Dead Man’s Shirt

By Jo Phillips

On the hook in my bedroom–a dead man’s shirt…royal blue.
Underneath it, the shirt my ex-husband got married in. It’s white. I don’t want to throw it away because it’s still so perfect and handsome.
I got the blue shirt after my friend died. He wore it all the time. To parties we threw at our house. And, he looked great in it. Grown up. I think a man in a dress shirt, a man who wears it with confidence and comfort-is casual and cool. Sounds like an advertisement doesn’t it, but yes, a man in a nice shirt is a man who knows how to be a grown up man.
The white shirt, I am bound to give to my daughter. I don’t want to throw it away or give it to the Goodwill. It’s too nice and too expensive. I found it in the basement. He cast it away. I think that’s the difference between us. I couldn’t even let go of his name, not because it was his, but because it was who I had become and I couldn’t disappear back into a childhood name. I wish I could be her again, all that toughness and silliness and clever off the top of the head type of stuff we could say and do when we were kids.
I don’t collect shirts to make notches on a bedpost. That’s not it. Can’t that color blue comfort me? Or that white linen create the most calming, peaceful feeling.
I have a rust color shirt up there, on the hook, too. It’s my boyfriend’s. He let me have it because he was going to pitch it. It has a hole down in the lower left front tail or curve. I could’ve stitched it up for him and given it back. I could tell it was a shirt he really liked once upon a time. Fabric has that effect on our psyches.
I can remember a gold and yellow and brown dress I had in first grade. Flowers and leaves. I felt so attached to it. I wish I still had it. It was loose on me and it had a little ribbon at the neckline…a bronzy goldish-brown bow. A Monet print in diffusion. I have a photo of myself wearing that dress in kindergarten. And my hair is blowzy around my face, soft strawberry blonde with loose curls and a vulnerable smile, a quirky lift on one side and a small dimple on the other side of that smile. My lips are so red and moist in that picture. Youth.



And the dead man’s shirt is Italian. A friend for twenty years. But this is not about his shirt. It’s about loss. Losing a husband. Then losing a friend. And the boyfriend’s shirt? I never saw him wear it. I think about him wearing it with other women. It was a shirt that had no meaning for me, only for some other women. I know it would look good on him. It’s just a longing, losing something I never had, inside a shirt that’s on top of the dead man’s shirt on the hook.

Jamey Genna teaches art, theater, and writing in the East Bay area of San Francisco. She received her MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco. Her short fiction has been published in many fine literary magazines such as Crab Orchard Review, Georgetown Review, & The Iowa Review. You can find her at

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