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THE COAT by Robert John Miller

You don’t wear coats. You wear layers.

You’re outside, what, five minutes, ten minutes at a time?

Apartment to bus. Bus to work. Next door for lunch.

Coats are such a bougie luxury. What are these people preparing for? Ice fishing? Everest? You’re never more than ten seconds from a clean well-heated place.

But you tire of the questions. And there’s an online flash sale. Maybe a coat would be nice.

Remember: You know nothing about buying coats.

But that one on sale looks like the ones everyone has. Red patch. White thread. Maybe a goose is involved.

Two days later, you have a coat. Just like in the picture. Just like everyone else.

You put it on, go to work. Your patch is different, though. Red, yes. White thread. But huge. It looks like a hammer over the arctic. It’s not even a knock-off. It’s an entirely different brand.

No one ever fails to comment on this coat. It becomes a primary topic of conversation.

“Yes, I bought it online.”

“Yes, it was on sale.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess it does sort of look like those other ones.”

You start leaving the coat at home. Back to the layers.

One day you come home early and the coat is moving around the house of its own accord. It has turned the heat off. You watch it call the gas company, cancel the service.

You try to have a conversation but it just hangs itself back up in the closet.

You call the gas company.

“You literally just called us,” they say. “There’s a note on the file that says you would call back, and to ignore you.” They hang up. You start wearing layers around the house now, too.

The other coat questions return at work. The same questions that inspired you to buy the coat.

“Sure is cold out there,” they say. “Where’s your coat?”

You come home one night after a Christmas party. You have to force the door open.

A puffy goose down anorak is by the door, not thrilled about letting you in, but you squeeze by. There’s a ruby red camel coat dancing by your turntable. A raincoat and a trench coat come over to chat up the anorak.

A toggle coat is by itself in the corner, playing with its tassels. You go stand by it. Try to blend in.

Through the window you spy a duster out on the deck, sharing a cigarette with a bomber, both trying to impress a chesterfield looking longingly back inside at a motorcycle jacket. The field jacket to its right gets fidgety.

A group of varsity jackets are standing in a circle in the kitchen, drinking all your beer.

A cape and a cloak and a poncho are sitting around a roaring firepit in the back. You never got around to buying a firepit, so it’s confusing.

You follow a trail of noises into your bedroom, flip on the light. A parka and a pea coat are under your covers, zipping and buttoning and then unzipping and unbuttoning, then zipping and buttoning, faster each time. It’s a cacophony of snaps and whirs. They throw a pillow at you but you’ve already closed the door. The noises make you feel like you might get sick and you speed walk to the toilet. The door is locked so you start pounding.

Your bathrobe comes out wearing a smoking jacket underneath. Or maybe the smoking jacket is wearing your bathrobe, you’re not quite sure.

You call customer service. No returns. All sales final.

The party starts to wind down. Finally. You put on the kettle. Put on your pajamas.

Then the anorak sees you fighting to get your bathrobe to stay on and gets the varsity jackets to throw you out. They were leaving anyway. You ran out of beer.

You sleep in the bus terminal. At least it’s a well-heated place. In the morning you call a locksmith but they won’t help you get back inside unless you can prove you live there. They call the police for you. The police ask you to put the locksmith back on the phone. The police tell the locksmith who finally tells you that a police report had just been filed the night before about a prowler matching your description trying to get inside that same address, and that you should probably get out of there pretty quickly.

You go to the bank. They know you at the bank. But this time, they say, they are so sorry but they have to check your ID. Your ID is in your apartment. You’re still wearing pajamas. They aren’t supposed to tell you this without ID, they say, but all your accounts were liquidated that morning. They’re sure things will get sorted out though, they say.

You are afraid of showing up to work in pajamas, given the queries about coats, so you don’t go. No one notices. You’re sure things will get sorted out.

You now spend each day trying to find someone who might help you. The DMV wants your Social Security card. The Social Security office wants your birth certificate. City Hall says they have no record of your birth. The hospital where you were born has since closed. The library says you’re overdue on something called “The Trench Book” by Nick Foulkes. Social Services says they can get you on assistance, but they want you to sign a form that says you’re a homeless transient.

“But I’m not a homeless transient,” you argue. “I’ve just been locked out for a bit.”

Meanwhile, you keep sleeping at the bus terminal.

One day you walk by your old office. Your coat is at your desk. It looks like it just told a joke. No, no, it was making a toast. Your old boss pops champagne and sprays it all over your coat.

Someone notices you standing there. A moment of recognition, finally.

You nod. Smile. Wave.

They shut the blinds.

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