“Turn sideways.” He said one day when I was seven months pregnant. “Turn sideways. I think it’ll be a girl this time.” And after she was born I waited for his visit. He tapped on the door. “I’ve come to see the little girl,” he said. Ever after, to him, she was ‘the little girl.’ “Too bad,” he said one day as he cuddled her. “Too bad she wasn’t a boy.” I turned quickly but his eyes were laughing.
I thought of him the minute I saw the material, a soft warm wool with splashes of geranium red. The saleslady slid over when she saw me fingering the fabric. “There’s only three metres left,” she purred. I do not care for pushy sales people and often, when confronted by one I’ll walk out of the store. But this time I nodded almost pleasantly and murmured that I was just browsing. I had to be left alone to decide. The price was more that I’d ever before paid for shirt material and his birthday was, after all, six weeks away. It would be the first time in my life I’ll have ever finished anything ahead of time I thought wryly, as I took the cloth to the counter and chose red thread for top stitching and red western style snap buttons.
Funny the way things turn out. Here I was; the biggest procrastinator in the world. The person who never buys anything until the last minute; the one who stays up until after midnight on Christmas Eve sewing the last button on a blouse or putting the last stitch in a hem. Here I was coming home from town, laying the material on the table and pinning then cutting out the pattern.
I can’t remember ever having had this sense of urgency before, this inner voice compelling me to measure, cut and sew. It will be the first shirt that I’ve ever made for him and in sewing the seams I felt his presence, saw the nut brown face with the laugh wrinkles around the eyes. ‘Oh yeah,’ he’d say softly as he listened to the children’s confidences, ‘Oh yeah.’ I even looked up quickly once while reinforcing a sleeve seam, imaging for a brief second that he was at the back door watching through the screen.
My back and my shoulders ached. I stood and stretched. I felt heady.
“Come to bed. It’s two o’clock for Godsakes!”
“I can’t. I’m nearly finished.”
“His birthday’s more than a month away.”
“I know, but I’m started and I’ve got to finish.”
Finally, I ironed the shirt. The buttons shone in a straight line down the front. The pocket flaps were evenly spaced. I smoothed the fabric and folded it department store style. Finished I slept.
I wanted him to see his shirt. I wanted to watch him untie the ribbon and open his package. I wanted to hear him say, “Well now …,” and I wanted to catch the nod he’d send my way. But you don’t always get what you want.
The shirt looked good on him, looked exactly as it was supposed to look, the splashes of red complemented his bronze face and matched the flowers on his beaded, buckskin vest. His long grey hair was neatly braided. And though the laughter wrinkles were no longer around his eyes, they did the best they could.