It was the day before the prince’s birthday and, unprecedentedly, the day before his wedding and coronation as well. Tomorrow was the twenty-second celebration of his birth, his bride would be arriving at noon, and his father just died the preceding night. The townspeople marveled at this mass convergence of importance. Though the king’s death grieved them, the anticipation and wonder of tomorrow excited them; they grew a certain vanity with the communal assurance that posterity’s scholars would document and debate what was soon to happen within their town walls.
At the morning burial, those townspeople each appropriately mourned and, fearful of any blemishes on their historical record, scrutinized and prayed for all others to appropriately mourn. When one of the overworked musicians mistakenly performed the tune for the bridal day, he was abhorred but not corrected. A few later insisted that the processional addition improved the dirge; it was perhaps the king delivering his blessing, they argued. When commemorating the event years later, a local poet named it a king’s last gift to his son and people, that “What a glorious king it truly is/Who will not even take death as his.”
After the burial, one could openly discuss the bride. She was a princess from a distant land of name but no location to the townspeople. Most heard that the prince had fallen in love with the princess during his recent travels, and some heard that he never yet met her; a rumor began that, quite extraordinarily, no one had ever met her. She was, to the townspeople, merely a specter with a crown, and, as with all specters, they expected an angel or demon, either to support their state as a mother or to selfishly squander their age. She was the rarest type of mystery to them, a mystery solely solvable by time, by waiting.
When the royal garden was proposed, its size was frequently debated. A heralded architect would design a fountain, and then another would design two. The planned garden was quickly the size of the entire palace. Then a last architect suggested that size should reflect privilege. The prince, tired of waiting, paced the garden, smelling the few flowers. He checked and assured himself that noon had indeed already passed. He paced; and suddenly, he heard the ceremony of her appearance begin. He paused and carefully listened. He heard the sound of unbridled expectation when the gate began to move, and he heard the sudden quiet when it opened and each member of the crowd judged the fortune of the future in her sudden persona. Then he heard them exalt in unbridled joy, and many cried out her name in the cheers, and some even loudly rejoiced her as queen. His ears assured that the princess’s introductory parade had entered the town’s gates and hearts simultaneously, his mind gleefully leapt into itself, imagining the ever grander cycle of his life.
His reverie continued blissfully uninterrupted until the appearance of his king. “Sire,” the aide said.
“It is Sir, not yet Sire,” the prince said, “for I have not yet earned the e.”
“Of course, Sir, I apologize.”
“Be careful it does not happen again; you could very likely be stripped of your e.”
“Oh, please, Sir, do not. It took such an effort to earn.”
The prince said nothing.
“Sir, the princess has arrived.”
“Yes, I heard her. What did you see of it? I could hear completely; it sounded magnificent. Was there a float; or did they have her on horseback?”
“Both, Sir. It was truly fantastic. She is unspeakably beautiful.”
“Both? Did they carry a stable and ring over the streets?”
“No, Sir; atop a bronze horse atop a golden float, she rode. And Sir, she was as striking as her carriage and stead. It was the way she was dressed, Sir.”
“Yes? And unspeakably so as well?”
“Sir, by unspeakable I mean that we lack the words. She was stunning, Sir, and dressed marvelously, in a way which was certainly strange yet surely refined—an outlandish way, an eccentric way, yet a way of undeniability. She appeared a queen.”
The prince thanked the aide for the news, and his eyes began to close back into their resumed dreams.
“An impression was certainly made on the townspeople,” the aide said.
“Well, certainly, there is your report,” the prince said with new interest. “There is the importance. You should have begun there before all your descriptions. Now tell me about them, and remember, I want to know what they think not what they know.”
“Sir, after seeing her, it seems they thought of you. And Sir, they seem to worry about your dress for tomorrow. None, I believe, truly disapprove of the traditional attire, but perhaps it could be, if only slightly, altered for all her differences.”
“So they fear we will not appear as noble supplements; that we will be joined in a union while not in any physical unison? I suppose royalty is the realm of such worrisome portents. Very well, she comes to my side so perhaps my side should be accommodated for her. In fact, I’ll be a groom that exceeds the bride. I’ll outdo her novelty with novelty; mine will be newer, after all.”
“Certainly, Sir,” the aide happily said, “and you have the closet for the claim, but perhaps, my future king, one last piece will assure your intent.”
“Very well, Aide, you are perhaps correct. And your expertise shall now be your task; you may buy me a new shirt.”
“Thank you, Sir,” the aide said, and he hurried to search the stores.
It was nearly night when the aide returned to the palace. His search had been tiresome but fruitful, and he was confident in the purchase cloaked beneath his arm. He entered the prince’s bedroom and unveiled the wedding shirt; it had buttons and sleeves and a pocket. “You will be worn by the prince when he becomes the king,” the aide said at the wedding shirt, “and by the king when the princess becomes the queen.” The wedding shirt was carefully hung in the prince’s closet and the aide left to join the celebrations of the night.
Inside the closet, the clothes discussed each other.
“And I say you should hurry to a cobbler,” said an elderly blazer to a worn pair of brown loafers; the prince had received the blazer as a present nearly five years before.
“You foolish cloth,” said an arrogant, checkered tie. “There are no more cobblers. They have replaced cobbling with buying.”
“People no longer cobble?” asked the blazer.
“They do not,” said the tie.
“Of course they do,” the loafers cried, “that’s why they need shoes.”
The tie was silent in a way of misunderstanding; the loafers could often be silly, which he did not like.
“People hobble so they must have shoes,” the loafers explained. “It is only natural that a hobbler needs shoes.”
“You bloated sandal,” said the tie. “He said cobbler, not hobbler. You are all tongue and no ear.”
The wedding shirt harrumphed; he was someone who only spoke when spoken of, and he liked to speak.
“Oh, my dear, I did not see you there,” the loafers exclaimed. “Did you have something to say?”
“I was introducing my willingness to answer your questions,” the wedding shirt said.
“What questions?” asked the tie.
“Who am I?”
“Who are you?”
“I am the famous wedding shirt,” the wedding shirt said. “I have been formed from the fabric of a god to be worn by a king. And tomorrow, the privileged face of the prince will rise from my starched form, and we shall clasp the princess together. I will then forever be immortalized in the divine transformation of prince to king and princess to queen. One can only assume my eventual knighthood.”
“You expect to be knighted?” asked a winter coat in the back of the closet. He was a very recent gift from the former king, and this nearness to the monarch’s death was a coincidence which recently had been discussed by the clothes as a portent. His importance thus assured, he was permitted to interject.
“Then what is the equivalent I may anticipate?” the wedding shirt asked.
“To be followed,” the loafers quickly answered. “I overheard the Prince mentioning followers, though he may have said hollowers. He does so often mumble.”
“Very well,” the wedding shirt said, dignified. “I will be followed by many followers.”
“Or hollowed by many hollowers,” the loafers corrected.
“Yes, that’s right, of course, certainly, I will be followed by many hollowers or hollowed by many followers,” the wedding shirt said.
“That doesn’t sound right,” the loafers said.
“And it certainly does not sound like knighthood,” interjected the winter coat.
“Never mind then,” the wedding shirt said, and his voice was like a quiet shout; he was growing weary of his assumed subjects.
“What about tailors?” the blazer suddenly exclaimed but was ignored.
“So who will you be taking tomorrow?” the loafers asked the wedding shirt after the silence had been reorganized.
Though perfectly hearing the question, the wedding shirt perfectly feigned such a lack of communication.
“Who will you be taking tomorrow,” reiterated the tie. “After all, you cannot presume the prince to wear only you. He would be nightmarishly naked.”
The wedding shirt had not thought of this. “I have not yet decided,” he lied with mock evaluation. “You have all been distracting me.”
The wedding shirt perused the room, though he ignored those he had become acquainted with, for this was to be an intimate position. On the back wall of the closet hung a spot-free and stainless pair of slacks, and the wedding shirt was decided. He approached the slacks with an assurance of confidence, one of his most appealing traits.
“The famous wedding shirt,” he titularly introduced himself and bowed, slipping his sleeve into the slacks right-front pocket, which is a gesture of affection in clothing.
“Oh my,” the slacks exclaimed.
“Oh mine,” the wedding shirt corrected.
The slacks giggled. “But why me?” he asked with friendly piteousness. “I do not believe I will be able to sufficiently complement you.”
“No one ever wants compliments,” the wedding shirt said, “only to avoid criticisms. And I am thankfully and rightfully beyond both, so my choice is mine, and it is you.”
“Perhaps,” the slacks slurred, “but I am missing my button, and I shall surely die of embarrassment if seen in even the most indecorous matter in this manner. Although, it seems I could usefully take but one of yours.”
The wedding shirt was momentarily disconcerted. “No, of course you may not; I am a diamond in this worldly haystack and must diligently avoid becoming a forgery,” he finally said with a voice of immediacy.
“That doesn’t sound right,” the loafers said.
“Yes,” said the slacks, addressing the wedding shirt, “you certainly are a diamond within hay, and fame must certainly safeguard itself. However, fame must additionally ensure the fame of its associations. For when the diamond wishes to interact, it cannot be surrounded only by hay. Even if it prudently selects only the sharpest of needles from within the hay, the integrity of the diamond will be blemished. To ensure its stability, a diamond must associate with other diamonds.”
The wedding shirt was quickly convinced. “Very well, I will gift you one of my buttons,” he said and fastened his favorite, top button onto the front of the slacks, and the two were as happy as an outfit and discussed tomorrow for some time. When too tired for even continued congratulations, they parted, and the wedding shirt returned to his hanger to sleep the last night before his unveiling. Yet his dreams had only just arisen when he was awoken.
“Oh, wedding shirt, wedding shirt,” cried the slacks, “we are ruined.”
“What is wrong?” asked the wedding shirt, clutching the slacks with wakening disorientation and protection.
“We have forgotten; oh, how could we have forgotten?”
“What have we forgotten?” the wedding shirt asked.
“Shoes,” wailed the slacks.
“You expect a king to be barefooted?” laughed the tie.
“No, of course not,” the wedding shirt explained. “I was merely taking my time in choosing,” he lied. He again examined the room for suitability, but he had never had a cobbler’s eye for shoes.
“How about that pair?” the slacks joyously and mercifully offered, indicating a pair of wholly brown Oxfords.
“I suppose,” the wedding shirt said, “but he appears lacking.”
“Yes, he is, but we can certainly recondition him,” said the slacks. He then exclaimed as if enlightened. “We must remove that pocket from your breast, split it, and then attach the brilliant strips of fabric to him. This way, he will not be solely, and boringly, plain.”
The wedding shirt was hesitant.
“Come now, wedding shirt,” the slacks said. “After all, you only have one pocket on your frame, and facial symmetry is truly alluring, especially for a diamond.”
The wedding shirt remembered what the slacks had told him before; he certainly did not want to associate with needles and hay. “You are right,” he said while ripping the pocket from his breast. “Let us hurry and finish.”
So the wedding shirt equally split his pocket into two halves, and the slacks artfully attached the two halves to the Oxfords.
“Oh, he looks wonderful and beautiful,” the slacks exclaimed when done, and he kissed the Oxfords.
“Yes, the nightmare is dispelled, and we may return to sleep,” the wedding shirt said. “I can hardly imagine the tragedy of my sleeping through tomorrow.”
The wedding shirt enjoyed his resumed dream, but that is the way it always is when one dreams of an ordained reality. Yet moments before his dream’s conclusion, the wedding shirt was wakened by a whisper.
“Wedding Shirt,” the slacks said, “I am sorry, but I cannot go with you today.”
“No, please. Why?”
“I am too embarrassed to say.”
“I do not have a belt.”
“Surely we can find you one,” the wedding shirt frantically said.
“It is too late, Wedding Shirt, I can already hear the prince approaching.”
“Oh, why must I be such a diamond,” the wedding shirt thoughtlessly uttered.
“I have an idea,” the slacks suddenly exclaimed, regaining color. “We must remove one of your sleeves, belt it through my loops, and fasten its ends. A belt of this kind would be quite novel.”
“But what of my symmetry?” the wedding shirt asked.
“Dissymmetry proves character,” offered the slacks.
The prince was coming ever nearer; the wedding shirt had no time to think of anything but diamonds. He sloppily ripped his sleeve from his side and tied it about the slacks. He narrowly finished before the entrance of the prince.
“Come, Aide, let us design an outfit beyond my bride’s,” the prince said.
“Certainly, Sir, and I would recommend, in such a situation, beginning with the most impressionable then following the slide of one’s eye.”
“You are truly to be a king’s aide,” the prince said.
“And you a king,” the aide replied, and the prince turned to the clothes.
The prince first noticed the slacks. “What an alarmingly noticeable belt,” he said. “They will make some sort of impression, will they not?”
“Yes, Sir, they certainly will.”
So the prince wore the slacks.
He then noticed the Oxfords. “Those are certainly interesting,” he said, “and they will be hailed a novel, will they not?”
“Yes, Sir, they certainly will.”
So the prince wore the Oxfords.
“And where is this new shirt?” he asked.
The aide looked about the closet then worryingly reviewed it, for the wedding shirt had lost his charm. “I am not sure, Sir.”
The prince was confused and doubtful. Then he laughed. “I understand you now, Aide; there is no new shirt. You know that the only novel way left to wear a shirt is to not wear it. Quite clever of you.”
“Yes, Sir,” the aide eagerly said. “Thank you.”
“Come now,” the prince said, “it is time to embrace my new title and bride.” And the prince posed importantly and sang: “If-she-be-as-brave-as-me, let-her-dress-sim-i-lar-ly.” And the two laughed and left.
There was only silence and stillness in the closet after the prince and aide. Very slowly, the wedding shirt removed himself from his hanger, fraying fabric swinging from his side, breast, and missing button. He wept, and the inaudible tears streamed down him like stains. He felt as if every needle in the world was plunging into him. Some noise near the door pitiably roused him, but it was apparent no one was returning, and his despair deepened as he soberly cursed himself for having such an involuntary inclination to hope. He dropped himself on the center of the floor, in a corpselike heap, and he settled there, apathy allowing ugly creases to envelope his skin.
The historic day was an immense success; the slacks and Oxfords were lauded as ingenious, as was the king. In fact, the three so relished the fame that they stayed out all evening, then all night, then all of the succeeding day; fame will do that.
There was no prolonged celebrating for the aide, however. The morning after the glorious wedding and coronation he was tasked with transferring all of the king’s clothing to the palace’s primary bedroom where they would join the new queen’s. He entered the new king’s old room and smiled at its memories. He entered the closet then recoiled in startled astonishment. He rubbed both his eyes. But it didn’t work. He was amazed. For on the closet floor lay all of the king’s clothing in a considerable pile, the articles enveloping, and each particular article tenderly and affectionately embracing, the famous wedding shirt.