THE RED COAT

I had always loved that red coat. To be sure, occasionally it made me think of the murderous Person of Restricted Growth  in the film Don’t Look Now, and for years I delayed visiting Venice in case people suspected me of bad intentions: I am  very short, after all. But now and again, when I deemed it safe, I would get the red coat out and put it on. When I was a little girl, the coat  had a matching hat and a pair of trousers with spats, but they got lost in the wardrobe of time. The coat survived though, and it had the surprising ability to alter its size. It was a scarlet shape-shifter.

 

When I was in one  of my rare thin phases, the red coat would change from being double-breasted to single, and the buttons would sit loosely and casually in their button-holes. When I was fatter, the buttonholes would squeak and sigh, and the whole ensemble would strain like a galleon in a high wind. Once, I made the mistake of standing in the street with my mouth slightly open (I had a cold) and was affronted when a man tried to push a letter into my mouth. He had thought I was a post-box, and I took care after that never to stand still for too long while I was wearing the red coat.

 

It seemed to know which parts of my body could be displayed to advantage, and which were best disguised. My frontage, majestic at the best of times, could look on a bad day like two puppies fighting in a sack, and the red coat manufactured its own skillful darts to remedy the situation. It also knew how to flatten out my hips. It had a sense of fashion too. It could elongate itself to a princess line, or add a foot or two to make itself into a maxi-coat. It would never accommodate itself to the mini-dress phenomenon, even though I had the figure for it at the time.  Sometimes, when I had been watching a lot of  noirish detective films, it would add a belt and a cape, and it would glisten as though it had been out in the rain.

 

What troubled me was that the red coat learned to intuit my moods and my state of health. When I had a period, it would make an embarassing streak down the back, perhaps to function as a warning to any expensive upholstery. When I was depressed, the red coat made a valiant attempt at a plaid pattern, presumably in order to cheer me up: I would often find a tiny sporran or a set of bagpipes in my pocket on such occasions. And it knew when I really, really hated someone: it would give off a rancid smell, like one of those imperfectly-cured goat-skin jackets from the 1970s. Worse, when I liked someone, the red coat would exude an embarassingly explicit smell of roses, desire and warm pudendum.

 

I could no longer wear the red coat, as I could not afford to betray so much. I am a person who does not wish anyone to get too close, especially if they are a coat. So I parcelled it up in a Harrods bag and left it on a train. It looked spic and span, and called mournfully to me as I left it on the plush seat. But someone else could find it and wear it now. Good luck to them.

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |