Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Yellow Shirt

Simon had always like the color yellow.  Which is why he went for the furthest stained cardboard box, one of many containing donated clothes from Our Lady of Lost Souls' quarterly drive for the homeless.  The boxes were stacked on a few folding tables in front of the church where they normally congregated to wait in line for their breakfast and dinner.  Nothing had price tags, it was all free.  But there were rules.  They couldn't start choosing until 2pm.  Whoever touched an item first, could keep it.  And they each only got to pick three things.  This would be his fifth time "shopping" at the church.

It had begun to get hot again, sticky, and his winter flannel shirt was beginning to feel too warm, and too worn in the elbows and armpits.  He needed a new summer shirt.  He hoped he could find a hat too.  He'd been told many times that he looked good in a hat.  It went well with his beard.  He was keeping an open mind for his third item.

He walked slowly behind the line of others looking silently through the boxes, keeping his eye on the furthest one with the yellow bit of fabric sticking out.  No one was really paying much attention to it.  He decided that he would touch that corner first as soon as he got to it, even though he couldn't be quite positive what it was.  He was pretty sure it was a shirt, he just hoped it wasn't too small.  It would be fine if it was too big, baggy shirts let the skin breath in the muggy Louisiana summers.  He finally got there, his eyes focused on it like a hawk and his fingers grasped at it just as Jerry went for it too.  "Sorry, man.  I touched it first."  Jerry was disappointed but he knew the rules and because he hadn't chosen anything yet, he didn't want to risk being asked to leave.

Simon felt triumphant as he pulled it out from beneath the piles of mismatched socks, patched jeans and discarded shirts with race dates, bands and festivals printed on the fronts and back.    Simon hoped that the yellow would be relatively un-printed.  It wasn't.  It had four large letters on the front, but they didn't make any sense to him.  He figured it was some abbreviation for a college he had never heard of or an organization.

He wore it for the first time the next day, a beautiful day, crisp and without any hint of humidity.  The shirt felt good on his back.  It was baggy, and almost brand new.  He wondered why someone would have given up such a great shirt in such a perfect color.  He had been wearing it for less than an hour when he heard drunken bellows and shouts coming from an oncoming trolley.  He was used to this but he didn't recognized the word they kept repeating.  "YOLO, YOLO, YOLO!" The four twenty-something boys yelled from their open window as the street car slowly came to halt at a red light near where Simon was standing on the corner.  They were raising their plastic cups full of hurricanes and sticky gin and tonic's to him, and continued to yell "YOLO" as the street car pulled away.  He raised his hand and waved at them as they rode on, high-fiving, and laughing with their gleaming white teeth and backwards caps.  He was happy to have been a part of their joy for a moment.  He smiled his own yellowed smile through his ragged beard, long and bristled and unkempt.  His face and pants were dirty.  His shoes worn and falling apart.  But his shirt was new.  It was his favorite color.  And apparently whatever was written on it gave cause for celebration.

He tapped a young girl, her eyes stained with kohl, her tights black and white striped beneath her safety-pin marked skirt.  "Excuse me, what does this stand for?" he asked as he pointed to his chest.

She rolled her eyes and took out one earbud.

"Fucking tweens came up with it a couple of years ago, it means 'You Only Live Once.'" she said as she replaced the earbud and turned back to staring down the street, waiting for the next car.

His heart sank and it felt like he had been punched in the gut. His smile disappeared as quickly as the boys had.

"Ya," he said to the girl, even though she wasn't listening, "you do only live once."

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