RED LEATHER JACKET- From Worzel

We endured the dust and chaos of a years renovation, to our home building- “Tara”. The round, scorch hole in the hallway floor from an errant pot of broccoli, the fire escape also partially burned repaired. The “Bug Chandelier” we rescued by night, with help from our friend Hawken, is now in a corner of our cluttered living room.

Tara will always reek of brussels sprouts, we still maintain our luggage shop downstairs, and even with some of her characters gone, there remains a certain whimsy in the old place, and stories found down my turquoise chair….this one features Mrs Feerce, who terrified Godfrey – my friend of 28 years, and something of a vagabond.  

Our home building was modern in 1913, a grand row of saloons turned to flats and small rented rooms. Now below is our shop, an art gallery, Golden Fez Turkish Coffee Maker, and one street over, park and homeless camp, we have come to call “Steinbeck’s Half Acre”.

Was a red leather jacket, found it one summer morning, folded with care at the door, of “Godfreys’ Luggage and Leather Repair “. Odd offerings indeed have been left over the years- beets foul and fair, poetry, cards and photos from many who had met up with Godfrey.

I looked it over carefully, old yet well made, a jacket of soft red leather, styled to fit a lady. Slight smell of bakery, when expected lavender or stale closet-moth- the cuffs a bit worn in a manner that reminded me of Godfrey.

In the wool coat my vagabond wore, he sewed a pocket called his “Secret Hole”, in it went bus fare, address book, the spectacles he had not worn since age five, his all important pen. No “Secret Hole” in this red leather jacket I could yet see….with a barefoot thud, like a barge on the harbor, our landlady Mrs Feerce loomed before me.

Vacabon! Vagabon! Bugular!Bugular!, Mrs Feerce- every other person in her mind was a hippie or intruder, it oft was a challenge being patient with her. Had “she who missed nothing” seen who left the red leather jacket at our door?, Mrs Feerce kept the two cents that dropped from a pocket when she shook it, Haggis!- she waved a cranky finger at me, “Stink in house when you cook it”! Lint in dryer cause fire!, Hippies be dammed!’. Mrs Feerce was gone, the door slammed. Godfrey reckoned she was born of a “Whiskey Keg and Polecat”. I think she was Maltese but never confirmed that.

I have hung the red leather jacket in the window of our shop, checked it over and over for secret hole, for hidden “Snuv” or private pocket. it shows fading from sun and weather, wear of backpack has thinned the leather on the shoulders just a tad, and a tear on the left sleeves inner lining has been ineptly mended using threads of wool- plaid.

For over a year now the red leather jacket has hung in our window, down on “Steinbeck’s Half Acre” the drifters come and go. No one has claimed it, the jacket stays a mystery, somehow I feel that perhaps long ago, it crossed paths with Godfrey.

Godfrey needed little prodding to sing an old song he learned of a place he called “Shady Gate”. Promised me when the time came he’d be there neath the cedars, be there long as waiting would take. Last night I dreamed the red leather jacket was a pillow for my head when I awoke on damp heather, in lieu of my warm bed.  Berries placed by me on a dock leaf clean with dew, and spelled out in the sand by the track- words of welcome to “Shady Gate”…. old friend I welcome you.

With thanks to Ferron” for the life long inspiration. Your jacket, perhaps?

THE WRITING SHIRT- From Worzel

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….