Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Coat

She opens the closet door and removes the beloved coat from its wooden hanger. Ah, this coat. Such a symbol of autumn’s anticipated, yet strongly resisted, arrival. The wearing of this coat represents the complete death of summer and the true beginning of the long sojourn that is the New England winter season, a creature that always seems to come too early and stay far too long, like a houseguest who overstays his welcome.

This coat, bought at a thrift shop on Cape Cod, perhaps fifteen years ago, is soft in all the right places. Inside the collar and sleeves, a soft silky lining prevents any exposed skin from even a hint of irritation.

It is as if this coat was tailored specifically for her body. The sleeves are absolutely the right length. When she raises her arms to pluck an errant leaf from an overhanging branch, the sleeve of the coat doesn’t rise so far up her arm that her forearm feels inordinately exposed to the chill air. But neither does her arm feel unnecessarily restrained by the sleeve as she raises it above her head. It is as if the sleeve allows her arm to move---no, it almost encourages movement---and she traverses through space without hindrance or concern.

And now for the pockets. She could rhapsodize about these pockets. They are just deep enough to provide her hands with enough space to be comfortable, yet not so much that they feel like potatoes being shaken inside a oversize shopping bag too big to hold such a small load. These pockets are lined with a synthetic fleece that provides just enough insulating warmth when it is most needed. However, if she has no use for the pockets, they are the perfect size to hold her gloves on one side and her keys on the other. Pockets can be so disappointing and annoying in their inadequacy. But not these pockets! No. These pockets welcome their use, and they lend themselves to use like a good pocket should.

So of course the frontal pockets are worthy of a rhapsody, but the inner pockets---well, they’re worthy of a sonata. There’s nothing so unsatisfying as a coat without an inner pocket. Granted, it’s usually men who long for an inner pocket in which to stow manly things needed during the process of post-modern hunting and gathering that takes place in towns and cities worldwide. That secret pocket wards off thieves and the sleight of hand of semi-talented pickpockets, yet it is also provides a place close to the heart for objects that would feel far too vulnerable if kept in an outside pocket and potentially exposed to the wild and untamed air. Yes, this inner pocket is like a sonata.

Before we move on to another part of the coat’s anatomy, let us consider the ultimate pocket, the pocket that she didn’t even discover until she’d owned the coat for several seasons. This pocket, diminutive yet terribly useful once discovered, lives on the left side of the inner lining. Unlike the easily negotiated inner pocket on the inside right, this secret pocket lives on the inside left, slightly lower down and out of the way, yet still delightfully reachable under duress.

This extra pocket is, interestingly enough, held closed by a tightly sewn button of mother-of-pearl (a secret delight of which only she is glowingly aware), making it safe and secure for any manner of crucial personal ephemera. For her, this small but mighty pocket always holds two twenty-dollar bills and an extra credit card, an insurance policy against a forgotten purse, or a purse annoyingly empty of the wallet that she sometimes forgets to transfer from the last purse that served active duty. There is also a tiny nail clipper living at the bottom of this pocket, and she cannot even count how many times it has saved her from her brittle nails that always seem to be breaking and splintering. How she loves this pocket as she walks the streets with the full assurance that she’s always ready for anything.

Finally, the buttons on this coat are the coup de grace. Like the button on that most hidden of inner pockets, these fully visible buttons are themselves also mother-of –pearl, and they are the perfect size that merrily allows for easy fastening and unfastening, all while making a gentle statement of grace and simple beauty.

Yes, the collar, the sleeves, the lining, the buttons, the pockets, the coat’s perfect length, even the familiar smell-----it all makes this coat a talisman, a marker, a buoy in the waves. Sometimes, in the middle of summer, she’ll just open the closet and caress this beloved garment, knowing that even as she dreads the coming of winter, the coat, in its magnificent but simple utilitarian beauty, will see her through the long, cold months ahead.

(c) 2008 NurseKeith

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