Gil had no use for the rust colored suede jacket, the one with a fringe all along the backside and down the arms, the one that smelled faintly of mothballs since it belonged to his ex-girlfriend’s grandfather. Why the grandfather had bequeathed the jacket to Gil in his will remained a mystery to both Gil and his ex, who, while on semi-friendly terms, had been taking a break from all communication. It was the first time Gil had ever stayed long enough in a relationship to meet not only his girlfriend’s parents, but also her grandparents on more than one occasion. Not enough occasions, according to both Gil and his ex, to warrant any kind of inheritance. But there it was, in the bag, and Gil couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of sign. He liked to believe in signs almost as much as he liked to collect things—it really didn’t matter what the sign might have been trying to signify. After all, it was the transaction that mattered, the sudden appearance of an object or person who—just moments before—Gil hadn’t realize he wanted. The same principle applied to his collections—of statues, stamps, scarves (one could never have too many scarves in New York City), and at one point in his life, keychains. None of these acquisitions required much thought beyond a kind of loose intentionality.
This jacket, however, this jacket with the fringe that matched his developing beard, was a sign that he should accept the gift from the ex’s grandfather, no matter how much it was going to piss off his ex. But then, Gil remembered, he wasn’t into signs, not one bit, which might explain why he misread interactions and exchanges that in hindsight, signaled the demise of their relationship. He wasn’t great at relationships—he had enough therapy to acknowledge that. And yet, he didn’t completely suck at them the way his ex-girlfriend’s exes had. She often reminded him of this during the first few rocky months of dating, after they had slept together but before they had officially become a couple. Up till then, Gil’s longest relationship had had been of shorter duration than his twice a year dental cleaning. She had fought for them, even at the end, pointing out that the long hours he worked at the office not only kept them apart, but kept him from living life, that his collections were only gathering dust. Gil had tried to warn her that he didn’t know squat about long term commitment since he hadn’t come from the best of families. Certainly not the worst, but no one was going to hang any medals on his family tree for excellence in interpersonal dynamics.
Gil’s grandparents were strange people. His aunt reminisced about how their father bought a couple of coffins on sale and stored them in the attic. “He knew the price was just going to go up year after year,” his aunt has said. “Death is a business, Gil, and a good one. No one ever stops death.” The warning imbedded with such practical occupation advice threw Gil into tailspin for about a week until he asked his mother about it. “You should never keep a coffin in your home,” she said. “They make people do weird things.”
She refused to say any more, but he heard the rumors. It was that suggested that perhaps his aunt used to read, sleep, and eat in the remaining coffin after her father’s death. Either way, the exchange was enough to leave any thoughts of entering the funeral business and stay the course of a boring finance major. He liked gathering numbers, rearranging them, making them jump through hoops and over hurdles for his clients. Gil saw himself as a ringmaster of sorts and why not? His dad had been a quiet accountant, too, who collected mistresses on the side until he fell in headlong in love with Gil’s Sunday school teacher.
Two weeks later, his dad was completely moved out. Gil wondered what the mistress had done to seduce him so quickly—was it the felt board animals or Noah’s ark made from popsicle sticks? Gil’s life was circus. A rust-colored jacket with long fringe would work just fine.
He arranged to meet his ex on the northwest corner of twenty-first street and ninth by the coffee shop. She didn’t want to meet in the coffee shop even though it had been three years since their breakup, three years of other partners or meaninglessly dates, three years of deleting photos that always seem to pop up in surprising places, such as his tax folder. Gil had no idea why he saved five pictures of them dressed as Doctor Who and his companion other than the fact that he had always wanted a ginger fop in opposition to his rust colored crew cut. Gil wanted a great many things that he felt were not within his reach. The jacket could not be left unclaimed, not when it landed right at his feet where his ex had placed the bag that contained it. They had moved beyond hostile or friendly, beyond trying to read each other’s faces and body gestures. This impasse was how he last saw his mother and father at a holiday party: each parent claiming a side of the room, the mistress (now wife) lurking around the punch bowl. He decided then and there that he would never get married or have a mistress, would never have to buy coffins in bulk.
“Don’t just add this to your collection,” his ex suddenly said when he picked up the bag. She still didn’t look at him, didn’t reach out to lightly touch his arm even though the opportunity was there for one last physical connection. But she was nodding, as if agreeing with some unseen third party. “Get some actual use out of it, Gil. Wear it thin.”
Nancy Hightower has been published in Sundog Lit, Word Riot, Gargoyle, Prick of the Spindle, and storySouth, among others. She is the author of The Acolyte, (poetry, Port Yonder Press, 2015)