At the second-hand shop.
“Nice jacket’” you think as you snuggle into it. Comfy. Soft, well-worn, almost alive. And spookily it fits as if it had been custom-tailored for you just now.
“Nice skin,” your date says, looking at you admiringly from the other side of the isle where she had been browsing 1920s dresses.
“What do you think,” you say, turning in her gaze like a model, striking a pose. “Fifties? Or aviator from the war?”
“Fits you like a glove, though,” she says, coming closer. “The patina makes it look antique but the style…I’m not sure. Can’t decide. Could even be the latest…”
“Impossible,” you say. “I got it from the forties / fifties section over here.”
“What’s it matter,” she asks playfully. “You’ve already decided it’s your new skin anyway. And it’s nice to have people guessing, isn’t it? Not clearly stereo-typed.”
“Don’t want to take it off anymore,” you say and stuff your old jacked into your backpack. “Let’s get out of here.”
And out you go. Of course you pay for the jacket on the way out. Nothing to worry about. It would be a bargain at any price. And you make sure you keep the receipt. No way you’re going to risk anyone doubting your proper ownership. Not that the incredible fit of the jacket would allow anyone to think it wasn’t tailored for you.
“Ma’am?” The waiter looks at your date.
“I’ll have the small mixed salad, easy on the dressing, hold the bacon, please,” she says, handing over the menu.
“Very well, and for you, sir?”
“I’ll have the T-bone steak,” you say, taking care not to salivate all over the menu. “Rare, as in warm outside, bloody inside, please.”
“You’re having what,” your date asks quite clearly shocked, as the waiter takes your menu and turns away. “You’re eating meat?”
“What’s the fuss,” you say, not understanding her upset. “So I eat meat. Can’t a man change his mind sometime?”
“You said you’ve been vegetarian for what, ten years, and you just go and ‘change your mind,’ just like that? What happened to cruelty to animals? What happened to the detrimental health effects of red meat? Or was all that talk about vegetarian and compassion and health and awareness just meant to get into my panties?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to shock you like that,” you say although you feel resentful rather than apologetic. And you add, although you don’t mean it, “I can change my order…”
“No, you know what, you go and eat your bloody dead cow. And then maybe you find another cow to be with. I’m out of here. This is disgusting. You are disgusting.”
Your gaze follows her as she storms out. When the restaurant’s door closes behind her you find that the guy at the next table over is looking at you. You shrug as if to say, “women, what do you do, can’t live with them, can’t live with them.”
He nods understandingly as he turns back to his own date.
You turn back to your table as your steak arrives. Ah, meat. Why would anyone want to be vegetarian.
Breakfast at home the next morning.
“Did you sleep in that jacket?” Your room mate looks up from his cereal as you half sleepwalk into the kitchen, yawning.
“Coffee,” you croak. “No questions before I’ve had a few cups.”
“Right,” he says, “coffee. Next thing you tell me you want one of my cigarettes.”
“No, got my own right here,” you say, annoyed with his reticence. You pull a soft pack of luckies out of your right jacket pocket, a zippo out of the left, and light up.
“Now where is that coffee?”
You turn to the percolator, inhaling deeply, and almost faint. The next thing you know you’re sitting on the kitchen floor coughing your lungs out. Still with no coffee.
“Here you are,” your room mate says, handing you a mug. “Judging from your new swagger I suppose you take it black.”
“As if there’s any other way,” you say and take a sip almost choking on the vile taste.
When you’ve finally managed to rearrange the room contents satisfactorily, to wit, yourself on a chair at the kitchen table, lighter and cigarette pack, back in the jacket pockets, coffee mug on the table in front of you, ash tray in easy reach, cigarette suspended in the left edge of your lips, you wonder why the room is gently turning and why your left eye keeps blinking and watering.
“Looks like you had an interesting evening last night,” my room mate says. “How about I whip up your muesli and you tell me all about it?”
“Fuck hamster fodder,” you say, “get me a full English and we have a deal.”
“Curiouser and curiouser, indeed,” your room mate says. “Next time you change your eating habits this radically you may want to make sure the kitchen is stocked properly. I can offer eggs, I think, and there may still be some ham or bacon or something. Will that do for now?”
“Whatever,” you say, “as long as it’s properly charred.”
You tangle things again a little as you try to simultaneously take a drag from the cigarette and a sip from your coffee. You know this was supposed to be easy and relaxing. You’ll just have to keep trying.
Shivering you snuggle into the comforting warmth of the jacket and feel how the world settles in around you.
On the way to work.
Your hand keeps going back into your jacket pocket, touching the zippo, idly toying with it, just short of lighting it. Your mind is distracted. You can’t smoke on the subway. For some reason you have a hard time remembering that. There seems to be something else you should be remembering. About smoking. And coffee. And fried animal…
Ah, never mind.
Your room mate suggested to leave the jacket at home and wear something more office-like to the, ah, office, but you insisted it’d be fine. At long last you agreed to put some smart clothes underneath, and when you looked at the results in the mirror it seemed like the jacket had subtly adjusted to the different tone of dress.
“Wow, that almost looks like a smart sports coat or something,” your room mate commented. “Hadn’t noticed that before. You might just get away with it, you know.”
And that had been that.
Now you’re half-way to the office and you’re not sure. Not about the jacket. That was as sure as could be. About the office. You had been there yesterday, surely, and every workday and many non-working days for years. You know that. And yet, thinking about today’s agenda is difficult. It’s like it keeps slipping away when you try to look at it directly, straight-on.
Your hand comes out of the other pocket, holding something. Without thinking you slip it onto your face.
“Love the shades, man,” says the guy next to you. “Vintage or replica?”
You look at him, blinking to help your eyes adjust to the different lighting. Yes, that’s a pair of sunglasses you just pulled out of that jacket. They feel right. But that doesn’t mean you can see too well with them. You’re in the subway, after all, not…
“Vintage, of course,” says another guy. “Look at his jacket. Like straight from the movies. Some 50s or 60s rock’n’roll flick or something. So cool.”
You smile noncommittally but don’t respond. They keep nattering about cool and vintage and retro but you tune them out.
They call it ‘Human Resources’
“We’re afraid we’ll have to let you go,” she says looking almost but not quite at you. “I’m curious, though. And maybe this will help us improve working conditions as you know we are a learning organization. You’ve managed to violate almost all our workplace policies in record time. Looking at your record I see you’ve been a poster-employee before. A real asset to the team. Fast-tracked for a top management future. Exemplary behavior and attitude. Not a single reprimand in the seven years you’ve been with us. And all of a sudden…what happened?”
“You should be a model or an actress or something, not sitting in a stuffy office like this,” you say, the first thing that comes to your tongue as you try to get your head around her question. “Hot thing like you. Secretary, maybe, but, nah, definitely too hot, too beautiful.”
She surprises you by turning crimson. Wouldn’t have thought that possible, make-up and all. The pulsing vein in the middle of her forehead doesn’t add to her overall attractiveness, either. Maybe she has too much of a temper. That would explain why she’s not the top guy’s secretary.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” she says and seems to make good on it, deflating and decolouring as she says it. “Humor me, please. Last week you were one of the most exemplary members of our little tribe, and from one day to the next you seem to have been replaced by some kind of throw-back to a darker age. You can trust me, this is confidential, just between you and me, what happened to you?”
Your hand emerges from your jacket pocket, and almost of its own volition holds out what it found there, offering it to her, as your face smiles and your mouth says, “Seeing as this is confidential, how about dinner, you and me, candle light, strings, the works?”
Your eyes stray from her face as she once more goes all crimson and come to rest on your hand. A small but very nicely shaped box of chocolates. The ones with real fine spirits in them. Almost to good to waste on this one. But yes, she has seen them, too.
“I think that was the final policy,” she says, her voice quiet and monotone. “If these are real vintage you’re not only offering me alcohol but we actually need to invent a policy just so you can violate it, against poisoning co-workers with past-sell-by confectionary.”
Yes, definitely a waste. You pull your hand back and open the box. You dimly remember a movie where the main character kept going on about boxes of chocolates and life. Popping one into your mouth you think seems to be someone else’s memory.
“Your loss,” you say, leaving it open whether you mean the chocolates, the date, or the employment, and walk out.
In the park.
“You know, you remind me of my son,” says the bum on the next bench over. He’s been talking intermittently to himself and to the pigeons and to random passersby and their dogs the whole time since you’ve arrived. You’ve half-listened, half ignored him. Now you perk up.
“How do you know I’m not him,” you say, more statement than question. You find statements are easier than questions. Less risky, too.
“He had a jacket just like that,” the bum says and you find your hands touching the leather possessively.
“Must be a gazillion jackets like this,” you say.
“Maybe. Maybe not.” He scratches himself luxuriously and you try hard not to envision what’s crawling. “But that’s not it.”
“That’s not what?” Damn, a question. You were going to avoid that.
“That’s not why I know you’re not him.”
“Maybe I am.”
“I doubt that,” he says and points. “You’re lacking the extra holes in your head. Here and here.”
“Sorry to hear that,” you offer. “Not that I don’t have them but that your son did. Bummer.”
“Long time ago,” he says. “He also had these shades. Were very fashionable then with lads his age everywhere. So he had ‘left’ and ‘the other left’ engraved on the upper edges of the insides of his glasses. Said it helped him remember. Not sure what.”
You suddenly feel cold. You catch your hands short of whipping the shades off your face and stuffing them back in the jacket pocket. You glare at the old bum, still not seeing him, really, as you walk away. You tell yourself you’re not running. Just taking a stroll. There’s nowhere to run to, anyway.
Feeling dizzy you walk trying to clear your head. The park isn’t very big and you can really do without another encounter with the old crazy bum. So you don’t turn back when you reach the edge of the park but keep walking.
You ignore people’s stares as well as most of what is going on around you. In particular that includes a rather aggressive car. Somehow you remember that streets need to be crossed with care and only in certain places. Them being full of speeding cars who aren’t watching out for careless pedestrians. But you also remember sparse, slow-moving traffic that can be waded through without more than a friendly honk and wave.
One of those sets of memories doesn’t quite match this moment, though, you find yourself musing just before the lights go out as a consequence of ignoring that particular car.
In the hospital.
You come back to a weird kind of deja-vu. The smell is overwhelmingly familiar. Something to do with pain. Yes. That’s familiar, too. Hospital. Indeed.
“Ah, there you are, sir,” says the nurse. “Welcome back. You’ll be OK soon. Try to refrain from playing tag with cars in the future.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind, ma’am,” you say to her receding back. Then you notice what’s missing.
“Ma’am,” you shout, panic rising, “where’s my jacket? I had it on…”
She turns back and points, looking too tired and too harassed to actually respond.
Relieved you grab it from the bedside chair and pull it on over the hospital gown. There, that’s better. Nothing bad can happen now.
Wait a minute. You just had a nasty accident. This jacket…
But the voice recedes like a siren in the night, blown away by unseen winds.
Walking it off.
You don’t cough too much anymore when you inhale. Some small echo in your head seems to wonder at the fact that you’re smoking at all, but like walking it feels natural. You’ve been doing that as long as you can remember, haven’t you? Trying to remember an actual instant of smoking, say, a month ago, gives you a headache so you take another drag, let it sit down until the urge to cough is gone, and exhale the disturbing thoughts together with the smoke.
The hospital gown doesn’t really protect your nether regions (and your legs) from the bracing night air but the jacket is snug and warm and almost seems to compensate. At least it makes it easy to ignore the chills.
More difficult to ignore is the fact that you feel certain about who you are but you don’t even know where to go once they let you. For the time being you are here, they have encouraged you to go for these walks in the hospital’s park, and you don’t have to worry much about after. But of course you find you do.
The doctors and nurses don’t know. You’re not yelling it from the rooftop. Let them tend to the bruises and scratches and whatnot your body earned fighting that car. You can take care of your head yourself.
What if it’s a consequence of the accident, though, you think. It might be damage to the brain or something. That’s where the thinking happens, isn’t it. Has to be, the way it gives you proper headaches all the time when you do too much of it or something.
Nah, they would have found brain damage. They said they’d checked the head and there was no sign of injury inside and out. The neck was a different story, of course, but that can’t be what’s hampering you, can it? The collar is off now, anyway, so it should be getting better.
Only it isn’t. You try to remember one last time. But you’re not even sure what it is you’re trying to remember. When the headache start again you light up another fag and walk a little faster.
Enough for one night.
You take another turn. Deeper into a part of town you’ve never been to. And yet you know when and where to turn. You haven’t seen anyone out for at least two blocks now. It’s daytime but the alleys you are following like a thread have a feel of night to them that makes you look over your shoulder again and again.
The shops look old and derelict and still they appear to be open to business. What business you cannot even guess at. You shudder and pull your jacket closer around you more for protection than for warmth. There is no chill, there doesn’t even seem to be any wind. Actually the air feels stuffy and dead.
You notice your steps seem to make no sound. You put your feet down harder, strain to listen, and yes, there, at the edge of hearing, is still a sound. Like shuffling. Is there an echo? You hurry up, taking another turn you know you need to take although you neither know why nor have you ever been there before. You’re not even sure you’re in the same city you started in.
Time passes. You lose track of it but you’re quite sure it’s still passing. You try to remember but even the beginning of today’s walk is hazy. You get as far back as a few corners but there’s nothing else left in your memory as far as you can tell except this still place and the steps you still need to take.
You have completely lost track now. You find yourself standing in front of a shop. One of many around here. No sign. A grimy shop window, the display backed by a curtain. A single dummy on display, one of those torso-on-a-stick affairs without head. Wearing a leather jacket.
Without hesitating you open the door and step up into the shop. Why you should hesitate you don’t know, and the thought passes quickly as you close the door behind you. It’s one of those with a little curtain in the little window set into the upper half. There’s even a little bell that tinkles when you open and close the door. The sound is calming, and together with the sound of the door closing solidly it makes you feel like you have arrived somewhere you have been trying to reach for a long time.
A weary traveler, finally arriving back home. Safe.
You have a moment to take in the surroundings. It’s a small and simple shop. A small counter in the center, with a curtain-covered door behind it leading further in, another two of those half dummies, each with other jackets, you can now see they are leather and look custom made. Like the two rows of jackets along the back wall on either side of the door.
Before you can step up and take a closer look at the jackets that seem to be calling to you like old friends you haven’t seen in a long time, the curtain behind the counter moves and a man steps into the shop.
His face shifts from distracted concern to a warm and welcoming smile.
“Ah, there you are,” he says, stepping around the counter with his hands held out to you. “You’ve taken your sweet time. Let’s see whether what you’ve brought this is worth the wait.”
For a moment you think you remember that you should hold out your hands or say something. And there is a tiny impulse that points towards another action, entirely. But before you can move on either of those they disappear and you are happy to just stand there and let the tailor look you up and down, walk around you.
When he pinches your cheek you don’t flinch. When he touches your elbow you follow him. He leads you to the curtain. Pulls it aside. Gently guides you through and into the workshop beyond.
The scene you find feels as welcoming and homely as the shop had. A tiled floor, scrubbed meticulously clean, slightly tilted towards an industrial drain in one corner. Vats and work benches along the walls give you a glow of anticipation you can’t name. Seeing the old-fashioned sewing machine in another corner you heave a sigh.
You let the tailor guide you to the stainless steel table in the center of the room. You sit on it and as he helps you out of the jacket you know you truly have come home.