It was still there. The hunter green blazer watched Lainey as she clipped paper receipts to garment bags at Stella’s Dry Cleaners. The Jacket had gold oval-shaped buttons, which adorned the front of it. It had shoulder pads and was lined in soft black silk. Lainey had seen something similar in last month’s issue of Vogue, but this jacket was different. Though it was well made, someone had sewn flowers on it in scarlet red, sapphire blue, and emerald green sequins. The Jacket stood out among the black and white garments filling the rack at the dry-cleaners. It had gone unclaimed for six months and for six months Lainey had hated it. Still, each day she traced its sequined flowers with her fingers.
One day the jacket began talking to Lainey.
“Why do you keep staring at me?” Lainey asked.
“Why does that bother you so much?” the Jacket answered.
On the morning she found the jacket, Lainey performed her daily routine of sifting through clothes on the rack. By 10 a.m. the store was usually dead. Lainey had enough time before the noon crowd came in to get acquainted with the clothes. She tried on a black cashmere cardigan that someone had dropped off, with a white cotton shirt. Lainey looked in the mirror, tugging one sleeve of the cardigan. She stood in front of the mirror and tried different poses. Each time she readjusted her position, the rayon skirt she paired it with, swished against her legs. The cashmere glowed under the store’s heavy lights. Lainey took the sweater off and slipped the sleeves on its hanger.
“You’re lovely,” she said, rubbing the fibers of the sweater.
Lainey tapped her fingers on the smooth black buttons before putting it back on the rack. As she looked in the mirror mid-pose, she noticed the green jacket hanging on the rack.
Lainey knew she hadn’t been working the day the jacket was dropped off. Marie, the girl who’d been there, didn’t remember where the jacket came from. When Lainey asked, Marie said, “I don’t know. Didn’t someone drop it off on Monday?” Lainey knew that wasn’t true because she’d worked on Monday, and on Monday the jacket was not there.
When Lainey moved from Iowa to New York City, she knew one thing about herself: that she liked clothes and fashion. Unable to afford a fashion design program, she decided to try modeling. Lainey wasn’t interested in the attention. Instead she fantasized walking down the runway feeling the cool fibers of a Dolce and Gabbana shirt rub against her torso. She wanted to hear the swish of a Diane Von Furstenberg skirt and smell the leather of a Michael Kors bag. She often flipped through fashion magazines loving the clothes and wanting to wear them. She loved the way clothes felt when she touched them, regardless of the material they were made with. She loved the way they smelled, clean and fresh.
Experimenting with fashion, she tried every style. She wore black lace tights with a purple jumpsuit and a pair of lacy heels to see if she could find her “signature” look. She knew the styles that were in; when they didn’t work for her, she tried others. Yet, she couldn’t find a look that felt right.
When modeling failed her, Lainey tried working retail. When no retail places were hiring, the only place she found where she’d be allowed to interact with clothes, was Stella’s dry cleaners, on the corner of 9th Avenue and West 50th street.
Initially, she loved the job. She studied the clothes that customers brought her, and came up with new outfit ideas on her own. She didn’t want to be one of those people who went out every day wearing whatever Vogue told her to, but she liked things that were fresh and classic. Every day she walked through the crowded city streets, her blond hair blowing in the brisk New York air; her brown eyes behind oversized white sunglasses, checking out what other people were wearing.
Lainey tapped her pink acrylic fingernails on the blue front counter. Inside the dry cleaners, it looked as if blue paint had spewed onto everything: blue walls, blue linoleum on the floor, blue curtains. The only thing that wasn’t blue was the cash register, which was as grey as 8th Avenue concrete. Every day Lainey put on a blue t-shirt, tied a blue apron around her waist, and attached the nametag that spelled out “Elaine” in blue letters.
One morning, while the owner, Stella, was in counting money, Lainey decided the jacket needed to go.
“Stella,” Lainey approached her. “Do you remember that green jacket in the back with the sequins?”
“Yes,” Stella said sorting bills in the cash register drawer.
“Well it’s been here since forever, and I think we should get rid of it.”
Stella shook her head briskly.
“No, Elaine. We don’t throw out people’s clothes, someone will claim it eventually.”
“But it’s been here for six months. No one is coming back for it.”
“But it’s ugly.”
“No, Elaine,” Stella said, still counting bills in the drawer.
Stella slammed the drawer shut with her hip, walked past Lainey, and headed out the door.
The Jacket laughed. Hearing the laughter, Lainey envisioned a heavy-set middle-aged redhead cackling, but when she turned to look, it was only the jacket hanging on its hanger, inside a plastic bag, chuckling.
Lainey threw down the roll of garment bags she was holding. “Oh, what is so funny?” she snapped.
“You tried getting rid of me,” the jacket giggled, “but I get to stay-ay.”
“Well, someone will come along and take you. Eventually.”
“Nuh-uh, Elainey,” the jacket said. “No one’s coming back for me. You’re just gonna have to take me home with you.”
Someone has to come back, Lainey prayed silently.
“Nope,” said the jacket, as if Lainey had spoken. “You already tried pawning me off. Remember Mrs. Jacobs?”
Lainey remembered. She had just finished scrubbing the counter when she heard the clicking of Mrs. Jacobs’s fuchsia heels on the tile floor. Mrs. Jacobs looked like a parrot: long nose, asymmetrically cut red hair, brightly multicolored clothing. That day she wore an orange dress. Lainey thought Mrs. Jacobs must be miserable, despite her rainbow themed wardrobe.
“Good morning, Elaine.” Mrs. Jacob said moving her pink highlighter lips.
“Good morning. Pick up?”
Lainey went to the back before Mrs. Jacobs put her receipt on the counter. Surely the jacket was hers, it had to belong to her.
“Here you are, Mrs. Jacobs,” she said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, this isn’t mine.” Mrs. Jacobs gazed at the jacket, gloomily.
“Really?” Lainey asked.
“Here’s my receipt,” Mrs. Jacobs said, tapping the slip of paper on the counter.
“Are you sure?” Lainey asked, praying again: Please, get rid of this hideous thing for me.
“Yes dear. I’m just picking up my dress. You know, the purple and pink one I dropped off last week.”
“Ah, yes. I remember now. Coming right up.”
As she rang Mrs. Jacobs up, Lainey thought she heard the jacket giggle. She handed Mrs. Jacobs her dress and her change.
“Have a good day, dear,” Mrs. Jacobs said as she left.
Lainey waited until the door had slammed shut and she could see Mrs. Jacob’s head through the front window. The jacket began laughing and Lainey threw it at the front door. It slid down the door, where it lay folded.
“Parrot Face, come back here and take this jacket,” Lainey called out but Mrs. Jacobs was already passing Vera’s Coffee House on the corner.
“I should have told her to throw you off the Chrysler Building,” Lainey said.
But the Jacket laughed louder.
“And how about the time Emily Stowe came in?” added the jacket now. “You tried with her too, but it didn’t work.”
Emily Stowe, a model whom Lainey had met at a few auditions, had come in several days earlier. She’d strutted down the stripe of blue carpet leading from the front door to the counter as if it were a runway. Placing her black Prada handbag on the counter, she’d pulled a dry-cleaning receipt from her Louis Vuitton wallet. Her brown hair looked gluey, loaded with gel. Behind her sunglasses, Lainey could see her periwinkle eyelids, long fake eyelashes, and thick purple liner.
“Hi Emily. Back from a photo shoot?”
Emily put the ticket on the counter without responding.
“What are you picking up today?”
“Just a jacket I dropped off a while back.”
Lainey’s eyes widened. Could the jacket actually belong to her?
“You get to go home now,” she snickered at the jacket, before hastily bringing it to Emily.
“That is absolutely not my jacket,” Emily said.
“Are you sure?”
“Look at that thing. It’s disgusting! I wouldn’t be caught dead in it.”
“Sorry,” Lainey said. “I’ll get you your jacket.”
Emily had been right: The jacket was disgusting. Yet, she could tell by the tight seams and the feel of the fabric that it was well made. The flowers had been sewn on by hand. Someone had put a lot of attention into it. Why didn’t anyone want to take it?
“So you see,” the jacket said, one afternoon. “You’re stuck with me.”
Lainey cracked her knuckles and sighed.
“Take me home. You won’t get in trouble,” the jacket added.
“No one’s coming to claim me.”
Lainey ignored it this time.
“Try me on,” the Jacket whispered from the hanger. “C’mon just put your arms through my sleeves.”
“I’ll look good on you. Try me on.”
“Try me on, Elainey.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“Elainey, why do you hate me so much?”
Lainey twirled the bangles on the right wrist. She remembered Emily Stowe with her oversized white sunglasses laughing at her, like she was wearing last year’s Old Navy.
“You know Elainey, you’re never going to make it out there being so unpleasant.”
Lainey threw down the pencil she was playing with. She pulled the jacket off the rack. Her fingers tugged at the plastic wrap, tearing it open.
“Who do you belong to? Why won’t anyone come and get you?”
The jacket said nothing.
“Who would sew these gaudy sequins on you? They’re hideous. You’re disgusting.”
The sequined flowers bloomed beneath the fluorescent ceiling lights.
“You say something to me, every day,” Lainey shrieked. “Why won’t you talk now? Answer me.” Lainey shook the jacket.
“Oh Elainey,” the jacket finally spoke up. “Stop blaming me for your failures. Just because you’re dissatisfied with your life doesn’t mean you should take it out on me.”
“Shut up, you’re a jacket.”
“You’re right, I’m just a jacket,” the jacket laughed. “But it’s fun getting under your skin.”
“You’re ugly. I hate you!” Lainey stuffed the jacket inside a drawer of a dresser inside a large closet at the back of the store.
“No, Elainey, don’t put me in the drawer,” the jacket called out.
“Shut up! You’re a jacket, act like a jacket. Stop bothering me!” Lainey kicked the drawer closed with her heel.
“Bitch,” the jacket said from inside the closed drawer.
At 5 p.m., after making sure the front door of the store was locked, Lainey began to gather her things. She was wiping down the counters when she remembered the jacket.
She went into the back. The jacket still lay in the drawer. Lainey rubbed her fingers over the sequins; she touched the edge of each flower, seeing how it sparkled. The jacket looked different, Lainey thought. Not more or less hideous, but different.
She took it out of the drawer and pulled each out of the buttons out of its hole. The jacket stayed silent. In that moment, Lainey knew it was meant for her. She twisted her hair into a messy bun and secured it with a black elastic band. Putting her apron back into the box, she grabbed the jacket by the collar and slipped an arm into each sleeve. She pushed three gold buttons through their holes and put her sunglasses in the front pocket. The jacket was a perfect fit for her.
She first paired it with a yellow crocheted hat and mittens, which once had a grape juice stain on them. Lainey left her hair down and envisioned snowflakes landing on her hair as she walked through Central Park. She then wore the jacket open, with a red and yellow sundress. Lainey kicked her sneakers off and tiptoed in an imaginary pair of Louboutin heels up and down the racks of clothing. Then Lainey took her apron back out and fashioned it as a skirt, which she paired the jacket with.
As Lainey put the clothes back on their hangers, there was a knock at the door. A young man was standing outside holding his ticket against the glass door. Lainey opened the door.
“Hi, I’m really sorry but I really need to pick up my dad’s suit,” said the young man. “Please, can you let me in?”
“It’s okay. Give me your ticket.”
Lainey could smell sandalwood from leftover cologne on his flannel sleeve as he handed her the slip of paper. As she went to the back of the store, she felt the soft fibers of the jacket against her wrist. They tickled but left her warm. She looked down at the sequined flowers. They reflected in all yellow, white, and gold, when the light hit them.
“I told you I was beautiful,” the jacket murmured, “or at least I tried to. Do you believe me now?”
Lainey envisioned the jacket’s human form: the bossy redhead, folding her arms and tapping a shoe. She’d always imagined that woman giving her an “I told you so” face.
The customer was running his fingers through his short brown hair when Lainey came back to the front desk. He quickly stopped, as if startled. As Lainey rang him up, she noticed he kept his green eyes fixed on her. When she gave him his change, he smiled shyly.
“Here you go. Have a good day,” she said.
“Thanks. You too.”
He began to leave but turned back, smiling again, he waved and left. Lainey watched him go, unable to move or speak. As the front door swung closed, the jacket spoke.
“See, Elainey, we make a good pair you and me. Don’t you think so? Maybe he’ll come back and ask for your number.”
“Oh yeah,” Lainey said. “He’ll come back and find out I talk to a jacket. This relationship has so much promise.”
“Oh he’ll love me,” the Jacket chirped. “Who could resist my charm?”
When Lainey got outside, the fresh city air blew, but the jacket kept her warm. The sound of car horns and people chattering on their cell phones surrounded Lainey. She could taste the burnt popcorn that the street vendors had been brewing. As she shut the door, she couldn’t help but laugh at the Jacket’s comments. Lainey locked it and dropped the keys in the jacket’s pocket. Smiling, she began the walk home, through the busy streets, sequins and all.