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Hemingway's Coat

November 2, 2012

I've been playing with fiction. Here's something new:


“I thought you wanted to be a writer,” the old woman said to fourteen year old Becky. 


“I do, Granny. My brain is full of ideas, but I have trouble putting them down on paper. All of the kids at school have computers. I wish I had one.”


The old woman looked at the orphaned granddaughter she’d spent nine years struggling to raise. Every cigarette the old woman had ever smoked was present in her voice when she said, “Sorry, kiddo. Money’s tight. We barely manage to keep up with the rent on this old trailer.”


Becky’s cheeks turned crimson. “Sorry, Granny. I’m being a brat.”


“Go to your room and write something while I scratch up some dinner. Practice makes perfect, they say.”


Becky’s hair was getting long. Granny used to trim it, but now her hands shook too much when she held the scissors. Becky pulled her hair back from her face, bent down to kiss her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek and headed to her room.


It hadn’t been easy for the old woman, living off disability and welfare checks. A computer for her granddaughter would be nice but there was no money for it, not to mention the monthly internet service. The Child Protective Services had already knocked on the door to find out why the phone wasn’t working.


The old woman took a long pull on her cigarette, exhaled a cloud of  grey smoke and extinguished the cigarette in the horseshoe ashtray beside her tattered Barcalounger. She was down to her last few cigs; she’d finish this one later. Shouldn’t be smoking around the kid anyway, according to the Child Services Nazis.


After reaching for her cane, she lifted her bad leg from the “otman” and struggled to stand. Instead of going to the kitchen to open a can of raviolis, she teetered to the hallway and peered into her granddaughter’s bedroom. Becky was sitting at a desk salvaged from a Dumpster behind the trailer park. One of the drawers was missing. Yellow writing pads from the Dollar Store were stacked on the desktop near a dented lamp, another Dumpster find. Her granddaughter was staring at a blank page.


She shuffled off to her room and dropped onto the corner of her bed, exhausted. She was getting weaker every day. She didn’t need a crystal ball to know that one day she’d be zipped into a bag and carried out of here. What would happen to the girl then? She shuddered to think about it.


Her closet was only a few steps away, but reaching it was an agony. She managed. Inside, her clothes hung as cruel reminders of better times—pretty things that once caught the eyes of handsome men—back when her skin was smooth and soft, not like the wrinkled crepe now hanging from her bones. A knockoff Schiaparelli sweater came into view, bought with her first paycheck when she wasn’t much older than Becky. The shiny eyes of a fox stole glinted in the shadows.


She couldn’t remember the last time she’d acquired anything new, but pretty things weren’t needed anymore; she seldom left home. Recently, she’d acquired the habit of talking to herself out loud when alone. “Vintage clothes are all the rage right now. There must be a pretty penny here.” She paused, closing her rheumy eyes as she rubbed the throbbing pain in the back of her neck. “Enough for a computer? Probably not, but enough to keep the wolf from our door a bit longer.” She made a mental note to have the girl box up these old things for a trip to the secondhand clothing store down the road. For

now, she pushed them aside.


Her fingers reached into the dark recesses of the closet, finally closing on the subject of her search—a man’s pea coat, the navy-colored wool slightly moth bitten. She carried it to her granddaughter’s room and settled onto the corner of Becky’s bed. The pad of paper in front of her granddaughter remained untouched.


“I have something for you,” she said. “It isn’t a computer, but I’m hoping you can put it to good use.”


Becky eyed the old jacket, a furrow deepening between her eyes.


“Ever heard of a writer named Ernest Hemingway?”


“Granny! Of course I have. He was one of America’s greatest writers. We studied him in school.”


“Well, here’s something you don’t know; he and I were once an item.”


“An item?”


Granny sighed. “Yes, a couple. This was before I met your grandpa. Ernest and I eventually broke up, but he left behind this coat.”


Becky’s eyes widened like saucers. “That’s Ernest Hemingway’s coat? Granny, are you fooling me?”


“Have you ever known me to fool you?”


Speechless, Becky shook her head.


The old woman stood and draped the coat over her granddaughter’s slender shoulders. “In many cultures it’s believed the talent of a person rubs off on their clothing.” Fortunately, the girl didn’t ask her to name them.


Later that evening after the old woman had finished smoking the rest of her cigarette and was lumbering off to bed, she paused to peek inside her granddaughter’s bedroom. Instead of being fast asleep, Becky was wrapped in the pea coat with the cuffs rolled up to expose her wrists. She was writing furiously. 


It occurred to the old woman that pea coats were traditionally worn by sailors. Had Hemingway been a sailor? She didn’t think so. The girl would learn the truth eventually, but by then the pea coat would have served its purpose. It had been abandoned, left hanging in the closet when she rented the trailer years ago.


“A little fib isn’t so bad,” she mumbled to herself, “especially if it’s all you have.”


So the feed doesn't work, but the newsletter is the fix? I'm guessing so. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on November 2, 2012
Well, I know all about skin not being smooth and soft any longer. What a wise old woman Granny was/is...
By: Terry on November 2, 2012
I love this story! touching!
By: on November 2, 2012
Nice sentiment in your story. Love the new site. Mindy
By: mindy halleck on November 4, 2012
Wise old woman!
By: Pixel Peeper on November 4, 2012
splendid short story with warmth and meaning- I could see the story .
By: Kathe W. on November 4, 2012
This is a great story! Very enjoyable!!
By: Michael Manning on November 4, 2012
This is gorgeous b/c you can feel the very present pull of the past and the desire for just a little fantasy mixed in our day-to-day. You've got a novel in your future with these writing chops--will look forward to reading it :)
By: Meredith on November 5, 2012
Lovely! Clever twist!
By: Madhumay on December 3, 2012

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