Jasper walked into Earnest’s room and almost stepped on a large pile of clothes piled near the door. It was a huge contrast to the rest of the room with the abundance of books and sketchpads that filled every shelf, including where a TV would normally be. Earnest looked up and chuckled in a dry raspy rattle that had seen too much laughter, shouting, cigarettes, and not necessarily in that order. The old man threw another pair of pants on the pile that he had taken out of his large dresser.
“Earnest my man,” Jasper said. “What’s gotten into you?”
Earnest took another shirt out of a drawer and added it forcibly on the pile. “Life,” he replied. Earnest sat down on the bed, his many years etched heavily in his sagging skin and wrinkles. The only thing not sagging due to age and gravity was the twinkle in his faded blue eyes. “Do you like my masterpiece?” Earnest asked.
“You’re masterpiece?” asked Jasper. “Where?”
Earnest gestured to his pile of clothes. “That. That is my masterpiece,” he said with quite a bit of satisfaction. Earnest got up and began to go through another drawer, throwing its contents onto the pile one at a time.
Jasper crossed his arms. “Did Mary forget to bring you your meds this morning?” he asked.
Earnest turned back to Jasper. “Ha! You’re quite the joker. Yes she did,” he said before turning back to his piling task.
“I’m not trying to be funny,” Jasper said as he scooped up a few of the clothes and held them out to Earnest. “And this sure isn’t funny either. Do you expect me to pick up this mess? I’m your aide, not your maid.”
Earnest didn’t turn around this time. He just shook his head as he added more and more clothing to the pile. “I’m not expecting you to pick it up. I’m expecting you to appreciate my masterpiece for what it is.”
“I don’t understand Earnest,” Jasper said. “Clue me in please.”
Jasper finished the drawer and shuffled to his closet. “That pile of clothes is my life in a nutshell,” he said.
“One more time, please. Give me the YouTube version,” Jasper said.
Earnest added a bunch of shoes and a jacket or two to the pile. “YouTube?” he asked. “What in God’s good graces is that?”
Jasper shook his head. “Sorry, I forgot you don’t believe in computers.”
“Those things suck your soul into the screen for the promise of empty entertainment,” Earnest said, “and I do think the use of entertainment is dubious at best.”
“Okay, so I won’t tell you what happened last night on Marvel’s Agents of Shield,” Jasper said, “but seriously, what gives?”
Earnest finished cleaning out his closet onto the pile, except for a classic navy blue pinstripe suit, a white dress shirt and a pair of black wingtips with such a shine that they would be blinding at night. Those he laid reverently on his bed. “A man,” Earnest began, “a real man knows he is the sum of what he wears.”
“You mean his style?” asked Jasper.
Earnest shook his head, adding his raspy laugh as punctuation. “Style is what you young folk have corrupted from what this used to be,” he began. “Not that I blame you. It’s just what happens when time passes. The ideas change, become corrupted such that the new generation can make it their own. I get that.”
Earnest lifted the suit off the bed and held it up in front of himself. “A good suit makes a man,” he continued. “You just feel different. A good pair of pants that fit, a jacket that you fill out, shoes that can cut the floor like buttah, that’s what I’m talking about. They make you feel ten times the man that you thought you were before you put them on. If the military could ever come up with a suit you could fight in like that, well we could conquer the world.” He punctuated his sentence with a fist pump.
“Okay pops, but why the pile?” Jasper asked.
“That crap is who I was since I gave this up,” Earnest said pointing to the suit. “That’s me without the power. Now look at me. I’m just a shadow of my former me.” Earnest was beginning to shake. “I’m an old shadow of a shadow of myself. All that crap there,” he pointed at the pile of clothes, “that’s me wasting away. That’s the kind of stuff your mother bought for you from Sears and Roebuck when she had saved enough green stamps that she could afford it. You didn’t choose those corduroy red pants, they were just the cheapest things to cover your bare ass to go to school.” Earnest slumped onto his bed next to the suit. He looked as messy and crumpled as the pile of clothes that separated him and Jasper.
“So what do you want to do about all this?” Jasper asked.
“I don’t know,” Earnest replied with a very small voice.
Jasper paused for a moment of silence. It was soon interrupted by the sound of a bed call button. The intercom on his belt said in a slightly muffled monotone voice, “Jasper, can you check in on Mr. Stapleton. He can’t find his teeth.”
“Look,” Jasper said to Earnest, “why don’t I help you get into your suit. You hang out in it for a bit, and I’ll come back after finding Lewis his teeth.”
Jasper perked up again. “That would be swell. Thanks,” he said.
Jasper helped Earnest get dressed and he had to admit, even though Earnest had deflated since the last time he had worn the suit, it still looked damn good on him. “There you go old man. You enjoy and I’ll be right back.”
Earnest grabbed onto Jasper’s arm. “You’re a good man,” Earnest said. “Thank you for helping me to remember who I was.”
“Who you are, Earnest. Who you are,” Jasper said. Earnest gave Jasper a smile and a nod through tear filled eyes as he let Jasper go. Jasper gave Earnest a pat on the back as Jasper headed out of the room. He paused in the doorway and watched Earnest lay down on the bed, those shoes twinkling in the setting sun. Jasper smiled and headed down the hall to find some teeth.
Jasper came back through the door, a smile on his face and a story on his lips. “You should have seen where Lewis left his teeth this time,” he said.
Jasper’s words met the empty stare of eyes that were looking at infinity and would never blink again. Jasper hit the call button, but knew that the Earnest had gone on, his clothes having made the man. Jasper looked at his scrubs and wondered what kind of man it made him as the emergency crew rushed into the room.