Every year, a few days before the Christmas holidays begin, I take my mobile phone and my laptop and I lock them in the cupboard underneath my kitchen sink. I am always fully aware that this proves I have no shred of self control, and that what I am about to do requires a whole heap of it. But this year is going to be different.
I take a deep breath, repeating those words as my personal mantra, and plunge head first into my closet. I go in with the intention of searching for clothes to give to the Salvation Army. I want start the New Year with a new wardrobe, one that will give me a fighting chance to break out of the stagnation and actually make things happen. Next year is going to be different.
It’s almost like some kind of ritual.
I stand facing the wall of fabric, shaking my hands and rocking back and forth on the balls of my feet, as if I were standing on the edge of the pool, waiting to compete in an Olympic final; sometimes I even roll my shoulders back, and crack my neck, side to side, back and forth. Then I stare deep into the different colours, the red gold green brown bronze sky blue and occasionally yellow. Once I’ve identified every hue, I focus in on textures, the pleats, the gingham, the flocked, the wool fibres and the silk and the faux fur and the real fur and the polyester. Maybe this year I will light some candles, and say a prayer or a blessing. Maybe I could offer something up to a God or Goddess, so that they might help me get this ball rolling. Would a real fox fur coat pass as animal sacrifice? I could only try.
But I already know that I won’t part with my real fox fur coat. I know this, even though I’m a vegetarian, and I hate the idea of anything being skinned alive for fashion. I won’t set it on fire because it belonged to my maternal grandmother.
I have a photograph of her wearing the fox fur coat to social event for the Hitler Youth in 1940, the night she met my grandfather. My mother had always told me that he was merely bartending the event (he was 20 years her senior), but soon after he died, I found him in the corner of this picture dressed from head to toe in full SS uniform. In the foreground stands my grandmother, her mouth is smiling red, wide, almost clownish with laughter, and her hair is curled and tied back with what could be pink ribbons. Her eyes are not focused on where the camera would have been, but on that exact corner of the frame where my grandfather is leaning against the bar, watching her. There’s some writing on the back, underneath the date, a phrase of German that in English reads My Beloved.
I’ve only worn this coat once in my whole entire life; on my first and only date with a boy called Jonah Hinks. I don’t think that was his proper last name, but that’s what everyone at school called him; ‘Hinks’ or ‘Hinksy’ if you were a good friend. He had a lot of good friends, all of whom could not understand why he had asked me out to dinner. To be honest, neither could I, but I did not want deny myself a real high school experience.
I wasn’t sure which name was appropriate for me to use, and after an agonising internal argument whilst applying my makeup, I decided that I would not address him at all for the entire evening.
Everything about that date was horrible. The restaurant, aptly named ‘The Den’, was stuffed shoulder to shoulder with business men with loud laughs and loud opinions; they were either talking over the top of each other, or shouting remarks at their glamorous looking wives, who all seemed to wear the same sourpuss face. The décor reminded me of a hunting clubhouse, with all that wood panelling, and the decapitated heads of the hunting trophies scattered throughout; their glass eyes seemed to single me out, unblinking. I wanted instantly to take the coat off, to send a signal up to those eyes that I was not another animal killer, but I felt so cold, despite all of that body heat.
Jonah did not seemed to be deterred in the slightest, and as he pulled me through the crowd I wanted to shrink into my enormous animal pelt and become one of them, something fierce that could tear all these bodies apart.
“I love this place, it has such a great atmosphere,” Jonah said, and I couldn’t bring myself to do anything but press my lips tightly so that they fused together with lipstick, and nod.
They remained un-parted as Jonah chose the table, as the waitress, who glowed almost extraterrestrial with orange fake tan, brought us our menus. I watched her unblinking as she eyed off my coat, her nostrils flaring wide like a disdainful horse, and I wanted to say something clever or witty, something worthy to defend what I had thought was such a glamorous artefact, but all I could do was smear my lipstick even more and say nothing.
“What are you going to get?” he asked, and I still couldn’t bring myself to unstick my lips to I just held the menu out to him and pointed to the Garden Salad. He frowned.
“You should get the Pork Rump Steak, they do the best Pork steaks in the whole city. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway,” he said, and glanced over my shoulder. “Look, here comes one now!”
The tangerine waitress stalked past us on her heels, balancing an enormous platter one arm, and two smaller dishes and a bowl of soup on the other. The platter held a chunk of meat the size of a human head, on a bed of smattered salad, and it sizzled and spat and the liquid that could have been sauce or blood oozed from it slowly as if it were a festering wound. I wanted to throw up, but Jonah just stared at it as it were made of gold.
“Why don’t you just order one yourself, then?” I said, with an unusual amount of vehemence for a first date.
“Can’t,” he mumbled, his eyes downcast, and his next words were spoken with an alarming amount of regret. “I’m Jewish.”
“Oh.” I said. I glanced at the menu, trying to pick out something that wasn’t pig flesh. Or any animal flesh, even. And then it clicked.
Oh. OH. Oh shit! This is not happening. I’m wearing this coat, this Nazi sympathising coat that belonged to my Nazi sympathising grandmother on a date with a Jew.
WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME?!
If I ever happen to see an animal lying crushed on the side of the road, I am flooded with memories of that night, of how I was sitting in a horrid restaurant, across from a man that I actually kind of despised, and yet I could not help but feel like the biggest a monster in the swarm of monstrous people. It makes me physically cringe, even after all this time, that I could have ever entertained those thoughts. He was Jewish, and I was sitting opposite him wrapped in the skin of a dead animal that once belonged to a woman who had married a Nazi. None of it actually had anything to do with either of us, and yet I couldn’t stay there a minute longer.
I ended up excusing myself in the politest way I could think of, fled to the bathroom and shimmied out the toilet window. I haven’t seen him since, or worn the fox fur coat since then either.
And yet, despite all of this, I can’t bring myself to donate the coat, or throw it away, or sell it on eBay. I’m sure it’s worth a lot of money. This means something isn’t right. Right?
There’s always a point in my journey across the landscape of my clothes that stalls me for a good half hour or so; it stands out like a landmark on my road map, a Grand Canyon, or Giant Pineapple. In this case it is a dress, a lemon yellow, with little shape around the bust or waist. In fact, it’s almost smock like. The neck lines sits just above my breasts and the hem comes down to just above my knees, and unless I wear it with a belt I look like I’m wearing some sort of maternity tent. I could certainly do without it.
But this dress reminds me of sunset coloured bodegas and Palm Springs. It reminds me of places I’ve never been to and years I’ve never lived in. When I wear this dress, I feel like I should be riding in a lemon yellow T bird convertible, and the wind should be rushing past me so hot that it could set the trees alight at any moment. There will be a man sitting next to me driving, with his hand on my thigh and his eyes on the road. He will have sun bleached blonde hair stiffened by ocean salt, a thick beard and aviator sunglasses.
This hasn’t happened yet. But if I throw this dress away, I will lose the possibility that one day it could. That yellow T bird will pull into my driveway, and the blonde man will get out of the car. He will knock my pot of lobelia with the car door, and the terracotta will smash and dirt will go everywhere. He will walk up the steps, and he will take off his sunglasses as he apologises for my ruined flowers, and I will say it’s ok, don’t worry about it. But then I will have to say “I’m sorry I can’t go with you”, even though I can see now that his eyes are the most brilliant shade of azure blue, because I’ll have nothing to wear.
Soon I have piles and piles and piles of clothes, little high rise towers of neatly folded garments, clustered together to make the fabric blocks of a fabric city. Look, there’s the Empire State building, there’s the Statue of Liberty. That small one, one of the Maybe piles, could be Madison Square Gardens. These are the clothes that I haven’t worn in years; they’re out of date or they don’t fit.
But what if I lose some weight? What happens if the fashion comes back again? Or even better, what if time starts going backwards? Will we do away with all these computers, iPhones, the internet, and lock them in a giant vault under the earth? Will we throw away the key? And then phones will go back to being mounted to the wall, and they’ll start making them out of bright coloured plastics that aren’t recyclable.
This year I am going to make some progress. A pair of clogs stand alone amongst the skyscrapers destined to return the closet, pastel blue, with high heels and ankle straps to keep them on my skinny feet. When I saw them sitting on the boutique pedestal, I was drawn to the colour, but unsure if I could pull them off.
It was my sister that made me try them on.
“You have to get them!” she squealed at me. I stood in front of the mirror, in my heavy faun coloured trench coat that clashed with them terribly. But I felt taller, and Cissy was making such a fuss that I couldn’t help but feel a little powerful in them, a little beautiful even. Out of the two of us, she was certainly the prettiest, but I had the best clothes.
I bought them, despite them costing way more than they were worth, but I didn’t wear them until Cissy and I took the road trip we had planned after her graduation from college.
“We’re just chasing the wind!” she cried as we turned her dilapidated Pontiac Catalina onto the highway that would take us up the West Coast. She used to say that every time my grandfather took us out in this car; I think that’s why he gave it to her, even though I am the older sister.
Because I was riding shotgun, I got to pick the music. This is where my hoarding actually came in handy; I had a box of old tapes collected from garage sales, thrift shops and distant relatives long dead. Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, and Patti Smith got the highest rotations.
“I’m gonna see if I can get Denny to install and iPhone jack,” Cissy said, as I was swapping the Janis Joplin tape to side B. I stared at her with wide eyes and an incredulous shock; she might as well have said “I’m going to take a crowbar to the windshield as soon as we pull over for gas.”
We drove until the sun kissed the horizon, and I still have vivid visions of those long stretches of sun drenched road, my pastel blue clogs propped up on the dashboard, coloured almost purple by the sunset. Every time “Mercedes Benz” comes on the radio, I see them as clearly as if I were wearing them.
We stopped for the night at a crappy motel in some no named town, the kind that’s all buzzing fluorescent tubes and unidentifiable stains on the carpet. We watched re runs of “The Golden Girls” on the tiny set that still had dials to change the channel, and I fell asleep next to Cissy on the lumpy double bed.
I woke up to the sound of the morning news, and the morning light pouring through mouldy curtains. I reached out to shake a sleeping body of my sister awake, but clutched only at empty space. Cissy wasn’t in our room, and the car wasn’t in our parking space.
I sat back down on the bed, waiting for her to come back with breakfast. I waited for that breakfast right through lunch and up until dinner, and as the sun started to go down without any sign of her still, I had no choice but to put on my new clogs and rush out into the night to look for her.
Everything is magnified one hundred times by fear. With every person you alert to your sister’s disappearance, you see smiles become sneers, and whispers explode “We’ve got her!” I remember the fear clearer than the faces or the houses or all the dangerous places that I went to trying to find her, the fear and the pain of my aching feet crammed into shoes not right for running.
Cissy showed up two days later, without the car. She looked exactly the same as she had lying next to me that night in the hotel, and when I asked her where the car was she said she didn’t know. She said that she didn’t know where she had been, or who she had been with. She dissolved into tears and I hugged her tight, so overcome with relief I could barely think or feel anything else.
But during that long cab ride home, I could think, and all I could think about was why she had gone off by herself, and why she hadn’t she called, and why Grandpa had the car to her, not me, and why had she gone and lost all of my things?
I can feel all of this, the fear, and the shameful resentment, as I stand outside the Salvation Army Charity store, clogs clutched in my sweaty palm. Every memory from that night is another reason to give them away, to purge them of those awful attachments so that they can be enjoyed again.
Sophie, the 60 year old volunteer clerk, greets me with a smile that doesn’t seem to change from year to year.
“Josephine! Has it been another year already?”
“My goodness, time almost moves in fast forward when you get to my age!” she chuckles. She’s putting the new donations onto their clothes hangers, and as I watch her a purple gingham pinafore catches my eye.
“Do you have anything for me, Josie?” she asks, eyeing off my pastel blue clogs. I lick my lips, my breathing has become fast and shallow. I should just offer them up to her and be done with it.
“No, not this year,” I hear myself say, and move the clogs out of her line of sight. Sophie frowns.
“That’s too bad,” she says.
“Next year is going to be different,” I say. Sophie’s smile falters, and then regains composure.
“Yes, of course!” she says. “I’m miles too busy anyway, see? This huge donation just came in. That’s the third deceased estate we’ve had this month!”
“I like the look of that one,” I say, gesturing towards the pinafore. “How much?”
“Hmmmm…” Sophie adjusts her half moon specs, her eyes sweeping the fabric for rips or stains.
“I was going to mark it at fifteen, but for you, ten dollars.”
“Done.” I say, already reaching for my purse.
I leave the Salvation Army with my clogs in one hand and my new gingham pinafore in the other, and in those few moments I feel like I can do anything. Even though I know that I’m always going to be stuck in this same place, carrying fistfuls of memories that when scattered to the wind will pollute all the futures lives I wish to lead with insecurity and doubt. Like the fashion itself, my life remains cyclical; it doesn’t go forward. But then it doesn’t go backward, either.
Tegan Webb is a fledgling writer working out of Melbourne, Australia, with a passion for books, writing and animals. She has had fiction published in Writing Disorder, Francesca Lia Block’s Love Magick Anthology, Storychord, and will be featured in the upcoming first issue of Belletrist Coterie.