Godfrey would have ‘fehed’ and ‘poo-pawed’ the leaden grief I shouldered, long years ago now, once the reality of his passing grew heavier every day. suddenly, I felt every ache, saw every cobweb and crumb as up the stairs from our luggage shop I plodded. This day, however, came noise from our apartment, muttering in Welsh, pad of bare feet on cold tiles…could it be?, my long suffering husband Garnet hurried out, with a very large, hairy, black Wolf Spider, hanging from a drag line, on my writing shirt, which was wrapped about a stick. “It was behind the toilet”, he called back, after letting the spider out the one hall window that refused to close.
Proudly, he shook out my shirt, “only rag I could find”. He who could not abide spiders beamed. “Not a rag my dear, I took it from him, thank you, but so not a rag…
It is my writing shirt, left by Godfrey, it has a well worn, checkered history. I was wearing the shirt when the letter came from Beatrice, a stranger then, with words of Godfrey’s passing. Morning cold, susurrus of passing buses in the snow, I sat alone till afternoon when storm broke and sky struggled to clear. One sympathetic ray of winter sunlight lit up as I paused neath it, “The Bug Chandelier.”
All week I wore the shirt, rarely left my turquoise chair. The shirt was sewn of thick, brown cotton, now all softness nub worn. Shoulder seam torn, right sleeve longer than the other. “I dipped it in hot bacon fat,” explained Godfrey. “I cut it off at the cuff, lest it attract hungry varmint or bear”. “The other sleeve, but for hole in the elbow, promises many more years of long wear”.
Godfrey had used the shirt to rub a newborn foal dry. He wrote, “A bonny wee thing she was, chestnut with crooked blaze, bonded we did, the foal and I”.
He believed in the shirt, that it guided his pen, and when I wear the tatty thing, indeed I to feel the inspiration. It is oddly cool on hot summer days when we camp, warm by the drafty windows, with the heater on low. For a romantic, cozy night dress it is great, I am loathe to wash the shirt, lest it disintegrate.
“The shirt cost 50 pence, from a charity shop in Newbury”. His journal read,” my long trek by back road down to Dover nearly done.””On long, ocean voyage to Australia, the shirt hung off the ship’s stern, for it reeked of lavender and onion”. “The writing shirt bleached in the sun, I re- enforced the shoulders where backpack rubbed the fabric thin, it was even large enough when she was chilled, to wrap my daring Clementine in”.
“And the summer of long, recovery from knee surgery, in my hostel bunk, mattress ever damp and sandy, with persons breaking wind below, snoring above me, travelers talk in their sleep in Finnish and Urdu”. “I had stitches in my knee, places still to see, heaps I wanted yet to do.” “Making a pillow from my shirt at night, I stayed awake late as I could to write”.
Sun, salt and age have turned the once brown writing shirt, a distinguished “Horse Slobber Green”, faded to sage. One pocket is long gone, with stout dental floss he has sewn the remaining pocket on. The writing shirt, did the literary greats wear such a shirt? Those who roamed the Outback, broke trail with nothing to lose, where first to sail or go, the intense ones who threw paper and typewriter out the window. Did any of the lucky or who basked in wealth and glory, include a ratty shirt in their story?.
“Please keep this writing shirt”. Said Godfrey when last that October day we parted. Pulling over shaggy head, he presented it to me. It held that odd warmth, hanging baggy to my knee. “You will need the shirt to write, wear the shirt, while time waits for it to help you tell my story”. Godfrey, dearest friend, I implored him take it back, for we will guffaw again, and I could not write my way out of a wet paper sack”.
His ferry boat was docking, another one going, his final words lost to the ship’s whistles blowing. Wind gust drove autumn leaves past, swirled them to the guttering. He was laughing, calling down something, it may have been, “I will wait, as I know you would wait for me, at that distant shady gate”. “But it was probably “The walnuts were nasty in those last 6 butter tarts I ate”.
I wore the writing shirt my first ever flight, first ever, bittersweet trip to Wales. A middle aged ragamuffin, boarding the plane. Though nearly lost to Beatrice’s goats, the writing shirt and I made it home again. And, as is now well reported, eventually, I did take up my pen….