Today I am helping my mother clear out my father’s clothes. She didn’t ask me, not in so many words, but she needed me to be there. I’m the least sentimental out of her daughters; the most pragmatic. They’re just clothes, after all.
She begins to falter after just the first shirt, and I send her away on a pointless errand. We are both relieved, I sense. I don’t want to talk about what we’re doing, to re-live each garment or attach a memory to each one. Methodically I remove clothes from hangers, fold and place them in a box and although I try not to, I can’t help but let the memories filter through. I hold to my face an Arran sweater he wore through my childhood; its scratchy wool is reassuringly familiar against my cheek. I can’t stop a wry smile when I see his one concession to casual dress; an M&S polo shirt which never looked as comfortable as the formal shirts he wore day in, day out.
I reach for the shelf above the hanging rail and fish around for the remaining jumpers. My hand hits something hard and I climb on a chair to see what it is.
A stack of magazines is cached at the back of the wardrobe. Oh God, please don’t tell me my father had a secret stash of porn. I simply couldn’t bear it. Gingerly, I pick up the top magazine between finger and thumb and brace myself for… a 1991 edition of Good Housekeeping. Oh the relief! My mother has always been a hoarder and without my father to keep her in check she is in danger of becoming one of those people who appear in documentaries, living their lives beneath a tidal wave of newspaper and yoghurt pots. It seems back in the early 90s she decided the series of articles entitled “knit your way to success” was a keeper. You know, I’ve never even seen her pick up a knitting needle…
I’m nearly finished now; just reaching for the remaining jackets to add to the box before I take it all to the charity shop to be picked over by strangers. I’m struck by the fact that, although individually each piece is well made and well cared for, en masse it has suddenly become nothing more than a box of second-hand clothes, giving no impression of the man who once wore them. As I pick up the last jacket it weighs heavy in my hand and I check the pockets, which sag away from the body of the jacket after years of over-use. My father’s glasses are in his top pocket, along with an open packet of Hamlet. A comb and a box of matches hide within an inner pocket. Both side pockets are filled with loose change, from a man who would always rather split a twenty than try to find the exact change. If I close my eyes I can almost believe that he is still here; that his jacket, still warm from wear, is carelessly thrown over the back of a kitchen chair.
I close my thoughts along with the box. They’re just clothes, after all.