I've had several requests (okay, two) to post my Shirt Story, which first appeared in the Gazette several years ago. With apologies to everyone who has already read it or may be sick of this shirt and my neuroses - you might want to go browse through the archives and look at something else. Oh, and I still wear the shirt for special occasions. In fact, I had it on the other night at a very chi chi event for young Montreal entrepreneurs and artists although I have to admit, surrounded as I was by all those lithe little twenty-somethings in their body-hugging minis, I felt a bit like Bea Arthur (not quite the effect I was going for, but there it is.)
THE SHIRT TRUMP
I spied the world’s most beautiful shirt in a local shop - a sheer, copper-coloured fairy wing of a shirt. “This is the kind of shirt a Real Writer would wear,” it whispered. “You’ll look like a Bohemian Artist, not a frumpy middle-aged suburbanite. Wear me when you accept the Pulitzer Prize, and no one will even hear the speech. They’ll think, ‘what exquisite taste she has’.” I checked the price and left without buying it.
Days later, I kept thinking about that shirt, so I hied myself back to the shop and was elated to see it still for sale. Alas, my elation was short-lived, as this shirt was an Extra Extra Large, not the Medium I tried on. I asked Rita the Saleslady, who had been on my heel from the moment I entered (it’s a fair assumption Rita works on commission and has a lot of personal debt) if there was another Medium.
“Oh, yes. We put it aside for you when you phoned this afternoon.” Being an honest person (and paying by credit card which has my name imprinted on it) I owned up that it was not me who phoned.
Rita checked her computer for another shirt, but it was unavailable in any size, in any store, anywhere in Canada. She then called 'Mrs. Amplebottom' (the woman who had her name tagged on my shirt) to confirm she still wanted it. She said she thought she might. Rita informed her there was a customer ready to buy it on the spot and (what a shocker) Mrs. Amplebottom decided she definitely wanted it.
“If she changes her mind, I’ll call you on Sunday,” said Rita.
“Great! But could you please put the larger shirt aside?" I asked. "If I can’t have the Medium, I’ll buy that one and alter it.”
“No," said Rita calmly. "We can’t do that.”
I looked at her in disbelief.
“I'm sorry, but isn’t that what you just did for Mrs. Amplebottom?”
“Yes, but that’s different,” Rita enunciated slowly, and then just walked away without a backward glance. I stood open-mouthed in her wake, convinced Rita and Mrs. Amplebottom must share a somewhat suspect, maybe even carnal, relationship.
I didn’t hear from Rita on Sunday and assumed the worst. I rushed to the store Monday morning, gripped with greedy shirt lust. Rita’s snub had been such an affront it triggered a chain reaction in my brain, causing all rational thought to vanish in a pique of stubborn indignation. I hurried to the back and was delighted to find the Extra Extra Large still there and there was no sign of Rita. A rather thick salesperson, who had followed me to the back making random comments along the way, asked if I needed help.
“Only if you can get me this in a Medium,” I joked.
“Oh, sure. It’s set aside in the storeroom. I’ll get it for you.”
Thick One trotted off and triumphantly presented Mrs. Amplebottom’s Medium Shirt at the service counter. Then she noticed two name tags fluttering on the hanger.
“Is this it?” she asked, confused.
“Yup. That’s my name,” I said, waving vaguely and looking down at my feet.
Thick One looked at both tags, and bit her lip. Her face showed the strain of the workout her brain was under.
“I’d better ask Rita,” she finally said. I started to sweat. I'd made up my mind I was going to have that shirt if I had to beat Rita to the floor and run through the mall as a felon.
“You can’t,” said the cashier. “Rita’s gone on break,”
The situation then took on the timing of a French farce. Thick One set the shirt down on the counter and started looking around for Rita. The cashier was busy with a customer in front of me, going very slowly, complaining about having a cold, how she couldn’t find her pen, oh found it, oh, dropped it on the floor…
My savior arrived in the form of a large, florid customer who charged in clutching a new leather coat with a broken zipper, loudly demanding service. Thick One was targeted, and the man began his tirade right beside us. I was really sweating now, and tapping my fingers on the counter, looking around nervously for Rita as Thick One’s attention was diverted to Angry Man.
The cashier finished with her customer, and pointed to the Medium shirt.
“Is this yours?”
I swallowed and whispered, “Yes. And I’m in a bit of a rush.”
She slowly picked up the shirt and held it up high above her head, turning it first this way, and that. I glanced over at Thick One still engaged in her battle of wits with Angry Man.
“Hey, this is really nice,” said the cashier, continuing her assessment.
“Look. I really am in a big hurry.” She began to methodically fold the shirt, which kept slipping through her fingers.
Come on, start the transaction, just ring it up. Just ring up the sale. Now take my card, enter the numbers, come on! I swallowed hard, and looked behind me, praying Rita was still on her break. The argument between Angry Man and Thick One escalated.
Come on. Once I sign it, I own it. Give me the pen. GIVE ME THE PEN!
“Where did my darn pen go? I’m always losing the stupid thing,” said the cashier, as she searched the floor. "That's the thing about pens, they're always--"
“Here, use mine,” I hissed, pawing through my purse. I grabbed at the receipt. My hand was shaking. I managed to sign my name. Almost home free. Just shove that shirt in a bag and let me out of here. Hand me the bag. The bag. GIVE ME THE BAG!
With Thick One still deep in negotiations, the cashier handed me the bag and my credit card. As I walked out the door, everything shifted into slow motion.
Coming through the door, back from her break, was Rita. I could hear the theme song from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in my head. Rita glanced at me, and there was recognition on her face, but puzzlement too. Her expression said, “I know you from somewhere, but I can’t quite place you.” She looked at the bag in my hand, then back at my face. I smiled and kept my pace even. The Extra Extra Large shirt was hanging right by the front door. It felt like that moment before a car crash, and you’re aware of each second and yet helpless to change its course.
Rita slowly turned, saw the shirt and looked at me in horror, the realization of what had just happened reflected in her fading smile. I increased my pace and my grip on the bag, and chugged down the mall taking ragged breaths. It was not quite a run, more panicked speed walker. I dared not look over my shoulder, nor did I wish to attract the attention of mall security by going any faster. I finally bolted into a lingerie store, and peered out from behind a rack of thongs to see if the coast was clear before sprinting away to my car with the mother of all shirts.
I might not wear the shirt. Maybe I’ll just hang it on the wall and admire it. Right now, it’s enough that it’s mine alone, unless of course Mrs. Amplebottom conceded defeat and took home the Extra Extra Large.