The Coats in Summer People | Christi Krug
There’s something wrong with you if you wear coats in summer. It means you don’t live with the people who have tan arms and hair kissed by sun, hair that flashes yellow and almost-white even when you don’t put Sun-In on it. There’s something wrong with Mother putting on her wool coat to walk to Safeway, slow like in another time zone, like walking on the moon, somewhere cold and dark, while children are shouting and riding bikes and running through sprinklers. When I went to see Mother in the hospital there was a man wearing a coat in the waiting room, talking to himself, and that’s another kind of thing that means there’s something wrong with you.
Theodore wears a coat in summer. He wears it when his Big Brother picks him up to go shopping, go to Radio Shack, get ice cream. When he comes back, sometimes he doesn’t have his coat on, and it makes me think maybe his Big Brother can save him from being one of the coats-in-summer people. Or maybe he can’t.
But most days, Theodore wears his coat in summer, and that’s how I know he is not a normal boy anymore. I will go to school and freeze if I have to, on a sunny day in September, and I will stop wearing a coat in February, even if the gusts are gusting and frost is on the grass by the bus stop, because I can’t belong to the coats-in-summer people, can’t run different forever. I want to be in the world of the people who go to the beach, who go on vacations, who have lime green shorts and eat lime green popsicles, not wearing avocado-green coats puffy and fat and thick.
Theodore and Mother have the same kind of wrongness to them, the kind that makes people get quiet and look at each other. One time in a gift shop, the cash register lady smiled and uncomfortable smile and followed us to the back room when I was walking behind Theodore, and we were looking at the greeting cards, and the spider plants, and the big silver decorating letters that said “Beach” and “Relax.” It was hot, and everyone had shorts, and outside on the sidewalk, people were licking ice cream cones piled high with strawberry, mint-chip, and chocolate swirls. Theodore was wearing a coat.
You can’t be with us, even when you are. It means you’ll see things, hear things, feel things, that people in the regular zone don’t understand. When Theodore says, “They’re out to get me,” I don’t know who he’s talking about. He says it again: “They’re out to get me.” And Mother says there are germs on her purse and on the table, and she can’t stop thinking about the germs, and it makes her face pinch up and her voice shake, soft and high. So really, all that’s happening is that they are somewhere else. They look off, away at something, over their shoulder. They see a dolphin on television and say, “There’s a disease you can get from marine animals.”
A coat in summer means you feel the wrong season.
Or maybe that’s wrong.
Could be the coat in summer protects the skin. The skin of Mother, of Theodore, has many more prickles on it than our skin. The nurse in the hospital called it schizophrenia, but I don’t think she knew about skin. It looks normal, but it is covered with tiny little hands that reach out, get slapped, and scratch, with small, fragile fingernails always trying to hold Mother still, hold Theodore still.
These tiny hands are always getting bumped and bruised, all the invisible hands, and they have to be gently gloved, covered, saved, protected. The coat in summer keeps the bones of their invisible hands from being broken. Also, they don’t have to touch people all the time. Touching people creates electric currents and it hurts.
Mother says the doctors sent electricity through her when she was young, and now she doesn’t remember things. She always remembers her coat, though. I always remember there’s something wrong, and so I forget my coat every time I can, leave it on the playground, ride my bike in my T-shirt, get sunburned. I can be one less wrongness. I can be with the ones who shop in the gift shop and no one says a thing. Maybe someday if no one else can save Mother and Theodore, I can come back from this place to their place and give them someone to belong to, even with their coats on.
About the Author:
Christi Krug’s poetry and prose have appeared in everything from religious magazines to horror anthologies to comic zines. Her latest stories appear in Griffel, Nightingale & Sparrow, Montana Mouthful, and Luna Station Quarterly. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and recently served as writer-in-residence at North Cascades Institute. Since 1997, she has been a community educator for Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. Christi is a multifaceted coach of creativity and mindfulness and the author of Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough. www.christikrug.com