Jack stood for a moment at the entrance to Booth’s Specialty Menswear and breathed in the familiar tang of formality and dust. Mostly dust. Sometimes he wondered if he’d become their only customer in this era of business-casual dress codes, policies adopted by weak employers to coddle lazy employees, policies which had become the death knell to the last vestiges of decent attire. He fancied himself, at times like this, that final refuge, the Last Well-Dressed Man Alive, as it was.
Today, all he needed was a tie so he stepped inside the store. Its once vast chamber of shirts and slacks, shoe polish and black socks for all occasions had been compressed to half its former size at the far end of the mall, elbowed aside to make room for a much-needed (in everyone’s opinion but his own) expansion of The Gap next door. Society may have made Booth’s Specialty Menswear nothing more than a musty antique shop, but they could never kill its pride. Its necessity.
“Hey, Mister H, how’s it hanging?” The pierced kid behind the half-counter looked up from his Wolverine comic. “What can I do you for?”
Jack rapped his knuckles on the counter, pretended not to hear the soft echo drifting through the store. “I’m all set, just a necktie or two. Going to the movies tonight, need something appropriate.”
“Ties?” Benny put the comic down and looked behind him. The tie racks had been pushed together, weeds choking themselves into extinction. “Mister Booth told me to stay clear of them. Getting restless.”
Jack had gone only a few steps in the direction in which the kid was looking, but now stopped. “Restless?”
Benny shrugged. “Dunno. That’s what he said. Or maybe he said lonely.” He looked back to the counter a moment, considering. “He was talking all funny. Said something about dogs craving attention, not being fed.” He twirled his index finger around his temple. “Think the store’s dying and it’s making him looney, you know?”
The store’s not dying! Jack wanted to scream. They’ll come back! The world will realize what they’ve lost, the respectability they all secretly crave, and they’ll come back! But all he said was, “Thanks, I’ll be careful,” and moved away.
The racks, which once held thin-striped shirts as proudly as a pin-lipped tailor, were full, but dust lines were visible along their shoulders from the hangers beneath. The smell of dust and disregard was stronger here. At the back, three racks of ties huddled like frightened children. These, too, had the beginning of dust lines, though each week when he came Jack tried to shift them a little, level out their abandonment, buy them some time.
A blue one, gentle swirl of gold woven throughout, caught his attention. He lifted it from the rod.
Me, pick me....
Silent voice, barely a whisper. The voice was weak, but with a texture he could almost feel. He looked back. Benny was hunkered over the comic, mouth slightly agape, lost in his color-paneled world. Hadn’t been his voice anyway –
No, pick me... another voice, just as weak, but a different inflection, more playful. Coming from beyond the far rack of novelty ties.
Behind him Benny shouted, “You need something, Mister H?”
“No,” Jack called, not turning around. Still holding the blue woven tie he pressed himself to the center of the display, the three racks surrounding him in a triangle of presentable attire.
No one there.
A bright red power tie slipped loose and draped about his ankle. I’m the one you want, it said sternly, as if in his mind alone.
What was he thinking? He shook his head, feeling like a fool and knelt down. The tie hadn’t –
Three ties fell over his shoulders. Me, me, me....
He flung them off. They intertwined about his arms, working themselves under the sleeves of his tweed coat. The red one by his foot tightened around his calf. He’s mine! Get away!
Jack froze for a moment, trying to ground his thoughts. He misunderstood something simple, something basic. A radio, perhaps, playing overhead.
Four, then five more ties, green felt, black silk, one with Iron Man racing up to the neckline, more of them he couldn’t see leapt from the rack above his head. Buy me, wear me, I’m perfect, I can make you proud to be clothed, I can show what a man is meant to be! Dozens of voices, small, weak, dying, desperate. Jack tried to stand but Iron Man wrapped around his throat, the red tie wriggled towards his crotch inside his pressed pant leg.
Wear me! Buy me!
So many voices, crowding out thought. Panic set in, Jack unable to think or breathe. Something pulled his left foot out from under him and he was suddenly on the floor, looking up at the remaining ties as they dropped like pythons. He was gagged, blinded, feeling only the texture of such perfect compliments to a man’s wardrobe across his face and arms, squeezing, pressing in like lepers to the Lord, demanding attention, demanding love, respect, wanting to live and be more than a tool for lovemaking, wanting their glory to be restored, before it was too late.
He tried to take in air, could not. Me, me, me, me, me.....
Jack died on the floor, buried in true fashion.
* * *