ANOTHER LETTER TO THE DEAD
Colleen McKee (California)
I found your vintage tie collection at the antique store today, Rothschild’s. After two years, your mother must have finally sold your clothes. She can’t know that you hated Rothschild. You called him a slumlord, said he evicted the bar where you worked. I’m sorry your enemy is selling your clothes. But if you hang yourself without a will, you can’t expect your things to be cared for just so. When you died, I took a few things. But what could I do? Most of them wound up in garbage bags that your dad shoved away in some warehouse. Your dad’s dead now. You probably know that. After all of those years of wishing him dead, you didn’t even get to enjoy it.
I remember how one afternoon, while clicking on pretty old things at eBay, you said, when you died, you wanted your clothes to be sold so your nieces could go to college. You were proud of your plan. Planning wasn’t something you did often or well. It didn’t occur to me then how anachronistic that plan should have been. You were only thirty, so why should you be dead before your nieces went to college? Even in your happiest moments, you must have been plotting, all along, to do yourself in.
There must have been seventy ties at the store, most of them silk, from the 1910s through the 1950s. I remembered each one around your neck. The ruby one with Russian Suprematist half-circles. The beige tie, hand-printed, with the tiny stain. The blue-green tie you liked to wear with your gabardine pants. I couldn’t stop touching the ties, running my fingers over the silk, the oil from your skin in the weave of the thread. I could barely believe I wasn’t looking in our closet, that you weren’t just on the other side of the bedroom, searching for a clean white shirt.
In the store, I was ashamed I couldn’t recall which one I gave you for our third anniversary, though I knew it was right in my hand. It was one of two or three, but which one? You wore it often. I do recall the day I bought it, how I deliberated over which you’d like best. Each time I unfolded a little strip of silk, I couldn’t re-fold it properly, and I sweated at the Vintage Haberdashery, worrying the staff would think badly of me.
Today I had to battle the urge to buy all the ties, to pull each off its hook, my arms dripping with silk, and drop them on the counter spending hundreds of dollars on things that would only wind up in a drawer. It was stupid, but I couldn’t walk away. I just stood there, gripping these pieces of cloth, willing myself to breathe. How could I buy back your life?
Colleen McKee is the author of five collections of memoir, poetry, and fiction. Her latest chapbook is called The Kingdom of Roly-Polys (Pedestrian Press). She is also author of Nine Kinds of Wrong (JKP); A Partial List of Things I Have Done for Money (JKP); Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (PenUltimate); and My Hot Little Tomato (Cherry Pie Press). She is currently working on a novel tentatively titled The Strong Man and the Beasts. In addition to writing, also likes singing and translating German and Yiddish. Colleen grew up in the woods in Missouri but now lives in Oakland, California. Visit ColleenMcKee.Blogspot.com for upcoming performances and book availability.