Fiction

The jacket

It wasn’t a jacket I would buy in my normal life, but we’d all been told to stay at home so things weren’t normal anyway. I usually stayed home of my own volition, but this time a man in rectangular glasses, standing in front of a cardboard sheet, went on the telly and said, “Stay inside, you rogues! Gah, won’t you please?” while almost crying. So we all did.

I usually bought warm, sturdy jackets that I imagined railroad workers would’ve worn in the ’40s. The new jacket wasn’t sturdy and it wasn’t warm. It was made out of pale blue, faux-crocodile print vinyl. It was so blue that you could sort of still see the blue of it when you closed your eyes. I couldn’t conceive of any occasion when it would be appropriate to wear it, even in normal times – unless I was somehow transported to whatever German bar Lou Reed and David Bowie were hanging out in 1976, or to Grace Jones’s birthday party at Studio 54.

“Hello!” the jacket said when I took it out of the crackly plastic. “Hello,” I said, putting it straight on a hanger.

The jacket asked why I didn’t want to try it on. Didn’t I want to know how the blue vinyl felt against my skin? Didn’t just the sight of it make me want to dash out to a disco, do a line of cocaine and deliver sidelong glances under neon lights? “Why am I going straight into the cupboard?” it asked.

I couldn’t be bothered explaining the situation or the sad rectangular glasses man, so I closed the cupboard door. I was a human, and it was a jacket. I was still the one in charge.

Every time I opened the cupboard door, the jacket asked when we were going out. At first it asked curiously, its blue vinyl flashing in the light, swaying enticingly as the coathanger clinked suggestively on the rail. Soon – after seeing me reach for the same stained cotton jumper and Taylor Swift 1989 long-sleeve T-shirt day after day – the jacket lost patience.

“When are we going out!” it shouted one morning in July, working itself up so much that it clanged to the floor, taking down several formal skirts with it. I sighed and picked it up, trying to put it back on the hanger as it fidgeted. I explained that my germ factory body wasn’t allowed to go outside in case I coughed on someone and accidentally killed them. Everyone was in the same boat. It wasn’t up to me.

But the rectangular glasses man had never said anything about jackets.

One Tuesday night while I stayed home staring at unanswered emails, the jacket left to meet up with other jackets on the outside. They left their cupboards in houses around the city and took to the streets. Unworn trench coats (the shoulders never fit right), faux-fur boleros, stiff stonewashed denim and thick pea coats with old tissues and Metcards in the pockets came together at deserted intersections, under glowing streetlights.

The jackets would travel to watch local football in Footscray, their shoulders bumping against each other. They wandered down Bourke Street in the rain and peered in the illuminated windows of brick bookshops. They drank natural wines on the footpath in Fitzroy and smoked menthol cigarettes while discussing their jacket enemies (“Leather jackets, who do they think they are?”). They wandered the chilly halls of the NGV and mimicked the way older, more expensive jackets were looking at paintings.

Sometimes I’d make myself a margarita while I listened to the jacket’s exploits. The jacket would explain how sometimes the group of jackets would decide they’d exhausted the novelty of one pub and leave for another nearby pub just for the hell of it, laughing too loudly together in quiet side streets, taking up far too much room on the footpath. Tipsy, the jacket would walk home in the dark alone through empty parks with a kind of jacket abandon that I had never experienced. In my old life, I yearned to walk home alone at night when I was tipsy, listening to songs in my earphones so loudly that my ears rang. I never did, because I knew if I ended up dying on the walk my mother would be very disappointed that I had not been careful enough. I began to resent the jacket.

“Home late, aren’t you?” I would say from the bedroom, when I heard the jacket gingerly unlock the door and shuffle in. I would be half-sitting up in the bed, my eyes projecting beams of anger like floodlights, so the jacket would be sure I had been awake the whole time, unable to rest because I sensed my sleep would soon be interrupted.

After a few weeks, I noticed the jacket was going out less and less. “Is it because I get mad?” I asked, noticing it draped on the couch. The jacket reluctantly explained that there were some nights where it would enjoy itself, but other nights it would notice it wasn’t enjoying itself as much as the other jackets and that would make it sad. It felt guilty when it didn’t go out because it wasn’t making the most of things, but it felt guilty when it did go out because it wasn’t enjoying itself as it should. It was a complex thing to explain to other jackets, is all. I patted one of its sleeves and it slunk back into the cupboard.

When the year was almost done the man in the rectangular glasses went on television, again looking as though he wanted to cry. “Okay, everyone out!” he said. But things outside had changed. Instead of cold, whistling winds there was now hot rain. Instead of seeing your breath make fog, there were little tree seeds floating in the air trying to get in your nose. All around the state, T-shirts and light pants began to squirm gleefully in drawers. The time of the jacket was over.

Jackets went back into cupboards and almost every human I knew went back outdoors. They bought books on Bourke Street and complained about the people they hadn’t seen in eight months while drinking wine on the street. Even though my feet wanted to go out and join them, my brain had forgotten how. I said no to some text invitations, but usually ended my “no” with “but this doesn’t mean no forever!”

“It’s just you and me for a bit,” I said to the jacket.

I realised that it probably wouldn’t be cold again for at least six more months. I took the jacket off the hanger, slipped my arms into the rubbery sleeves and did up the stiff buttons. I looked at myself in the mirror. It was so long that it went past my knees. It looked like I was wrapped in a saggy blue bin bag.

“Very nice!” I lied to the jacket.

I made a margarita, put on a David Bowie album and sat on the couch to re-read a biography of Grace Jones I’d started years ago and never finished. Every time I blinked I could see blue.. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2021 as "The jacket".

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Sinéad Stubbins is a writer and editor from Melbourne. Her debut book, In My Defence, I Have No Defence, will be published by Affirm Press in May 2021.