I was writing at home, or trying to, when the desire to get up out of my chair finally struck me. I needed out, I needed to get out into the fall weather and interact with humans and stop looking at the page. I grabbed my pea coat, slipped it on, and slipped out the door. My girlfriend at the time wasn’t home yet.
The night was cold, and my feet slid over wet leaves that covered the grimy Portland sidewalk. Several times, I had to check my pace or risk falling to the tar. I took in the night air, letting it fill my lungs and letting my eyes adjust to the darkness.
Upon entering the store, I wandered around aimlessly. I wasn’t sure what exactly it was that I wanted, but I knew there was something I needed. After several minutes, an older man with a thick and full beard spotted with lots of grey approached me.
“That,” he said, pointing a callused finger at me, “is a great coat.”
“Thanks,” I said, thinking that was going to be the extent of the conversation.
Instead, the man chatted with me for a half an hour about how his own father had fought in World War II and that he had died just a couple of years back, which caused him to inherit his father’s pea coat. We were standing off to the side, near the chips, as the cashier occassionally eyed us.
“Ah,” I said, finally understanding. “One of the real ones. My coat isn’t as cool as one of those. Must’ve been all wool, right?”
“You bet your ass it is,” he said. “Damn fine coat. Still holds up. Still warm, after all these years.”
“That’s awesome,” I said. “Glad you got to inherit something that nice to remind you of his service. He probably wore it a ton, I imagine.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “It was his favorite coat. And, to be honest, toward the end of his life he got kind of…big.” The man held out his arms from his sides and puffed out his cheeks. “I mean, he got kind of…fat. But, can you believe he used to be my size?”
“Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, probably because he was young and in the military and always running around,” I replied.
“Oh, you bet,” the man began. “He was nineteen…”
The man trailed off and seemed to be reliving his encounters with his father, the stories he’d told, the life he’d lived up until then. Then, he clapped me on the shoulder and extended a hand. I took it and we shook hands silently for a second.
“But, yes,” he said, finally. “I was drawn to your coat and just had to talk about my father. Damn fine coat.”
“Thanks for sharing,” I said. “He sounds like he was a good man.”
“May God rest his soul,” the stranger replied, before nodding to the cashier and making his way into the night.
I took one last look around the store and walked outside as well, purchasing nothing in the end. The man was nowhere to be seen. I’d received what I’d gone in to find, though I hadn’t originally known what I’d wanted. Human interaction, inspiration, a story. That was something you couldn’t buy.