A tiny slit of light creaks through the ill-fitting wardrobe door even after it clicks shut behind me. Under different circumstances to these I might feel self conscious, or perhaps unbalanced. But the pain of loss has driven me here, and I care nothing for such thoughts. The coat hangers move quickly under my touch whining the screech of steel on steel, till at last I find what I want. It slips around my shoulders easily, enveloping me in its scent and at once I breathe in a thousand memories. The smell of spearmint gum still lingers in the pocket, and the faint tang of old-fashioned shaving soap comes up to me from the warmth. This coat is a traditional hounds’ tooth tweed -- but worn soft --and the lining still glows cheerfully, a dull vermilion red like the inside of a magicians’ cloak. My cheek rubs along the collar where the fibers are flattened with wear, my eyes closed now against the darkness.
The coat is big so I feel like a child, nestled down amongst its warmth. The arms wrap around my body twice, like an embrace, although this was not something which happened with any degree of regularity when my father was alive. Perhaps at Christmas, or if I was ill and therefore a bit weepy.
Everyone in my father’s family was an arch Victorian and truly believed that displays of affection – or anything really -- were shameful, somehow belying weakness. As a result, every crumb of praise or acknowledgement uttered by my father was to be cherished – carefully evaluated in the mind over and over. I recall each nuance of facial expression, the crinkle of his cheek and smooth slope of his bluish jaw line as he had spoken. Often it was only a single word, kindly delivered in his soft British accent. He had struggled to eliminate this accent altogether since it betrayed industrial roots. But I watched and listened for these slips hungrily and stored them in my memory as proof of his being mortal.
When my father died, an obscure uncle appeared from nowhere to offer his help in sorting through things -- he professed shock at the notion of giving clothes to the Salvation Army and immediately began citing their Hardly-Been-Worn status with all the fervor of an evangelist. Our living room was host to a one man fashion romp as he sorted through wool suits, and squeezed his bovine feet into handmade leather shoes. “These are like new!” he scolded as if this were somehow our fault. As I coldly regarded him in my father’s blazer and merchant navy tie I was fascinated by his callousness, which seemed to know no bounds. Certainly, he made no attempt to stop my mother as she bolted from the room, her pale eyes streaming. I decided then and there he was not having the coat, and stowed it away in the closet where it remained hanging, dignity in tact. This made me feel rather smug and hate my uncle rather less.
Quite suddenly, I do not want to be discovered sitting in the dark wearing the coat of someone who is no longer alive. A warm blast of claustrophobic shame floods through me as if I have committed some dire sin. It occurs to me that this is the type of thing a therapist would definitely write down.
I open the door slowly and light floods in. Blinking, I shrug off the coat and carefully replace it on the hanger. It swings slightly as it settles with the others on the rail. As I lean against the door to close it, my hand catches on the tweed again and it falls to rest heavily in my arms. Suddenly it becomes what it actually is -- an old coat frayed at the bottom -- and I wonder if it’s time to say good-bye. Pausing, head bowed, I listen, hoping for some kind of sign to help me. But there is nothing to hear except the soft chiming of empty hangers.