CLOUDS FLOCK TOGETHER LIKE MEAN GIRLS plotting to rain on my parade. De-coated, but not defeated, I phone my evil daughter. I practice sounding stern and cold and calm: “I want my coat back.” Then I call her on Speed Dial.
Voice mail. Which she never checks. Well, I have a way around that.
She stole my coat. Again. My daughters hate this coat, my most comfortable and beloved coat, somewhat of a Linus’s security blanket, it’s that snug and warm but not too hot and never too tight. This coat ended up at Goodwill and only by the grace of God did I find it there, and now it has been ripped from the coat rack at church, replaced with a stupid “packable” puff coat and a note.
I put on this stupid blue coat someone swapped with mine during the funeral luncheon and step out into the cold autumn air. White church behind me, clouds above me, shivering fir trees around me, wind whipping my hair: perfect! I fumble for the Insta-snap app, the selfie icon, the red dot that means I’m recording.
“Listen up, Phetamina.” That’s her user name.
With a sudden, sharp, prolonged breath, I realize she got it off my Rx label. Amphetamine salts. (Yes. I plan to get off it. Soon. The dang Adderall hasn’t helped at all with my narcolepsy.)
I try to hit “off” but must have hit send. Oops. I don’t know how to abort this video.
Well, she had it coming.
I start filming again. The note that came with the coat. Pink-ink on college-rule notebook paper. I recite, in snide-girl: “Please accept my apologies, and a new and better coat.” Snort. “I’m leaving a terrible home life and need to get away incognito. Keep the scarf, and consider yourself my guardian angel.” It’s a nice scarf, hand-knitted, and I can’t believe she’s letting it go. Someone probably hand-crafted this thing just for her. It reminds me of all the sad, hand-made baby blankets and afghans I see at Goodwill, all the books signed by indie authors, all the original artwork, all dumped off by offspring who don’t want stuff.
Six seconds is all ya get before Insta-snap goes into send mode? I’m not even close to done yet.
Take Four: “Terrible home life, Phetamina? We took your phone away for one week. Because you blocked me from all your social media. You know I only check in to make sure you’re not chatting with bad strangers. I want my coat back. You are so, so busted, you–”
Take Five: “You like this bettuh, Pheta-mina?” I angle my body for the camera. “A trendy new packable puff coat instead of my so-called dead animal, which isn’t even fur, but leopard print fleece, thank you very much, and now I look like a sausage, stuffed into a blue casing, you little–”
I don’t know how many words got cut off when my six seconds ran out, and I can’t play the video, so I snap a selfie with the roiling clouds. The white steeple underscores my righteous wrath.
GMuxx’s Writing Contest #2; art prompt, this photo by @torico
Thirty years old, that coat, and it still fit, unlike others that came and went as I bore four daughters and the assorted hallmarks of a half-century of life.
The phone buzzes in my hand. I swipe the screen.
“Mom! It wasn’t me this time,” the youngest of my evil offspring dares me to believe.
I try counting to ten and make it to one. “If I find my coat at Goodwill again–”
“It wasn’t me!” Always interrupting her mother, that spoiled little Millennial. Using that tone of voice, that know-it-all attitude I have never modeled, least of all to my own mother.
“Terrible home life,” I shout, a tremor in my voice. “You and your First World Problems. You’ve read Anne Frank. You–”
“Mom. I did not write that note. And if someone took your dead animal to Goodwill, you’ll have to look in their trash bin. There’s a reason you found it on the Last Chance rack. You couldn’t pay someone to wear that coat.”
“Well, someone must be wearing it right now.” And feeling very retro, very adult, in my coat.
I hang up and feel for the note, which I’d stuffed into a pocket. Does my Emma have pink ink? Does she even know words like incognito?
The stupid coat is soft, lightweight, surprisingly warm and comfy. Maybe I’d get one someday, in black. But I still want my “dead animal” back.
Fractured blue lights swirl around me. Police? What’d I do? The girls threaten me with child abuse if I so much as glare at them, but this–this calls for war.
The car blocks me from crossing the street. An officer steps out, looking at his hand-held, then at me. “That’s the scarf, all right.”
Crimson and yellow, hand knitted, in harlequin. I actually like the scarf. A lot.
“Ma’am, we need you to come with us.”
Never try to resist arrest, right? He escorts me into the back seat. Of a squad car. Me!
I don’t say a word. I just let them haul me off, but someone is going to hear about this, all right.
At the station they demand my name, rank, and serial number.
“This girl,” they show me a photo of a girl in the coat and scarf I’ve been stripped of, “Kim Dewitt, was reported missing by her parents. They’re afraid she may have run away with a man she met on Instagram.”
Terrible home life? The nerve. Oh, the stupendous stupidity of that girl.
Also: Someone recognized the coat that fast, called the police, and I’m busted? Never before have I seen police respond that fast to anything. Computers, algorithms. They’re quicker than guardian angels.
“I’d like to report a stolen coat,” I say.
They don’t give a rat’s ass about my own missing coat.
Granted, the missing girl who ran off with this coat is a higher priorty. I’m well aware. If my daughter had run off with a stranger from the internet and someone was spotted wearing her coat and scarf, well, I’d want the police to haul that person in for questioning, too.
A scuffle of bodies and loud voices, and into the station comes… my coat!
“I ain’t done no wrong,” says a tall man wearing my coat over a pink Power Rangers costume. It stops six inches above his bare feet, and he’s so skinny, I’m not surprised he can fit into a child’s castoff.
“Like I tol’ you,” the man says, “I found it in the street. I din’t see who throw it. I din’t see no car.”
Not for a minute do I believe he’s the internet stranger Kim Dimwit ran off with.
I’m lost in the shuffle as they sort it out with the poor homeless man.
My coat sleeves stop at his elbows. Inspired, I slip out the door and hustle to the Goodwill store near the station. There, on the Last Chance rack, is a nice London Fog with a zip-out lining. Add a hat, scarf and gloves. Later, I’ll figure out his shoe size.
Ooh, and here is a jacket just my size, with big black buttons and faux fur trim. Forty-four cents. Only at Goodwill!
Back at the station, the man is standing like a fashion model, hands on hips, nose in the air, waiting in statuesque silence as an officer types notes into a laptop.
And there is my daughter. She saunters up from behind and claps the man’s shoulder. “Nice coat.”
His glassy eyes come to life, like street lights at dusk. He turns a slow 360, a peacock on the runway. He really seems to love this coat. My coat. Mine.
Emma glares at me. “Told ya it wasn’t me.”
“Wait’ll you hear about this teen runaway’s home life,” she says in that reproachful tone that no daughter should use on her mother. “You might stop jumping to so many conclusions.”
She could be right, but I’m done letting my daughter chastise me in public. Too much of that with the coat, already, which I would get back, and wear again, no matter what anyone said about my “dead animal.”
I hold up the trench coat and try to get the homeless man’s attention. “I’ll trade ya. This is a much nicer, warmer coat.”
He flicks his gaze over the London Fog and crows with laughter.
It occurs to me that he could find better fitting, better looking castoffs than a pink Power Rangers costume. He likes my “dead animal.” He wears it with a saucy confidence I need to emulate.
It also occurs to me I’ll never get my coat back.
Well, then, I’m keeping this red and yellow harlequin scarf. The missing girl left it behind as part of a transaction for my coat. I am legally entitled to keep this it, right?
“Mom.” Emma takes that tone with me. “You’re in trouble for leaving the station without their go-ahead.” Her tone shifts, authoritative and oddly familiar. “Don’t you wonder how I knew to come here? Our home phone rang. Imagine my surprise when it was the police. Looking for a Lynnette Bennet, who had sneaked out of the station after being arrested. My mother!”
I really need to teach her to respect her elders.
Her eyes flick up and down, and I see judgment pass over the hand-knitted harlequin around my neck. “Seriously? We get rid of the dead animal, only to be punished with this…nightmare of red and yellow diamonds?”
I flip the scarf over my shoulder, trying to look as saucy as the homeless man who’s appropriated my beloved coat.
“Indeed. I do believe it’s mine now.”
Bossy little thing.
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Title/Graphic by @bex-dk; images from pixabay, except this photo snapped by a niece.
My sister, in THE coat: