Author: Louis Gallo
Location: Radford, Virginia
Louis Gallo, Radford University, has had work published in the American Literary Review, Glimmer Train, Berkeley Fiction Review, Texas Review, Missouri Review, Portland Review, The Ledge, The Journal, Baltimore Review, storySouth, Oregon Literary Review, Rattle, New Orleans Review, Louisiana Literature, Amazon Shorts
, and many others.
In 1954 my Uncle Alphonse took the bus
to Goldbergís Menís Clothiers on Poydras Street
where he bought a new Arrow dress shirt,
sparkling white with stern isosceles collars.
It cost three dollars, a lot of money in those days.
He unfolded it, picked out each pin meticulously
and flapped it back and forth for airing.
He hung it on a sturdy wooden hanger
and told Aunt Cecile he would wear it only on special occasions.
He didnít wear the new shirt to his birthday party in 1954,
four months after he bought it. He said the shirt
was more important than any birthday, especially at his age.
Nor did he wear it on Easter Sunday to church
nor to his fortieth anniversary of marriage
nor to Christmas mass or the New Yearís Eve party.
Uncle Alphonse did not wear his new shirt in 1954
but he dropped some moth balls into its front pocket
and routinely admired its texture, brilliance and fresh starchy smell.
In 1955 he did not wear the shirt to his first grandsonís baptism—
and again not on his birthday, Easter or Christmas.
He didnít wear the shirt in 1956 or 57, 58, 59,
to observe the death of Stalin or the Korean War, Ikeís re-election,
Elvis on Ed Sullivan, the invention of tranquilizers, Civil Rights,
the Interstate Highway program, the launching of Sputnik.
"Heís waiting for the new decade," Aunt Cecil chuckled.
But on New Yearís Day 1960 Uncle appeared
in one of his fuzzy, old and slightly faded flannels.
"This isnít the right time," he mumbled gloomily.
The shirt had become a family joke by now.
Uncle Alphonse did not celebrate Kennedyís election,
the Beatles in New York, Vietnam, the assassinations,
Chicago, Watts, the hippies, Neil Armstrongís giant leap,
not in his new white shirt anyway.
In the seventies Uncle did not wear the shirt when the war ended,
when Nixon resigned and Jimmy Carter lusted in his heart,
when Disco killed rock and roll or during the Bicentennial.
He had become morose and secretive about the shirt,
hid it in the darkest corner of the closet, sealed it in black plastic,
sprayed it with mist to stave off dry rot.
He did not wear his shirt to Ronald Reaganís inauguration,
nor to the baptisms and confirmations of more grandchildren,
the funeral of his mother and Aunt Cecilís operation.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the shirt still looked
new, flawless and elegant, though perhaps a bit quaint.
And hereís where I come in--Uncle first let me see it around this time.
Heíd taken a fancy to me and sensed I would understand—
I did, even if itís hard to explain.
The fish hook started to shred Uncleís gut when Chernobyl exploded.
He turned yellow and coughed a lot, told me in a rare moment of levity
that his skin would never match the shirt now. And something else:
"Donít let them bury me in it. Whatís so special about death?
Wear a new white shirt only when something really grand happens."
They buried him in a black suit and blue turtleneck sweater.
Aunt Cecil had already given me the shirt.
"He wanted you to have it," she said. "I thought we might see him
wear it at the Resurrection, but I guess I was wrong."
Now it hangs in my closet,
pristine as moonlight, immune to time, beautiful.
It wonít surprise me to wait forever
but one of these days something really grand is bound to happen.