The Age of Elegance

The Word: Cape

I was cleaning out my closet. Piles of clothes that didn’t fit anymore, piles that didn’t fit into my quote unquote lifestyle anymore. My old friend Trina sat on the bed, giving clothes thumbs up or thumbs down. I’d been divorced for a year, and my latest so-called boyfriend, a professor in the economics department, had just dumped me after a six week affaire. Now Trina had put her foot down. “You’re not going to get an interesting man looking like Marian the Librarian.”  Anything that a librarian could wear, I was to eject.   Anything my ex-mother-in-law would wear, my mother, or that looked like I was going to a PTA meeting.  “And all that tired vintage. It’s not interesting anymore, it just looks old.”

Out went the sweater sets, so convenient for teaching, faculty meetings and long hours in the library—it was always so cold in the stacks. The wool pants.  The khaki trousers. Even  the old jeans and sweats I used for chores.  “How many pairs of ugly pants do you need?” Trina said.  “When was the last time you painted anything?  One pair, that’s it.”

We’d been friends since junior high, but now Trina was in the movie business. Her jeans were tight and expensive and fit into her $800 boots just so. She wore a chunky gold chain with a clever ring for her glasses.  “Think chic.  Small shoulders, fitted jackets.  Little black dress. No suits. No matchy matchy.”

Out went every one of my button down shirts Trina  said didn’t fit. But how could you fit both the shoulders and the bust if you were small shouldered and busty?  You’d think at 53, I would have solved that mystery. I can compose sestinas, villanelles, ghazals, but I still hadn’t mastered the fit of a cotton shirt.

“You are not a Large, Emmy. Get that out of your head. Shoulders first, then if the bust fits, you buy,” Trina said.

Were they really so terrible?  I gazed into the mirror on the closet door, looking at the blue oxford shirt, the sleeves rolled up.  Too big, and my gray-threaded hair unfashionably long, in a braid over my shoulder, my pale face.

“Fifty is the age of elegance,” Trina said, running a manicured hand through her glossy, well-cut hair. “You used to wear makeup, and cool jewelry. What happened to that?”

Fifty. What a horrible year that had been, divorced and fifty. Yes, I used to try harder.  Now I just tried to be serviceable.

The pile was growing, and empty hangers dangled from the clothing rod.  The savage pruning was heading to the back of my closet, treasured articles I had saved for some thirty years. The black velvet coat that had been my grandmother’s, and oh, the green cape.

“My god, you still have that?”  said Trina. “Out with it.  Out!”

The soft green, with its big hood. I’d worn it all through college, my early years in San Francisco.  It had made me feel  like Anais Nin, Georgia O’Keefe. Louise Nevelson. Soft boots, and a skirt to my calves, and the cape. It made me feel like a poet.  My hair in a twisted chignon. A romantic figure. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Catherine Earnshaw. Anna Akhmatova.

I wrapped it around my shoulders. Its cashmere, soft as eiderdown. And what I saw in the mirror was a woman I’d forgotten. A poet. A romantic. Not a professor, not a librarian, not someone who dated economics professors who played tennis.  Now I saw where I had gone wrong.   The cape didn’t go with those sweater sets now piled on the bed, and the  button down shirts, the khaki pants from L.L.Bean.  Nor would it have gone with TRina’s little black dresses and leather miniskirts.  This was who I had always been.  Not really a serviceable person at all. What had I been doing with ill-fitting, button-down shirts, trying to make that work? Button-down. The essence of wrongness.

I had forgotten who I was. But the cape remembered.

“No,” Trina said.  “Do you hear me Emma?”

I turned to the left and the right, admiring myself, my silvery hair now beautiful against the soft wool,  my pale face with its gray, slightly crinkly eyes, the softness of my contours.  And the shoulders fit just right.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: BURN

 

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5 Responses to “The Age of Elegance”

  1. Janet,

    I had a green cape, too. I made it from a Valentino pattern while at Reed. Forest green wool, bright red moire lining, dark wooden buttons hand-made by a friend in exchange for me teaching him to make bread. It made me feel grown-up, elegant, warm. And, it fit in the shoulders. Thanks for bringing back those memories…

    Jane

  2. So glad Emma kept the cape! That Trina, pushy pushy! Great story, really enjoyed it. Thank you Janet.

  3. Fabulous story!

  4. Love this! Not going to let go of my fading brown velvet poet’s jacket either…

  5. Small shoulders, big bust only gets worse at 60 plus, and I’ve lost the velvet that made me feel like an artist. Hmmm, maybe….

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