"Aren't you hot?" Daniel asked me at Java Vino one morning, and Javo Vino has all those aluminum outdoor tables that conduct heat like landed comets in the afternoon, too. "Fuck yes, I'm hot," I said.
As a gift to myself, I had scored this great black leather trench coat with contrast stitching and the original belt and everything. The jacket was $80, which is kind of expensive to me for a used coat, but I was certain I looked like some bitch right out of an early James Bond movie, the ones with all the unprotected sex and dead naked ladies painted gold. That's right, sweaty as I was I was still all hot looking in my own head with my big lapels and faux mother-of-pearl buckle, until later when Keiger innocently surmised that he just bought a couch made of the same material for his restaurant from the flea market on the corner of Edgewood and Krog.
"This is leather. You bought a leather couch off the side of the road?" I asked.
"This ain't leather," he said, pinching my cuff between his fingers.
What? This is genuine old leather, I protested. But Keiger kept shaking his head until I got up and practically ripped the hem out from the lining to see the underside of the overlayer and, oh my God!, it was fake after all.
"I can't believe those pricks sold me a fake leather coat," I said, astounded. Here I had thought I had bought myself a gift, and I guess I had but it was the wrong goddam gift, so now instead of a Bond girl I was just a boiling bag of bacon fat in a fake leather coat. "And I don't think it's old, either," Keiger surmised innocently again. We were at his place, where he has a real leather couch, so I sat at in his real leather couch in my fake leather coat and fumed.
And while I fumed I remembered another coat from way back. I had told my sister to tell my mother I wanted a leather coat for my birthday, "but make sure she doesn't buy one of those second-hand crappy coats," I insisted. This was the '80s after all, and I wanted one of those leather coats with the big blow-ass shoulder pads and ballooning sleeves. A coat like that would go great with the big-ass hair I teased up every day before I left our Zurich apartment to go sit at coffee houses in languid posture hoping to attract attention.
But I had no money unless I could convince my mother to give me some, because she had a job and I couldn't get one, so the coat would have to be a birthday gift. It was just very important that my mother got the right style down, though, and I trusted my sister to ensure that happened. We both knew mother was fond of the flea market down by the river, where she kept buying fondue pots and old magazine racks and such, which she often presented to us as gifts with a bright expression, and we knew there were lots of old leather coats at that flea market.
So I came home one day and there my mother was, an eager smile on her face, presenting me with a box big enough to hold the leather coat with mountainous shoulder pads I was hoping for, but instead it held one of the flea market coats, with big pockets, large lapels and buckles around the sleeve cuffs. I looked up and saw my sister in the hallway, shrugging.
"Is this a joke?" I yelled at her, because I really thought it might have been. "This is the lamest coat I've ever seen. Where's the real gift?" But I should not have been looking at my sister. I should have been looking at my mother, because when I turned to her I caught the last glimmer of brightness fade from her face before she replaced it with false brevity. "Ha," she laughed weakly. "You're right, it's the wrong gift."
And here is where I wish we could write a letter to the people in our lives and tell them everything we wish we could have when we should have, because I remember my mother as she pertly patted the tissue back in place over the flea market coat and pretended not to be hurt, and how she kept trying to smile as she left the living room with the package under her arm, and in my letter I'd want to tell her that the coat was not the wrong gift. It was a wonderful gift, one among many wonderful gifts she has given me.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins). She was recently named one of "Seven Breakout Authors of 2004" by Writer's Digest. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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