Thursday, September 29, 2005
THE STORY OF THE MONKEY JACKET
I met her a few years back at a party held by one of the waitresses from work. Now if you've ever hung out with restaurant people, you know we are some of the fiercest partiers around. Maybe it's all the energy that builds up watching other people enjoy themselves while we waitpeople stand around stoic and staid inside our tuxedo shirts. But meanwhile behind the solicitous smiles and the black vests, our hearts are beating out a meringue rhtythm.
So anyway it was a party. Someone had made expresso martinis; the obligatory joint was passed around.
"I heard you were a writer," the woman said as she approached. She had an exotic name, something like Sarina, though I can't specifically recall. Her clothes, too, were exotic, though her open face, and freckled cheeks were as familiar and bland as grass.
Well, yeah, I guess I am--at least by my own deluded definition. That's when she said she had a story she needed to tell me. Something I had to write.
I took another sip of my dark martini and started looking for an exit. I'd heard those kinds of stories before. Usually they involved elaborate plots for a science fiction novel or a detective story that sounded eerily like a movie I'd recently seen.
"Really?" I said, hating myself for my compulsive politeness. Couldn't I ever, just once, tell them I had so many of my own stories to tell that if I worked night and day for the rest of my life, I'd never run out?
But what really kept me from ducking away this time was Sarina's lack of preliminaries and her forthright stare. She had a story that needed to be written and I was the one who was going to do it.
"Do you believe that used clothes still have the vibrations of those who've worn them before?" she asked.
The answer was that I tried not to think about things like that too much. I mean, I'm crazy enough already. And if I accepted that, then I'd start wondering about the rooms I live in. Did they, too, possess the essence of those who once ate and slept, argued and danced in them?
No, I could not think about that. I already share my life with a bevy of ghosts as it is. Most of the time I call them my "characters".
But Sarina didn't really care how I answered. She'd already chosen me. Or rather the monkey jacket had chosen me.
Apparently, four years earlier, Sarina, who shopped only in vintage clothing stores, had come upon the mottled fur jacket, hanging on a rack. "Genuine monkey fur" the label proclaimed.
"I was so fascinated and repelled by it that I quickly left the store," she said.
She resisted the temptation to return for three days, but on the fourth day, she felt almost drawn against her will into the little shop.
The monkey jacket was now displayed in the window. Without allowing herself much thought, she told the proprietor that she would take it.
"Don't you want to see it first? Maybe try it on?" the stunned proprietor asked.
"I'm not going to wear it!" Sarina replied, aghast.
"Then it's a gift for someone," the owner said as she removed the jacket from the window and put it on the counter. She stroked the rough fur.
"Poor little monkeys."
“Yes, a gift.”
Sarina paid quickly--an exhorbitant price, far greater than what the tag had read the day before. But the young woman cloaked in layers of dead people's clothes didn't question it. See, she wasn't just buying the jacket; she was ransoming it.
"So that was four years ago?" I asked. "What did you do with it?"
"Well, nothing," she said. "I put it in a nice garment bag and stored it in my closet."
"And you've never worn it?"
"Of course not!" she said, summoning the horror she'd expressed to the woman in the shop. "I just kept it until I found the right person to give it to."
"And you think I'm--" I began, but choked on the rest of the sentence.
She was already nodding. "I want you to write about it."
"Write what exactly?" I asked. It sounded like a job for the likes of Edgar Allen Poe.
"You'll know," she said.
Fortunately, right about then, a friend pulled me away to meet someone else. I had another drink and when I looked around, Sarina had left.
But a few days later, I got a package in the mail. Even before I saw the return address, I knew who it was from. And what it was. Something in me instantly recoiled--perhaps the way Sarina had when she first spotted the jacket on the rack.
I promptly marked the package "Return to Sender," and ferried it to the post office. I then sent Sarina a note saying that I couldn't accept her extravagant gift. Nor could I write the story of the monkey jacket, because I didn't know it.
And yet somewhere inside me, I did. I knew exactly what the jacket looked like. It had a red liner and it was small enough to fit a child. Its collar was high and its fur dull, and yes, it had a slightly oily scent.
It was probably a few years ago that the story of the monkey jacket was passed to me, and I tried to say no to it. But could not. So here it is. Do with it what you will.