THE NEW COAT
by Maggie Nerz Iribarne
Content Warnings: Infidelity
Meryl slid the hangers along a rack, one by one, perusing the hodgepodge of thrift-store duds. She came upon a thin coat, pulled it out to take a closer look – Wedgewood blue with a sort of a raised print. She shrugged it on and looked in the mirror. Admiring its large buttons and swingy cut, she turned this way and that. She felt like an artist, thinking a beret would be a nice addition to the look.
‘That’ll hide a multitude of sins,’ the old man at the cash register commented.
At one point, this probably would have bothered her.
‘I think I’ll take it,’ she said.
She considered the multitude of her husband’s sins.
All the clichéd signs had been there. She was forbidden from knowing his password, he’d told her, in no uncertain terms, never to touch his phone. He repeated excuses – I’ve got a work thing this weekend – saying them too quickly, right before switching out the light and rolling to his side in their bed. Night after night, Meryl laid awake, staring off into the darkness, feeling a numb self-hatred.
She had known, but had tried not to know. Now, somehow it seemed if she had figured it out, confronted him first, it would have been better. She wouldn’t have been the stricken woman, screaming into the face of her husband, left sobbing on the bathroom floor, a cliché…
The register rang, the cash drawer slamming shut. Meryl, thrift-store coat still on, shoved her navy polar fleece jacket into her tote bag and headed to lunch.
‘What can I get you?’ the bartender said.
Of course, that night, the engagement night, in this same restaurant, there had been expensive champagne. Dom Perignon. That July night, the one she had always considered the best one of her life, it had rained, a downpour. They’d run through it, holding hands, laughing, kissing. Also clichés; nice ones, she thought.
Now, ten years later – March, cold, sunny, windy – things couldn’t have been more different. Meryl ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc, no bubbles this time.
She slid her hand into one of the pockets of her new old coat to check for her purse tucked inside. Pulling it out, a small piece of paper with writing scribbled across it clung to the outside. You’ll need more than this to keep you warm. She choked a little, almost laughed, laid the paper by her glass, tried to imagine the author. A hunky body builder? Another woman? Someone too shy to approach, relying on a note. Meryl sipped her drink, wishing she still smoked. Who wore this coat before? What kind of woman attracted this note?
The wine did its warm work, easing its way down her throat, spreading a buzz through her head and heart. Meryl ripped up the note, tearing it into separate words and phrases. She exacted each word away from its neighbour, moving the pieces around on the bar. Sorrow welled up, the tidal wave she had invited by taking this trip to this place.
Like a homemade (non-)magnetic poetry kit, she slid the pieces around, moving fingers across the wooden bar.
You Need More Warm Than This Keep
Than this To keep you To keep You
Need more than this Than this This More Need
You need more than this To keep you
You need more
Sitting in this restaurant felt a bit like stalking her husband’s girlfriends on the internet. Fairly typical spurned wife behaviour, she knew. Another cliché, not a nice one. Not healthy. Not healing, as her therapist would say. Her eyes moved to the front windows where she saw blinding spring sunlight illuminating a flapping sign. Passers-by leaned into the wind, pushed through.
‘Will you be having lunch?’ The bartender had appeared again.
Meryl forced a smile, knocked back the rest of her wine and shook her head no. She wrapped her new coat around her, headed out the door, into the wind, into the light.
Maggie Nerz Iribarne:
Maggie Nerz Iribarne practices writing in a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. This year, she won first and finalist prizes from Dead Fern Press, Zizzle, and Honeyguide Literary Magazine. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at www.maggienerziribarne.com.