This week as I was walking to the store to buy groceries, a tall woman ambled along in front of me. Her deep brown fur coat reached from shoulder to calf. Six inches of her purple pants showed, and the shade of her brown fur cap matched the coat perfectly. When she turned to cut across the street, I was surprised to see that she was wearing enormous sunglasses. It wasn’t sunny.
On her, the fur coat was serving pure functionality, blocking the cutting wind on a 20 degree day.
But in one of my stories . . .
Lolita Franks, 55 and unhappily wed to Ted, had wanted just one thing her adult whole life: a fox fur coat. Unfortunately, year after year Ted paid no attention to her longing sighs and the magazine articles strategically left by the TV remote, in the cabinet near the chips, and on the back of the toilet.
Christmas Eve repeatedly found Lolita casting curious glances at the often large parcels under the tree—and the early morning light of December 25 caught her wearily trying to smile as she pulled yet another set of pillows or a potted plant from a poorly wrapped box.
Ted tried to be a good husband, really, he did. He didn’t cause any trouble—where other men came home late and fought with their wives, Ted came home early and spent the rest of the daylight in the garage with his tools. He loved tools. Often he just sat with them. After dinner, he watched TV quietly without making any commotion, except when his favorite team lost a game. Then he moped and grumbled for two days.
Lolita had long since given up on trying to make her marriage successful. Ted provided for her, she cooked for him, and they coexisted peacefully—not happily.
Her friends always asked Lolita why she didn’t just buy herself a fur coat. She’d sigh wistfully and say,
“It just doesn’t seem right.”
But she never cited the guilt and the real reason. It came up in the only fight they had, just once every few years. Things would go from tense to terrible, each would become furious, and finally Ted would shout,
“You NEVER gave me children, so I’ll NEVER give you that DUMB coat you always hint about.”
And so Lolita became more wistful, and Ted more withdrawn, and their unhappy peacekeeping routine continued.
I wish Ted repented of his vindictiveness and forgave his wife’s inability to conceive. I wish Lolita grew the backbone to stick up for herself.
But neither did. And the cycle followed them into their late 70s. Finally, one November, the main window at Macy’s featured a beautiful fox fur floor length coat. And after Thanksgiving and a particularly nasty brawl, Lolita stormed out of the house and squealed the tires out of the driveway—which calmed her down a little because she was so surprised—and marched into Macy’s.
White wispy hair sticking straight out from her head, wrinkled cheeks burning red, untrimmed bushy eyebrows set stiffly pointing down—Lolita stalked to the front counter. The cashier took one look at her and edged his hand toward the panic button, but before he could press it she demanded the coat in the window. She plunked $7,000 cash firmly on the counter.
Ten minutes later the security officers followed at a distance as Lolita flounced proudly out of the store in her new purchase. Then she tripped over the curb and fell to the ground.
Even the new coat couldn’t save her from a broken hip. Ted came to get her, and his anger melted into compassion when he saw his wife, helpless. She got a hip replacement and never walked much again. But she kept the fur coat hanging in sight, and she wore it whenever she did out in any season and temperature.
She died ten years later, and Ted died three months after she did.
At their estate sale, one Bert Jamison bought the coat as a present for his niece, a spunky girl who had odd style.
She hated it, though, and never wore it. After she left for college, her mother donated it to Salvation Army.
And that’s where Mary Jones, the fur enthusiast shuffling down a Chicago street that cold November day, bought it for $25.99.