The Things You Wear

Stephanie Dupal

You stand near the arboretum gate, your hip against the ornamental rock etched with the resonant words of a conservationist. You don’t own a watch, and you wonder if your date will show. You dressed carefully, so he would recognize you. You’re wearing your beige overcoat, the oversized overcoat, the overcoat you bought for two dollars at the thrift store you think is run by polygamists. Three women operate the store, all young and plain with plaited hair, despite tending a swarm of kids. While you shopped, the children were hollering crashing scenarios on their riding toys and a little boy wearing a plastic brown cowboy hat caught hold of the overcoat’s belt and pulled until it slipped through the loops and dragged the dusties around in circles on the store floor. That’s when you said “hey,” and the middle woman dropped the price to two bucks. Woody’s mother, you thought.

You wear your beige overcoat with the belt wound in a square knot, something solid and tight that reminds you that life is rather loose and undefined, yet through the knot, the fold-turn-grab-cinch-repeat knot, you have control over something as complex as the shape of your body. The skinny look pleases you. Jackie O, or at least Jackie before the O—Jackie K—would have approved. You saw those pictures of her enormous eat-face black glasses. You saw the white pearls against her black crewneck t-shirt, her cone-shaped breasts emerging in defiance. A kindred spirit, you believe.

Under the overcoat, your cable-knit lambswool turtleneck stretches to your chin. You are reminded of its scratchiness every time you pass the first arm through its sleeve, yet the grace it gives your neck is well worth it. Your aunt Sonia—Sophronia at birth, Sophie as child, then Sonia the teenager turned adult turned middle-age aunt—killed off two long months of watching evening television, with her feet warmly shod in Phentex slippers, a Phentex afghan draped over the sofa’s back and tucked under hers, while knitting that mariner blue turtleneck sweater for you. You thanked your lucky stars that it too was not Phentex.

The pants could be your showcase piece. They’re velvet and hand-embroidered with a shimmer of seed beads. You don’t know who embroidered those but you were charmed by the pattern of leaves. The pants you did not get at the Polygamist Thrift Store, that’s what you call it, and that’s what your cousin—the neighbor of the male owner—claims as well, confirmed in your mind by the sight of the swarm and the three crescendo nitwits who rung up your first and last purchase of a coat there. You say the pants come from a real rag shop. You even imagine one of the clerks, on a break from smoking something in the backroom, took time to add those seed beads because the buzz was wearing thin, and it was all she could do to stop herself from apprehending the stir of the front door bell, which eventually did stir when you came in.

Because of the overcoat’s size, you are losing the prized effect of the pants. The overcoat overcasts them too much and only when you see yourself in a full-length three-way mirror do you realize the combination of coat and good pants is not so effective. You retaliate with bold and bright ideas: the overcoat is a Trojan horse, which you once saw replicated in the display case of a small independent bookstore. Only when you open the coat do the soldiers of your sartorial genius spill out.

On this misty soon-to-rain day, boots are a must. You stand there, maybe shivering a little more than you’d like, waiting. These boots slip up beneath the razored velvet of your pants, boots that go up to your patella and kick in the reflex mechanism every time you stand up too quickly. The square heel you just like so-so, but the reinforced rounded tip thrills you. The eco-leather has achieved that rough-to-ride authenticity, while the insoles bear the print of your toes in a mark of ownership, not to mention the cooped up vaporous smell that is yours and no one else’s, which wafts when you take them off in the evenings.

You think of the foot fetishist you dated some time ago when you see your bare feet. Not that you look at your feet too often, but often enough to remember the foot fetishist. He loved the bone on the top of your foot, which protrudes excessively, in your opinion, but beautifully, in his. You recall his comment about the beauty of that bone. He even added a description of the origin of the word for it, but you’ve forgotten that part of the relationship, and the last time you thought of him, stepping out of the shower, you could not even remember his middle name, much less the Latinate origins of a bone.

Today you stand there, beautiful and thin as a paper bag, leaning now, your back half hiding the words of John Muir. You wait in your best clothes, in your oversized overcoat and the mariner blue of the turtleneck, with your favorite pants sticking out like the blunt end of chopsticks, stilted in dark brown boots. You are unaware that you’re that beauty pinned on a rock, with your cold small hands covering petrified syllables. You just shiver, clopping about in your heels, and you wonder why you’re still waiting for a stranger. Yet you wait, armored in this outward skin you’ll shed tonight like a molting snake, and truth beseeches you. If only you’d remembered the old fur hat, the one with a peacock plume of green, perhaps then—then!—he would notice you. Then, you’d feel complete.

Stephanie Dupal's writing appears in small literary reviews and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is completing a short story collection titled Small Signals and Other Stories and is at work on a novel set in 1930s Missouri. She teaches composition and literature at Northern Virginia Community College.