Coats by Aaron Peysack
Aaron Peysack is a Melbourne writer who has lived and worked in Japan. His fiction has appeared in Antipodes journal and will be featured in upcoming editions of Page Seventeen and Filling Station. He is currently working on a collection of short fiction.
It was July, the coldest month of the year, and I had no winter overcoat. I sat in my room for an hour thinking about the cold, trembling with indignation. I’ve always been sensitive: the slightest change in temperature or pressure upsets me. In that tiny room I longed for the tropics, for the heat of Angola or Brazil, some burnt-out island where life is slow and undemanding.
When the hour was up I left my room and headed downstairs. On the second floor I met a tall, lean man with lovely blue eyes.
‘Give me your winter overcoat,’ I said to him. He refused, so I grabbed him. For several minutes we struggled, right there in the stairwell, a silent, deadly struggle that could only end in defeat for someone of his slender build.
But he was one of those people who are stronger than they look and he used his long arms to advantage. It was like wrestling an orang-utan. Halfway through the struggle I knew I was going to lose—I felt like a chess player who has lost his queen—but I wouldn’t concede. Keep fighting, I told myself, at least you’re warm. Eventually he threw me down and fled into one of the apartments. It wasn’t meant to be, I thought, dusting myself off.
Outside, I dragged myself along the street, past law clerks and meat packers and men in half-price suits purchased in pairs … All the wreckage of humanity washed around me … An hour later I was near the sea and the wind was cutting me open. A boy of twelve or thirteen was standing on the sand looking out at the water. A philosopher, I thought, one of those unpleasant children who are old before their time, not quite human. I was one myself so I know what I’m talking about. I walked over and stood beside him.
‘Why are the crests of the waves white?’ he asked dreamily.
‘I don’t know,’ I said, watching them fall, thinking of horses in old movies. ‘Give me your winter overcoat.’
He looked at me curiously then shook his head.
‘It was a gift from my grandmother.’
‘I won’t tell her.’
He smiled and shook his head again.
Children are not as weak as they seem, plus they fight a lot, which makes them dangerous opponents. The boy landed a few punches but was helpless against my knee. As I pulled the coat over his head, he grabbed at it violently, tearing it along the seams.
‘Look what you’ve done,’ I said, ‘you’ve torn your winter overcoat. Now neither of us can have it.’
‘It’s better that way,’ he answered with eyes full of sadness.
I left him there and made my way across the river. It was almost dusk by the time I found the warehouse. The place was filled with coats, hundreds of them, in every size and style. I entered the room where people change and stood in front of the mirror, entranced by my own reflection. He has the face of a tsar, I thought, looking at the man in the glass.
Outside, the sun went down and evening came on, tugging at night’s shoulder. The owner locked up and went home and the sound of the city faded like snow falling on a frozen river. All night I stayed in that winter palace, surrounded by coats, and by morning I felt almost human.