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Along with the daily feature articles from our columnists, read works from our past contributors in the categories of prose, poetry and visual art, alongside interviews and other musings.

 

Winter Coat by Eilish Mulholland

Photograph by Tammy Pineda (https://www.instagram.com/tnpineda/)

 

There is something about the smell of winter coats that demand your attention. At the first

sign of snow, they’re always unearthed from the back of the cupboard, shook out, and the

pockets dredged and fondled in a way that makes you realize that your new suede jacket

whilst immensely fashionable, isn’t going to serve you all too well when walking 2 miles

across town everyday to get to the bus station because you’re too poor to afford the cross

city bus.

It is when you wear this coat that you look upon others with envy. The snug, fashionable

ones who never have to wear a hood or hat or gloves of any kind and still manage to look

tastefully windswept as they jog across campus because their house is a footfall away from

university grounds. They have an altogether more tasteful wardrobe. You wear practical

clothing, dark denim, jeans, jumpers of various colours, patterns and knitted varieties and

sensible black lace up boots that give a hint of Gothic romanticism but are altogether too

nerdy to be considered totally chic. They wear the latest fashions. It’s cute summer dresses

with chunky cardigans, wearing a hat indoors all day because it looks chic, fluffy teddy bear

jackets, sheep’s wool coats, fur, tights, glitter and everything that doesn’t seem to belong in

a lecture hall but is made to work because they have an air of sophistication that makes you

ache for that same carefree sensuousness. You had never really tried to be like them.

Once,

only once did you seek to imitate them by wearing a skirt to university. You were meeting up with a school friend after class for drinks and wanted to look sophisticated and arty. It was a purple

skirt purchased some years before with a ruffled hem and a long slit up to the knee so it

flashed a tiny amount of leg anytime you crossed your ankles at your desk. You remember

feeling sexy. Sitting there, taking notes on James Joyce’s Ulysses, crossing and uncrossing

your legs and talking about stream of consciousness as a literary technique, you caught the

eye of your professor who was sitting at the front of the room. There was an unspoken

atmosphere. You could feel his eyes observing your form, mentally taking note of your

change of uniform and the gash of red lipstick before resting on your legs and raising an

eyebrow in a bemused, yawning fashion, you suddenly felt very naked and exposed. The

flounce of the skirt seemed too unnatural for your slouched form, the fact that numerous

students had audibly said you looked good before class now seemed pathetic. All this had

seemed to make you believe you were oozing some raw sensuality that stunk of hot, mid-

afternoon sex and stale breath, but this metamorphosis only occurred when you took off your

coat. It was a long line, black-brown chesterfield affair you’d fallen in love with as a young

student in the back end of a vintage shop. The lining was dark, burnt up like bog peat and

inside you found an old fashioned ticket from a hotel in Dublin that made you think it was

from a fancy woman’s wardrobe off the Malone Avenue. It was sacred, warm and also

comically large around your body because you were built like a piece of futuristic art. Your

arms and legs were long and spindly. Your torso was short, curling off at the pelvis with a

hint of hip bone and fat that made you feel like a jointed doll. Your chest was small, delicate

and prone to bouts of pretty lingerie filled with gaping cups, lace and elastic in a pathetic

attempt to accept them for their loveliness but it still always felt like you should have grown

up with no breasts at all because they seemed to stick out from the rest of you. Large, moon

shaped on account of the padded underwear your mother brought you, it felt noticeable until

you crossed your arms or playfully pressed at the mound of air that shaped your decolletage

and remembered that your breasts looked flat because they were flat. A previous boyfriend

had described them once as a set of teacup saucers because they had a round edge, sat

high up on your rib cage and were their fullest at the edge of your rib cage, stretching out

their circumference like two pebbles before they pooled into the rest of your skin. Small,

unnoticeable, less than a handful and very incapable of performing any acts of manual

stimulation or suffocation, he left you soon afterwards for a buxom horse rider whose tits had

such volume you looked upon her with constant jealousy and disgust. The coat hid all that. It

was formless, it hung from your frame like a hanger, capable of obscuring everything from

anyone's gaze because it was a rich wool fiber, a perfect blindfold fabric. Your friends teased

you and called it your carpet coat but you knew they were secretly jealous of it. Once when

you’d been at a poetry event one night and had drunk too many lemonade and gin mixers,

you’d come back from the bathroom to find your friend enveloped in its chocolate wrapper

folds. You felt a wave of jealousy sweep through you, a deep possessive feeling that made

you want to tear the coat off of them and spit at their heels for the feeling of their body that

the coat would hold from its last embrace. Treasonous, fouled. All these words swam up into

your mouth and you felt yourself becoming unwell, feverish almost at the face of such

insanity.

You began to take slow, delicate steps, watching your friend cross the room to the bar and

back, earning pets and glances from the other revelers as your coat swished over her

shoulders. On her it had become a gown that sparkled under the club lights. Shifting from

hues of lilac, amber and red she looked like a dancer. Her hair seemed darker, more

sensuous and she seemed to be swaying her hips backwards and forwards to the music.

She was stroking the coat, embracing it, letting the sleeves drop against her hips, playfully

touching the collar with the tips of her fingers, kissing the buttons and letting the belt trail

between her legs like a tail as her pelvis rocked forwards so you could see her body

underneath her tight dress, poised as if ready for some tumultuous embrace. She looked up,

locking eyes with you and you felt your stomach drop with anticipation as she beckoned you

forward with the curve of her palm, one hand outstretched as she pulled you in under the

folds of the coat and you began to touch her mouth with your hands. You let your fingers

dance around the edges of her mouth, feeling her shudder as you gripped the back of her

head with your hand and whispered to her about how good she looked before you reached

round and yanked the coat off her shoulders. She was startled at first by the action. Her eyes

flew open and she seemed to forget that you were standing in a club and not half naked in a

room somewhere messily exploring each other’s bodies. She faltered, half laughing into your

face before she saw you clutching your coat with a balled up fist and silently she dropped the

sleeve she was hanging onto. You felt a wave of relief rush through you and you laughed, a

high fake bark that burnt the back of your throat and she smiled back wolfishly. The two of

you never spoke about the incident again but you knew when she showed up in a cheaper

replica with grey print that she had fallen under its spell and the two of you parted ways soon

afterwards.

It was your coat first and foremost. You knew there’d be imitators, coats of better colour,

better fits of sleeve and button and pocket size but you knew you couldn’t betray this one.

You supposed its allure came from its earthy smell and colour. No matter where you were,

no matter where you wore it the fabric seemed immune to the outside world. It had been

woven you imagined in a little cottage in the west of Ireland sometime in the late fifties when

electricity hadn’t come to the sleepy little village towns and the gas lamps hissed on the

walls. Those towns, whose names seemed to slip easily off road signs and maps with similar

sounding prefixes of Lough, Cobh or Breen and got muddled along the way as a figure in

your mind travelled to collect this sample of prized wool from a cottage in a hedgerow. The

figure would approach an old crone sitting at a large spinning wheel or loom and observe her

handiwork that she offered wrapped up in tissue paper. The figure would have smiled,

handed over his payment and placed the fabric in his large canvas bag before setting off

again. Along the way, back to the tailor in Dublin, you knew the coat would have soaked up

the atmosphere of its travels. There would be wood smoke, the dew of early morning

rambles, the purpled plush of sour blackberries picked off a hedge and dusted with pollen.

The heavy stupor of summer thunderstorms would sink, waxy and dry into the lining, and

when the clouds swelled up like soap bubbles, its robust lining would give the coat an

impenetrable covering. Your mother had often tried to wash it, you sprayed perfume around

it and even left it to hang on the clothesline for a fortnight but nothing could get rid of its

musk. You thought of it like a tree root. Deep, thick and buried, its exact actualities were

buried in a maze of string, sewing and machine sized sewing needles that had hooked this

peasant made fabric onto their metal arms, threw it up and under itself in a series of sailor

knots and changed it into a garment of the fashionable milieu.

This musk was just one of its many qualities. There was the left breast pocket that had a

habit of gaping open no matter how many stitches were put in its seams to hold it together.

Another factor was its tendency to unloose itself when you were out in public. The buttons

seemed to wriggle and writhe of their own accord, slipping and then holding onto their

threaded stems like a fish. Compelled to skirt across the plain of your body before finally

hanging dejectedly like a drowned rat until you patiently slotted each section back into place

and tied its belt around it like a muffler. It also had a tendency to bite. Pins from years ago,

bent and rusted would often spring from the silk lining to jab your back. A blackthorn spike

had once lodged itself in your arm when out walking, and once, an iron railing had pierced a

pocket so you’d been obliged to leave it in for repair for a week at a local dressmaker's shop

and revert back to your old, unsightly black gabardine raincoat that you said always made

you look like the grim reaper. It was a tedious ownership, filled with repairs, slights of hand

deception and miracles but you loved the coat all the same. Once, you’d imagined you saw it

in a shop window, but you knew your coat would never betray you. It knew you too

intimately. It had been with you on first dates, doctor’s appointments, post office deliveries,

library sessions and date nights. You’d worn it over various outfits and selves. The

glamorous version of yourself. Had worn it to the opera house for the ballet, the drunk

version of yourself had let it shield you whilst you cried bitterly and threw up in a cold,

unknown bathroom of a friend’s house. You wore it when you had to give a presentation for

30% of your class grade and had shook so much with nerves the professor asked you if you

had a medical condition. You wore it the morning after you slept with your partner because

you needed it’s protection. You had left early before anyone else was awake and wrapped it

round your body like a blanket because he’d made you do horrible things and you were

desperate to shower his smell off your skin. Once a date had taken it off you as a jest and

you felt yourself shrinking and had refused to move until he gave it back to you because it

was winter and you sat down in the snow and let yourself become increasingly cold because

it was a second skin and you felt profoundly naked without it. You’d also been found in it,

intoxicated and high on pills that you’d taken with a stranger because they looked like a cat’s

paw. You were slurring your words and listing to the middle of the late night bus lane

because no one would talk to you because you’d fucked your friend’s boyfriend and told her

he’d liked it. And when finally you graduated you’d worn it over your gown because it was in

the dead of winter and you thought your hands would freeze over during the walk to the car

to fetch your camera so your parents could take awkward portraits which would hang in the

living room until they died or you removed them yourself.

In summer though you almost forgot about your winter coat. You swapped wool for denim,

became used to wearing shorts, scorning coats and getting soaked with rain in favour of

some half hearted frivolity. You were different when it was summer. Everything seemed

sensuous and sticky. A stranger on the boardwalk, the couples who congregated under the

pier and the gangs of boys who worked in the golf club where you waited tables for money

made you feel funny. You spent so much of your time in a daze. Observing, wondering and

imagining what it must be like to lie under or over various people. Once, when making a trip

out to the shop, you’d become so distracted by the sight of a topless sunbather you’d nearly

walked out into the road because you were so distracted. And you’d try, desperately to pick

up anyone or anything but no one would see you, so you’d go to bed, half delirious with want

and heat and sleep restlessly dreaming of bodies that could not be touched and feel your

throat burn with desire until you woke up and the whole cycle would start again. You spent

days wandering between fits of lethargy and energy, alternating between lying inside and

outside until September rolled round again and you seemed to calm down. You could never

pinpoint it exactly. It could be a slight breeze towards the middle of September, the

unexpected cold snap that came in October or the wet month of November made your heart

slow to a sluggish rhythm. A syrup of pacification would flow through your veins and your

coat would envelope your form and you’d become blind to it all. It was like being buried.

Muffled under layers of wool and leather you could scarcely see your own hand in front of

your face and everyone seemed so insular that it didn’t matter that a boy from work hadn’t

called you back or that your flat mate was refusing to talk to you because you’d defaulted on

your tenancy agreement for the third time this year and she wanted someone more reliable

to live with because all of this was insignificant to you and your coat.

Some nights, when it was cold and you felt too wired and awake, you liked to go for walks at

night in and around the city centre with a travel mug filled with coffee and brandy to keep you

warm. You’d get a delicious buzz off of it, walking for hours around quiet suburban streets,

peering through darkened windows to sleeping pensioners, wakeful infants and the

occasional glassy eyed stir of a house cat lounging against the window pane. The streets

would be illuminated by street lamps or the occasional twinkle of a car headlight cracked

from the black night like the mantle of a freshwater mussel and your mouth would water at

the sight of it. Those lights meant humanity, a sign that another irregular like yourself

wandered late at night and often, you began to look out for them. Most of the time it was taxi

drivers herding drunk students to and from bedsits, the occasional commuter cutting home

from a hospital or those who seemed disturbed. You knew from the look in their eye that they

suffered the same affliction as you. Panicked, lips pulled tight over their teeth and a window

rolled down to keep them away with continuous bouts of fresh air, you pitied them because

you were out here revealing in it and they were driving to get away from it. It moved with you

and in you. Slowly expelling from your belly a stretch of foul words, habits and behaviors,

cursing and sweating it's bilious fluid onto everything until you begin to cry in long gasps,

feeling your hands shake in your pockets and long to feel anything from anyone until the

sensation would pass. You would throw back your head then and laugh, sending a high

pitched squeal into the night with a cloud of your breath because you knew whatever it was,

you wouldn't get away from it. You’d feel sage then,old and wise and filled with a sense of

knowledge beyond your years and begin to walk back home. At times, you tested yourself,

deliberately walking through parts of the city that were dark. Skirting round edges of

buildings, walking down dead end streets and generally enjoying a feeling of senselessness

that would guide you home, exhausted, covered in rain and panting with cold to bed until you

woke up in the morning, cold and shivering and still wearing your coat.

But when you got lonely, and walking didn’t do anything, you would fall asleep and make

yourself pretend the coat was another person next to you. You’d weave magnificent tales,

stuffing the coat with a pillow and hugging it like a limpet on a rock to pretend someone

wanted you. Their name ranged from Michael the IT engineer to Roberta, the savvy

Instagram guru who demanded you to bring her home so she could fuck you but instead fell

asleep on your couch and left the next morning before you could say anything. Sometimes,

these people seemed so real that you found yourself talking about them in third person to

your co-workers when you made small talk in the morning. Their names changed, but it was

always a default to refer to them in third person when asked about your weekend plans and

actually having something to say rather than the usual description of housework, Sunday

dinner and Prosecco filled Fridays until Monday rolled round and you were sitting at your

desk wondering what would happen if you went and punched Susan the team manager in

the face with the force of your balled up fist. You always wore your coat in the office. You

complained it was always too cold and soon no one looked at you sideways for wearing it.

There was a set uniform, a sort of sexless beige concoction of suits, skirts and flared

trousers with heeled pumps and steel jewelry wrapped in Dior perfume and Estée Lauder

makeup. You had tried at first to subscribe to it. You brought the clothes, wore your high

heeled pumps in the office with a pair of runners in a fancy shopping bag like the rest of

them. You gossiped about boyfriends, pets, the perils of online dating and nearly succumbed

to an office Christmas party when your coat managed to pull you back out of normality again

and force you back into its folds. The smell was overpowering. Before, in-between group

lunches and WhatsApp calls, it was a flicker. Similar to the occasional scent of warm vanilla

that floated to you over the air conditioning or the scent of cherries that made you remark in

admiration about your co-worker’s perfume, its scent became stronger though as the weeks

went on. The scent itself was odourless to begin with. Faintly, a smell that would make the

nostrils flare momentarily and the mind roll back to rotten delicacies such as fermented

cabbage or Rakfish that were an acquired taste or an excusable summer sweat. Then, it

wilted, turning itself into the porcine funk of forgotten fruit, contaminated

Tupperware, and the stench of fermented unidentifiable yoghurt that lurked in the back of the

communal fridge that no one dared eat until you could feel people looking at you due to the

olfactory vapours that emitted from your coat. You stopped going out. You tried to switch

perfume, mouthwash and toothpaste. You tried smearing deodorant onto the inside of your

clothes, showered three times a day and even considered getting armpit Botox and

researched the cost of fumigating your clothes until you gave up and accepted the odour.

Your coat had seemed to have deflated, given up some essential part of itself and had

changed from a stylish garment to a souped up dishrag of indifferent, dad fabric.

One of the sleeves became puckered, the buttons were falling off, and you tried wearing new

clothes and new coats but still the smell hadn’t faded. You imagined it as a giant organism. A

bacteria or a parasite that had namelessly buried itself into the lining of your clothing, been

transported home and soon wrecked havoc all over your wardrobe with ferocious ability. In

your dreams, you imagined it was crawling all over you, little bugs or beetles scuttling under

your eyelids, maggots tangling themselves in the strings of your hair, putrid stews or sweats

that made you wake up gagging and running to the window to breathe in fresh morning air.

But the coat remained a source of comfort. Isolated in your stench, you’d find yourself

sniffing the collar repeatedly in-between phone calls, appointments and paperwork until it's

stewed fumes made you feel horribly giddy. When the sleeve eventually fell off, you simply

stapled it back on in the bathroom floor of your flat one morning. You had to press hard to

get the staples through such thick fabric, but when you’d succeeded you couldn’t help but

admire your handiwork and told yourself that it's dismantled look was a new take on using

second hand garments to prevent global warming. When the lining went, you quickly

remedied its faults with a length of black bin bag and tinfoil. When the buttons rolled under

your sofa, you simply left them off. When your boss called you in to their office to discuss

workplace attire and hygiene you quit and filed a complaint with HR about workplace

discrimination on the basis of gender. When your mother called, concerned about your

flatmate’s reports of you wearing nothing except a coat and wandering about town half mad

and screaming you said it was an exaggeration because you had shoes on. When your

mother eventually showed up with tears in her eyes and pleaded with you to go to the doctor

you slammed the door in her face and when you had finally tore the coat to pieces in order to

get to the score of its scent you decided to give the fabric up to the night because you felt

the coat had never truly been yours to begin with. You deliberately climbed up onto the roof

of your flat in the rain, stumbling blindly and lunging and grasping, leaning over the

balustrades until your head felt funny and you began to tear the coat into little pieces. It was

hard at first, you swore, digging your nails into the seams, stepping and trampling on its

edges until the fabric softened and gave up, splitting open like a ripe melon and releasing

itself to you. Rain droplets hung from your nose as you steadily progressed, throwing tinfoil,

buttons and paper over your shoulder in rapid succession before you gave up, your hands

covered in dust and tossed the scraps of fabric into the air. You pushed your wet hair away from

your eyes at that moment and watched them flutter and float in the air almost mesmerized by

their actions.

You felt an urge to call them back to you, to make them

reassemble themselves: until you saw them caught in the wind and making panicked movements and felt

profoundly calm. They were going from you, flying about to be dropped down over the city

with the rain and you wondered where they’d turn up.

You imagined them settling onto park

benches, being found mixed up with the newspapers and even, you hoped to be found on a

windscreen of some fellow driver as a splash of mud or a piece of rubbish wrapped round a

windscreen wiper. Cold, soaking wet and gone in an instant, you imagined the driver would

be startled at first. They’d probably break or think they’d hit a bird or a small animal until

they’d calmed down enough to realize what it was. You imagined them rationalizing with

themselves and denying repeatedly until they accepted its occurrence and you smiled,

feeling the breeze ruffle your hair and you finally felt free of whatever it was that had haunted

You.

 

Eilish Mulholland is an English graduate based in the North of Ireland. Her work has featured in Re-Side, Hidden Channel and The Daily Drunk. She is the creator of the Plath & Co Podcast and is currently working towards her first collection of short stories.

 

Read other published work: https://www.allearsindia.com/weekly-publications

Edited by: Devika Mathur (https://myvaliantsoulsblog.wordpress.com/)

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