subtle pinstripe set off strikingly by the blue and yellow tie. I’m having a difficult time convincing myself that I need much else. I have the suit. I have long stories of unhurried hours sorting through bolts of cloth, of the fussy tailors and mischievous hands of the tailors’ assistants, such lovely young men and women. I settle comfortably into an etherized evening in clothes to die for, remembering fondly the weeks of waiting, the scouring of shops in distant lands for a hue that may only exist in your imagination, the light in Milan on certain blues in the afternoon, the chill of Saville Row on rainy mornings, how one wishes for a small fire in the back but inevitably must settle for lukewarm tea, a small disappointment when coming to possess such a fine thing as this.

About Robert Grindy

Robert Grindy lives in Decatur, Illinois, where he teaches writing and literature at a community college squeezed between cornfields and an ethanol plant. His fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in In the Middle of the Middlewest: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland, The Fish Prize Anthology, Copper Nickel, Illinois Times, Blueline, Mangrove, SunDog: The Southeast Review, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University.



  • Sheila Good

    Riveting story. Love the way the character took on the persona of the dead man and loved the line, “Turns out that a well-dressed man can get away with murder.” @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

  • Robert Grindy

    Thank you– glad you enjoyed it.

  • JLM

    .
    Great story, Robert. Thank you.

    JLM
    http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

  • Robert Grindy

    Thanks much!