First Place Contest Winner

The Lady’s Coat

by Lynne Nielsen

Slipping the Thrift Store coat over her forearms, easing it onto her shoulders, the woman smiles as she senses the weight settling into place, cloaking her frame. Glancing into the mirror she considers her reflection, graying hair swept into a simple up do, rolled and pinned into place, the simplest of pearl studs gracing her delicate ear lobes. The woman possesses an air of simple grace and beauty, yet the coat she is wearing suggests a different, more opulent story. Enfolded within the coat, the woman recalls someone she once knew, long ago in a younger, more naïve time.

The coat, constructed of the finest Persian lamb’s wool, is exquisite, yet simple. The crossover collar frames her tired face and the sleeves with accompanying wide cuffs adorn her arms and wrists.  Wrapped warmly, as though with a hug that’s luxurious and sensual, she lets her mind go. After all, this isn’t just any Thrift Store coat; this was a lady’s coat. Gazing into the mirror the woman sees reflected back the image of one once so beautiful, so once-upon-a-time naïve.

The woman imagines the stories the coat could share, if only coats could speak. Imagine the daily excursions to town, the dining out, as surely as this was once a lady’s coat.  Imagine the owner, a fine lady, head held high, sashaying to church or to the shops about the city. The local butcher would have paused, eyes focused upon the vision wearing the Persian lamb coat. How may I help you, ma’am? The locals’ whispered comments, Who is this lady? A banker’s wife? Someone’s mistress?

Closing her eyes, the woman recalls distant memories, focusing on a time outside a city café. Through the window, the woman views a younger vision in a Persian lamb coat, seated in a booth at the back of the café. The dark auburn hair in a simple up do rolled and pinned into place. The eyes, cast down, the lashes as noir as the Persian lamb coat she wore. The simplest of pearl studs gracing her delicate ear lobes. The young woman possesses an air of simple grace and beauty, yet the coat she is wearing suggests a different, more opulent story.

Glancing at the watch upon her wrist, the young woman wears an expression of concern, or is it disappointment? Perhaps shame clouds the lovely features. Glancing toward the café door, she waits. Focusing on her coffee cup, slowly, gently, stirring the spirals, gazing as if into a mirror. He loves me, he loves me not, words whispered. What does the young woman see, what is she searching for? She recalls a time when she had felt hopeful, which was more than she felt at that moment, patiently waiting in a café for someone.

Surely this someone would show tonight. After all, he had promised to meet her at 5:00.  Glancing at the watch upon her wrist the young woman notes the time, 5:45. Still, this man is an important man, people steal his time, and meetings run over the scheduled minutes. This fact she understands. How many times has she phoned his desk line, offering up an excuse to exit? Let’s get lost, Shirley, his words luring her further into their web of deceit. Those simple words, provocative, led her deeper into the place where lies entangle, until she became a willing victim of his terms.

The young woman in the booth glances at the watch upon her wrist. Why bother checking? Of course, he is late again. Are you ready to order, ma’am? For the waiter recognizes this woman, how could one avoid noticing such a vision, the lady wearing the exquisite Persian lamb coat? May I refill your cup, ma’am, allowing the lady time to think, to plan the next move.

The older woman can’t help but feel sympathy for this younger woman seated in the back booth, a vision in the Persian lamb coat. For whom does she wait? Is it a man, her husband, perhaps a lover? Is she the mistress? Why does she wait? The younger woman stands up, a careless wave, a slightly forced smile. The man she waits for has arrived, bearing flowers, clutching a briefcase full of excuses and lies. She senses this fact, knows it to be true. Let’s get lost, Shirley!

Shirley slips the Persian lamb coat over her forearms, easing it onto her shoulders, smiling as she feels the coat settling into place, surprised at the weightlessness. Gazing at the café window, the younger woman sees reflected back the image of one so beautiful, so elegant, no longer once-upon-a-time naïve. A fine lady, head held high, Shirley walks out of the café, leaving the past behind.

May I help you, ma’am? The woman returns to the present, glancing back at her image in the Thrift Shop mirror, a vision in the Persian lamb coat. It’s a beautiful coat, a lady’s coat, the employee gushes. The lady who owned this piece must have paid a dear price for it!

Enfolded within the coat, channeling all thoughts luxurious and sensual, the woman allows her mind to wander. After all, this wasn’t just any Thrift Store coat; this was a lady’s coat. The woman hands the ten-dollar bill with change to the cashier. Gently, she slips the Persian lamb over her forearms, easing the weight over her shoulders. She clasps the fastener of the crossover collar, noticing that one fur cuff is worn, slightly tarnishing the vision. In her ear she hears his whispered words, alluring, ensnaring, Let’s get lost, Shirley. A fine lady, head held high, the woman exits the Thrift Store, a vision in Persian lamb.

Lynne Nielsen is an educator and aspiring writer. She blogs at Alice and Molly.

Watch for the Second Place Contest Winner, Lisa Ellison’s “Waste Not Want Not,” on Wednesday!


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, WordPress, Writing, Writing contest

11 responses to “First Place Contest Winner

  1. jeannieunbottled

    Super story!!

  2. Lovely! I can see why this won first place.

    • Luanne

      I can also see why the judges selected it. it’s just gorgeous and a very difficult structure to write. Thanks for commenting, Deborah!

    • Thank you, Deborah, for your compliment. It was a tricky piece to write as I struggled with the concept of time, the then and now. The night before I submitted the story, I actually rewrote the cafe scene to make our “Shirley” stronger. I didn’t want our “Shirley” to be anyone’s victim. The process of writing this memoir story was a steep learning curve, however, I’m glad I persevered. There were moments when I wanted to “trash” the whole story! Your kind comment is appreciated.

  3. LIsa

    This is an excellent piece. I love the way you weave several lines through out the text, specifically “it’s a lady’s coat,” and “Let’s get lost Shirley.” The lines create a cohesion and grounding within the wandering daydream of the narrator. The coat is a great metaphor for both desired prestige and refinement and the darkness of hard lessons. Congratulations on a well deserved first place!

    • Thank you, Lisa. Your eloquent words capture what I was trying to achieve. My “Shirley” was “devalued” and a bit tawdry tragic. I wanted her to find her voice, to stand tall, and recognize that she was worth so much more than being a man’s, mistress. There is a personal connection to “Shirley” and the coat and I needed to offer “Shirley” a hand up. I like her much better now!

  4. Congratulations, Lynne, on the acknowledgement for your wonderful writing! Your story pulls us in and captures the heart. We have to love your Shirley and feel her pain. You deserve that first place!

  5. Theo Towler

    Hi Lynne,

    What a wonderful piece You drew me into the moment and I could see so clearly the Shirley, lost in her memories of loss and paiin, yet her resilience
    in going forward. I look forward to reading more! I am so glad you for you–A well deserved award. Theo

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