The White Shirt by Burt Barr

BOMB 4 Fall 1982
004 Summer Fall 1982
Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly, Untitled, May 82., 1982. Courtesy of Blum Helman.

The evening before the wedding I drove out to Eastern Long Island. Nearing the town where my friend, the groom, lived, I started looking for a place to stay. I had passed various motels, their vacancy signs lighted, glowing in the dusk; I dismissed those that did not face the sea, but of the ones that did, none appealed to me.

It had taken over three hours to reach the town; it was dusk and certain places that I had not seen since the summer before, would now have to wait for the following day. It had been warm in the city, a mild spring day, but here close to the water, it was cold, and I had to turn on the heat.

The shore road was pitted from the winter, and in stretches exposed to the wind near the water the pavement had crumbled and in places it was rutted. The car rattled, and a sharp metallic noise came back again and again which I could not identify. I kept glancing toward the back seat, making sure that the dark blue suit hanging on the hook had not fallen. It was a new suit which I had never worn before and I was concerned that it might fall to the floor. I slowed down and gradually came to a full stop; I reached for the suit and draped it over the front seat.

The streets of the town were all but deserted and at the main intersection there were few cars. It took a long time for the traffic light to change and when it did, I turned toward the sea, heading for the restaurant where I had planned to have dinner. After I drove by the storage houses which blocked my view I saw the restaurant’s bright lights and the cars parked in front. I went inside to ask how late they remained open; with enough time I decided to first find a room, then return for dinner.

Back on the shore road I headed east. Heavy pockets of fog had settled in the low areas but where the ground rose, the road opened onto a long flat range where the night was clear. Here and there, patches of sand covered the pavement; the car would glide forth, free of my control, then it would hit the hard surface below and shoot ahead. Miles further, just before the next populated area, I made a U-turn.

Reaching the town again I stopped at one motel to inquire about a room. Earlier in the week when I had spoken with my friend, I was offered an invitation to stay at his parents’ house, a large home overlooking the water; I thought of calling him as I went into the motel. The man behind the desk ignored me; I waited for him to look my way again but it was apparent that he wanted me to leave. In the parking lot I let the car roll down the incline, over the island of flowers and shrubs and then I reached the road.

Only one section of the dining room was open. After ordering, I phoned my friend. I reached him at his parents’ and he said that I should come over; I told him I would be there after eating. I returned to the table and waited; another summer was on its way but I had no plans of returning to the area.

During the last week of summer there had been an offshore storm and the waves were high and the weather was clear and also cool. Day after day the sea came closer to the dunes and I had found myself waking before sunrise to see what the tide had done in the night. The waves rose far out in the water, slowly building to a crest as they moved toward the shore, yet it took them so long to actually break that I could look away from the ocean for an indefinite time and when I looked back, the same wave struggled onward. Each successive day they took an even longer time, always hovering, always threatening to break. On the last day the ocean jellied.

It was raining when I left the restaurant. I soon found the curving road which led to his parents’ house. His father answered the door and we shook hands for such a long time that I felt embarrassed. My friend appeared and we went to a room where others were gathered before a large television set, all of them watching a baseball game. I kept track of the innings and when the game was over almost everyone left. The bride and groom remained but they continued to watch the screen. When I could take no more I said I was tired. After I was shown to my room on the first floor, I went outside and walked with them to their car; we chatted briefly, then I got my suitcase and went into the house.

I had no trouble falling asleep. I was walking through the slums of New York City when I came upon a rubble strewn lot where teenagers were playing baseball. A batter was hitting out balls to those in the field and I joined the fielders. A hard line-drive came at me and without changing my stance I merely raised my hand and pulled it out of the air. They were amazed. The batter hit another one, a fast bouncing ball, and again, never moving my feet, I simply held one hand down and snagged it. They were awestruck but no one said a word. I stood with fists on my hips, looking and feeling like a professional, eagerly waiting for the next ball. But there was a delay as one of the fielders ran to home plate to confer with the batter. They looked toward me as they spoke, conspiring, but I felt confident that I could catch anything. The batter hit a yellow ball. It landed on the ground before me and then bounced over my head, hit the wall behind me and came back and rolled between my legs; I kept lunging for it but could not grasp it. Another fielder picked it up and threw it at me, hitting me in the leg. Then he threw a brick. In the morning the fog began to break. After having coffee I refused their invitation to breakfast, telling them a lie that I never ate until later in the day. Outdoors it was unusually warm. I went to the front of the house and stood for a long time looking out toward the water. The ocean was barely visible in the lingering mist and I began walking down the steps that led to the beach to get a better view of the surf, but upon reaching the wet sand, I stopped.

When I returned to the house, a catering truck and other cars were parked in the driveway. Inside, the rooms were being transformed for the reception. A maid who had not been there the night before seemed to know who I was and informed me that the family had gone to the church for the final wedding rehearsal. I went into the room that I had the previous night and began to get dressed; in the mirror I saw that the suit fit well and I was pleased.

There was less than an hour until the wedding began. The last of the fog had burned away and the day had become hot. The suit jacket was too warm and before getting into the car I placed it over the seat. Driving toward the church I could feel the perspiration on my face. My shirt bunched-up and I leaned forward and tried to tuck it in but it would not stay. In certain places where my skin was damp the fabric clung to me and each time I pulled the cloth away, it would gather up and cling elsewhere. It was a new shirt which I had bought with the suit, a cotton shirt, finely tailored and had French Cuffs, and I was disturbed by the way it felt. I drove through the town sitting away from the back of the seat, trying not to wrinkle it. By the time I reached the church I was sweating profusely, drenched in an onslaught of heat.

Adjacent to the church was the village park that ran parallel to the beach. I found a parking space and hurried from the car, anxious to get near the water to cool off. I tried to tuck in the shirt when I got out of the car but it was damp, sticky, and would not move freely. The lawn was soggy and my shoes were becoming wet and covered with grass but I did not want to go out on the road and take the long way. I rushed along the path, passing rows of elderly people, most of them wearing heavy clothes. There was not even a breeze.

In the middle of the park near the sand was a solid looking building of grey stone. Over the entrance, carved in marble was a sign that said, BATHHOUSE. Outside the door, sitting on a wooden folding chair, was an old man. His chin was resting on his chest and when I passed in front of him he continued to stare at the ground and he did not move; he appeared dead but I had to use the toilet and could not stop.

There was a heavy mist inside. It was a cavernous room and through the haze I could see a row of wooden lockers along the far wall. I was puzzled by the mist and tried to see where it was coming from. Above, where the wall met the ceiling were windows that ran around the entire room; beneath the windows was a stone ledge that also ran around the room and on the ledge were seltzer bottles, all emitting a fine spray. The bottles were in shades of green, blue, and clear glass. The only light in the room came from the windows, streaming through the thick glass of the bottles.

Water was running down the walls and the peaked brick ceiling was dripping wet. I found I was standing in a puddle and saw that the floor was covered with streams of water, running toward a drain in the center. Ahead was a sign, its message barely discernible as the paint had peeled. One arrow pointed to the men’s room, the other to the women’s. I walked deeper into the room, going toward the men’s section. An old man, short, and wearing a baggy suit, stepped out of a toilet stall; he brushed against me but did not stop. I went inside and stood before the porcelain receptacle. I could feel the spray soaking through my shirt. I was tense and I was chilled and I tried to hurry. I found some paper towel and wiped part of the mirror. My shirt looked as if it had been trampled and I knew I would have to go back the house and change. Parts of the shirt were covered with a sticky film which I attempted to wipe off. I tucked it in as best I could and went back to the main room.

At the entrance was a teenage girl and with her was a little boy who I assumed was her brother. In one hand she held a webbed bag which contained towels, toys, and other beach paraphernalia, and with her other hand she held onto the little boy. They looked poor. She gazed around the room, looking up into the mist. She spoke to the attendant who was still slouched in his chair; she called to him, she shook him and at last he moved. She asked how they could change without getting their possessions wet and not leave them outside where they might get stolen. The man’s head slowly came to rest on his shoulder, and he told her, to get a long rope, tie one end onto the bag and leave it outside and take the other end into the lockers. I wanted to offer a suggestion but I was too concerned about my appearance and I ran off, through the park.

Groups of people were in front of the church and I ran out to the road to avoid them and came to the car from the other direction. The shirt gripped me, restricting my movement, and I had trouble driving. When I reached the house there was little more than 15 minutes left until the ceremony began.

I did not bother to see if the first floor bathroom was occupied as there were many people about. I ran upstairs and found the master bath. My hair was sopping wet. I started to unbutton my shirt but it was wet and the buttons were difficult to undo; I tore the shirt open.

From my bag I took out another change of clothes. I studied the new shirt for a while then walked across the room and hung it on a hanger. I placed my clothes on the chair. When all was orderly I turned on the shower and waited until the temperature was right.

I Took to the Streets by Shelly Oria
Shelly Oria I Took To The Streets
Vacation by Ameena Meer
​Ellen Phelan

When I looked in the bathroom mirror this morning, a crowd of people looked back. 

The Hilt by Gordon Lish

The pleasure Solovei took in the manner of Shea’s death, never mind that it was a suicide and Shea the very paradigm of what Solovei could not but help but helplessly think of whenever he, Solovei, had thought to set himself the meditation of what it must be to be the Gentile—oh so very big-boned, large-boned, heavy-boned, long and broad in all the central categories, the blithe inventor of every reckless declension, the very thing of this vexing life most lived.

Everything You See Is Real by Ben Ehrenreich

This is the unabridged version of Ben Ehrenreich’s story, also available as a Fiction for Driving audio.

Originally published in

BOMB 4, Fall 1982

Georgia Marsh, Paul Bowles, Michael McClard, Olivier Mosset & Fred Brathwaite, and Duncan Hannah. Cover by Mary Heilmann.

Read the issue
004 Summer Fall 1982