The Coat

By Dorothy Clinton

“Life is strange”, she said to herself. She used to have a good memory, now she
was uncertain of it. She was uncertain of a lot of things, there were times when
she was not sure of who she was herself. Then she smiled and thought of the
coat.


Times were bad in the thirties when she was a small child in Tipperary town.
She remembered her mother talking to a friend and saying; “In times of
necessity you have to buy well, you cannot afford to make mistakes”. Her
father was sitting by the fire; he smiled to himself and didn’t pretend to hear.
He worked in a bank where there was great prestige but very little money
attached to it. When he entered the banking service first at 18 years his father
bought him a good suit, an overcoat and put a few bob in his pocket. Then he
said “Always remember, a bank will hand you an umbrella when the sun is
shining and whip it away at the first drop of rain.”


The next day, Mother’s friend drove her to Clonmel and they saw it in the
window. “Oh” said Mother. It was a long teddy bear coat with a big snugly
collar and brown leather belt. Mother put it on in the fitting room; she looked
so elegant in it. Father didn’t smile at all when he saw it and heard the price-it
cost all of £8 and this was January 1932 at Sale Time. After a while father
relented and said, “We will economise” Mother wasn’t too sure of what was in
store. The teddy bear coat earned its keep for many years and went into
retirement in 1938. It emerged again during the “Emergency” or Second World
War, when clothes were rationed. Mother saw a notice in the papers saying
“Coats Remodelled- £1.10s – “supply own buttons and thread”. Mother took
the coat out of moth balls and headed for town. The coat returned edge to
edge with gathered set-in sleeves and a mandarin collar-just the sort of thing
for the “Emergency” a very genteel and economical looking garment. When
the War ended the coat retired again.


One day several years later the little girl, now grown up, was looking for
something in the spare room wardrobe when she came across the coat. She
tried it on. It was just the thing to wear on the bike cycling to work. She asked
her mother if she could have it. She would wear it with three-quarter length
fur boots she had bought in Cleary’s and the fur hat she had bought in the
Oxfam shop. Privately she would call herself Laura and imagine she was driving
to work in a horse drawn sleigh, or maybe she might be a Sonia, or a Tanya.

The coat had a great few winters. Sometimes “the Gods” at the Gaiety, now
and then the Abbey and constantly the Savoy cinema. It went to Rugby
matches and the tennis hops in winter, it was coming into its own. Eventually
the bicycle saddle began to put a horrible shape on the back and the pile was
wearing thin, its life was drawing to an end. However it was put aside carefully,
it had such sentimental value it could not be disposed of.


Time was moving on, Laura or Sonia or Tanya was no longer Laura, Sonia or
Tanya, but plain Mary. The bicycle had been put away, she was married now
living in the country with two small children. Money was scarce. She thought of
the old coat and took out her sewing machine. A few days later her three-year-
old daughter was wearing a tiny little teddy bear duffel coat with leather
toggles.


The light was beginning to fade as Mary got up stiffly from her chair, her
glasses had fallen off and her eyes were full of dreaming. “I know who I am”
she said.

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