08 April 2018

Shirt Off His Back

Four-hundred ninety-nine loads of laundry since the divorce. It was the five hundredth that slapped Connor’s face, pulling that goddamned shirt out of the dryer. The warmth of it never like that feel of socks out of the machine on a cold winter day. More like a muted sliver off a branding iron. In all the days since he had been cast out of what he thought was home, the heat and sight of that shirt only increased in the pain it caused. This morning he held the shirt crumpled tight into a ball. Wondering, wondering what to do. He turned to the dog sitting at the kitchen entry. An expectant look crossed its face, as if Connor was holding a favorite treat.

“I should get rid of this, Murph.”

Connor felt a thickening in his throat. His face grew warm. There was wetness in his eyes. Murphy sat up straighter, cocking an ear, waiting. The dog was perplexed by the change in Connor’s voice. The man coughed. Clearing his throat, he spoke again, sliding down the wall to slump onto the floor. Murphy rose and sauntered over to his owner. A graying muzzle craned over to lick Connor’s face.

“Honestly, doggo, this should have been tossed sooner. Can’t fathom why I didn’t. Guess I was too lazy to replace it.”

Connor patted the dog, bunching the short, wiry coat in his trembling hand. Murphy let out a gratified snuffle as he lay his head in Connor’s lap. The man closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. The shirt cooled in his hand. Echoes of the connection it signified played out in the afternoon light. A gift of a few square feet of cotton growing so heavy on the mind and heart. Truth be known the condition of the shirt was good. It could still be worn. He just couldn’t do it anymore.

He held the shirt up, shaking it out. Blue cotton with stripes, shot through with the freight of memories carried over from a very different time, a very different person. Some ghosts in the weave, Connor swore. And only he knew the locations of the tears that had fallen more than once, from joy once held and despair never to be forgotten. Life and death in a button down wrapper for this human shaped container of sadness and hope. Connor sighed.

“What’ll it be, Murph? Toss it? Give it away?”

The dog lifted his head slightly to peer at Connor through heavy-lidded eyes. It craned its neck to sniff at the shirt. Chuffing quietly, Murphy turned his head away and laid it back down. The man thought he should not read too much into that gesture, but the dog did appear to have made its feelings known in certain terms.

Connor gently lifted Murphy’s head so he could slide over to stand up. He balled up the shirt as he made his way to the trash can. He hesitated after lifting the lid. It could still be donated, an anonymous item among other anonymous items in an anonymous bag dropped off at a local charity. He decided against giving it away. Too much history in that shirt to risk inflicting a curse on an unsuspecting innocent. As silly as it seemed, that thought made the decision for him. Connor threw it into the can more forcefully than he intended. The weight went with it, his shoulders and neck feeling lighter. Stepping over the dog, he went back to folding laundry, and moving on.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...