/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;}
I love this time of year, in this town. The trees are poised, waiting, their green leaves drying in the memory of another season. The air is clear as glass, clear as ice, clear as the sharp blue sky above, clear as her face when she wakes in the morning.
Walking down the sidewalks of the brown-gold downtown, it feels as though the wind pushes us to our destination. Now home, now work. The whole town sings with the rhythm of a dying year; school buses, turtlenecks, wood smoke in the evening, pumpkins sprawled on porches.
I am drunk in love with this time of year, and that is when the Girl finds it.
“I brought my coat to keep here – do you mind?” Her voice rings through the hallway, and when I come round the corner, I see her silhouette surrounded by golden dust motes. The closet door hangs open. “Ugh, there’s no room to hang it. The closet’s stuffed like a turkey.”
“Like Cornish hens,” I offer. I capture her from behind, my gangly arms linked around her and my chin on her shoulder. And from this vantage point, I see why the closet will accept no more patrons. A dark wool sleeve juts from the other parkas and jackets, and I see the sweeping length of it crumpled on the closet floor.
I release the Girl and instead capture the coat, withdrawing it and holding it to my nose. It smells of burning leaves and sharp cold nights and tobacco smoke.
“Good lord, looks like something Ichabod Crane would wear. Is it really yours? Tell me it’s an ex-girlfriend’s,” the Girl says. “Tell me it’s from a six-foot-five girl named Greta. Tell me you stole it from a Goodwill. Tell me you have a brother you never told me about, with horrible fashion taste.”
I smile at the dust motes in the air and don’t answer, turning with the coat and heading to the kitchen. As I lay it on my tiny oak table and make us a pot of tea, I wonder how many others there are like me right now, laying out our October Coats. I know that I’m not the only one who opens my closet to find it one day each year. I know there must be hundreds, thousands, of these coats, and hundreds, thousands, of people to wear them. But of course I have never seen one.
The Girl has wrestled her plaid coat into the closet and joins me in the kitchen. “Your smile looks fairly sinister,” she tells me, accepting a cup of tea. In my little kitchen, all yellows and ivories and avocados, she is a stark creature made of black and white, and she is beautiful. She pouts. “And that coat is still here. I thought you would’ve donated it to the war effort or made it into a dog bed by now or something. It really is yours?”
I touch the sleeve, and the coarse wool tickles my fingertips. “It’s not mine.”
All of the other Girls have loved the coat, and that somehow made me love them less. But this Girl is staring at it as if she knows how out of place it is in my tiny townhouse, and it’s that that makes me say, “But it’s mine for the night. What are you doing tonight?”
The Girl gets more sugar for her tea. She looks petulantly into the depths of her tea cup and stirs. “Probably riding you like a pony and annoying the neighbors.”
“Would you like to go out?”
“Will you be wearing that awful coat?”
I feel my mouth widen into a smile, a smile that reaches all the way to my eyes and crinkles my eyes. “Yes, I will be.”
She makes a face. “Can I pretend that I don’t know you, if anyone asks?”
I put down my cup and pick her up instead. Her tea sloshes as I set her on the counter so that she is face to face with me. “Don’t you always?”
“You spilled my tea,” the Girl says, but she kisses me.
* * * *
I’ve never taken anyone with me when I wear the coat, but I don’t tell the Girl this as she stands in the narrow entry way and pulls on her plaid coat and her long fingerless gloves and her mile-long white scarf. The evening crawls in the transom window above the door, stretching long golden fingers across the ceiling.
Outside, the sky is deeply blue, waiting for stars and for me.
I take the October Coat and shrug it on; the weight of it on my shoulders and the heat of it across my chest is a familiar one. It is so much larger now than it was when I was a boy. Back then, I’d waited by my parents’ hall closet each year, opening the door every few moments to see if it had made its appearance yet. I knew now that it only came when your back was turned.
“You look like an undertaker from the Matrix,” the Girl says. “It’s hideous.”
“You’re being quite annoying tonight,” I tell her.
“Sorry, that’s the personality I’m wearing, all evening. It goes with the gloves. Have you changed your mind about going out with me?”
She knows I haven’t, so I open the door and let the evening rush in around us, a few early dead leaves scuttling into the hall behind us. The night air hums in my ears and in my head, the invisible stars over head singing out that they knew me and the mists crawling over the fields outside the town whispering that they were waiting for me. And I begin to laugh.
And though she hates the coat, she begins to laugh too, because she loves to hear me laugh.
And so we go, into the evening. Around us, children are knocking on doors and saying “trick-or-treat,” and even though we get no candies, our costumes are better than theirs. As I pass by them, the mothers shiver and hold their arms around themselves. And the grandmas at the doors, passing out candies, remark on the cold.
We walk downtown, with its close buildings that tower dark above us, and the Girl looks at our reflections in the huge black shop windows. I know she sees that the coat doesn’t appear in the reflections, but she doesn’t remark on it. She says nothing at all as I reach my finger out to drag upon the glass, leaving dry white frost written in its wake.
Behind me, leaves begin to swirl, dry and rattling. The spindly maples along the sidewalk, dreaming of the sun, blush and redden as we pass. I step over a shallow puddle nestled beside the curb as we cross the street, and the surface hardens, reflecting brilliantly in the lights of a passing car.
We walk through the misty park, and around me the trees are brilliantly red and gold, jewels in this suddenly cold night. I stop then, because I realize the Girl has not spoken since we left the house. I don’t touch her hands where they hang by her sides. When she opens her mouth to speak, I feel my love hanging between us, waiting to fly or drop when the words come out.
“You missed one,” she says, and points to a green canopy amongst the ruddy dying leaves.
“Very bad form,” I say.
“No one else has seen you wear it, have they,” she says. I shake my head, and she frowns for half a moment before rescuing her smile. “Lucky for them.”
Then she nods and takes my bare hand in her gloved one. We walk together, frost bristling the grass behind us, and change the seasons with us.
At home, in the dark entry way, the Girl waits beside me as I carefully hang the coat back in the closet. I look at the dark shape of it for a long moment, hanging in the closet amongst all the other parkas and jackets.
I know I’ll never see it again.
I close the jacket, and the Girl takes my hand. I can feel the end of the year everywhere inside me.
Author’s Note: It’s October, and I’m officially alive. Sometimes it feels like I wait all year for fall.
image courtesy: EssJay is Happy in NZ