I’m wearing the socks of a dead man. He’s not just any dead man. He’s my uncle. Or, he was my uncle. I don’t know the proper tense in these situations. He’s been dead for 8 months now. My aunt was giving away his clothing at my grandmother’s house this past Christmas. He is, or was, about your size, my aunt said. So I went up the stairs as instructed, and took a left into the white room that I always slept in as a child – the one with two beds and four windows. It’s the same room my Grandfather died in before I was born. Two of the windows look out over the green grass hill that rolls down into the short sand beach and then the muddy Chesapeake Bay that laps in and out, and under and beyond the wooden dock that I love so much. On a warm summer day when I was a little boy, playing with my sisters and cousins in the tepid, dirty water, which was much cleaner back then, I was pinched on the big toe by a crab crawling over the gooey silt bottom. I cried – swam out as fast as I could. My mother cleaned and put a Band-Aid across the small cut and sent me scampering up the grass hill to sit by the pool with my grandmother, father, aunts and uncles. Two days later I caught a huge eel while fishing the same water. I was too afraid to touch it so my uncle took it off the hook and waved it playfully toward my face, sending me yelling and laughing in terror down the length of the dock.
Now, standing here over piles of his clothes, I’m wondering what I should take. He was an eccentric man. He loved wearing pairs of different colored socks, apparently. I didn’t know that about him until we had the celebration of his life after he died. He was supposed to be there but he left a month early. I’m thinking about all this when my brother-in-law enters the room and starts mulling over the clothing. He fingers a ridiculous down-feather tie, puts it on, and then steps back open-armed, waiting for my approval – big grin on his face. It really suits you, I say jokingly. He leaves it on and continues sifting. Both beds are covered in clothes, most of them so crazy and colorful it’s as if a clown has donated his costumes to us. I sit on the edge of the bed that I used to sleep in, and kick off my shoes. Behind me I hear the harsh wind rustling the leaves of the giant Oak outside the window. Despite the fact that it’s winter I ask my brother-in-law if he’d mind me taking my nephew, his son, out fishing on the dock tomorrow. He says that’d be just fine. I pull one blue and one green sock on. Good, I think, while I take the socks off and replace them with my own.
Because although no one’s seemed to notice yet, I too am wearing the socks of a dead man.