The Husband’s Hat | Anne Howell


 A Husband’s Coat

 Anne Howell

The Hate and Coat Award


 

The women in yellow appears.

“Your mother’s coming. We called to tell her you’re up and talking, Sarah.”

Sarah. Interesting. More interesting, how had I forgotten that I had a mother? Never mind. Mine is on her way. I picture a young woman in a summer frock, with brown curly hair and a dash of red lipstick. I long to see her.

An older woman appears, her face is lined and she’s in sensible clothes. There’s no way she’s my mother, yet her eyes are — impossibly — hers. If it is my mother what’s happened to her? I want to shout that she’s an impostor. Yet though she’s strangely old, at least she’s come to claim me.  I need someone on my side to help me escape this sinister place.

“Mummy!” I cry.

“Goodness, you haven’t called me that in years.”

She hands me a box.

“Chocolates,” she says.

I don’t want a box, I want my memories. This room has stolen them from me. She starts to talk, but I can’t follow her. I nod, I smile. I feign understanding. Rather than rescue me, she’s adding to my confusion. I can’t take much more! She stands to leave. I want to beg her to take me with her. Instead, her parting words:

“That husband of yours will be visiting soon,” leave me stunned.

Surely, a husband is an adult matter, so how have I come to have one?

I wake to find that so-called mother watching me. Behind her a dark-skinned man appears wearing a shimmering coat. A peculiar creature dangles from his hip, its fat legs kicking the air. I didn’t realise skin could be as dark or a mouth as large as his. His hair and eyes are pitch black. He is not ugly, not at all. His cool elegance scares me to the bone. As he nears, his coat shift colour, as if made of precious stones.

“Ah Daniel! Doesn’t Ruby look adorable!” my mother says.

“Hello, Ruth, Sarah,” he says with his eyes averted.

Am I too ugly to look at? He sits, with the creature on his lap. It laughs wildly. I don’t know why it’s laughing, but I like its wicked sense of humor.

“How lovely, Sarah, your husband and daughter here, looking so charming.”

I can’t tell if she knows how much I don’t know, but her words are instructive. This is the husband who belongs to me. This daughter also apparently mine. I need to re-evaluate. I had thought I was my mother’s darling girl. I have never seen this man before, nor this untamed creature. Is she really mine to keep? I don’t know the first thing about owning and maintaining a daughter.

*

Ruby, a young woman now, is picking me up to take us to her grandmother’s. As I get in the car, I notice Daniel’s old coat slumped on the back seat. I don’t blame Ruby for cherishing the few possessions she has of her Dad’s. But the coat’s badly faded, lost its luster. When we get there, mum will most likely ask if we’ve heard from Daniel. He’s allowed one call per week.

We join the traffic heading north on the bridge and I start to muse about the past. Before I had amnesia, I had left Daniel. Taken Ruby, and gone to live with mum. After waking from the coma, it took me a lot of hard detective work to find that out. No-one I knew let on. My friends didn’t mention it and mum would change the subject whenever I got close. I gather they all figured that Daniel and I had a chance of patching things up, if I didn’t remember.

As Ruby turn’s off the bridge, I recall how after my hospital discharge, Daniel took me, silently, to a home I didn’t recognise and later led me to our bedroom. And though, much larger and more luxurious than my steel bed in hospital, that bed seemed ominous. Surely far too small for two? Daniel went off to work early each day, returning very late, sometimes not at all. When he was at home, I acted as if I recalled and trusted him. Yet as my other memories surfaced, none of him came back.

Daniel and I did not discuss that I had forgotten him. How to approach a subject like that? Besides, he wasn’t a talker unless it was to broach some get-rich quick scheme. I gave myself a deadline. If I didn’t remember him after one year had passed, I would grant myself permission to leave him. As the deadline neared, Daniel proposed taking his furniture business to Indonesia. It would be a great place to live. We would get rich, he said. He had a scheme.

“You can’t just pack me up and ship me to Indonesia. I’m not just a piece of your furniture! And neither’s Ruby!” I shouted.

When he left, I stayed behind. Ruby had turned two. Daniel did get rich, but was eventually arrested for his Indonesian money-making venture.

My memories of Daniel finally returned: vivid ones of growing sicker, by the day, from the condition in my outer brain, a birth defect the doctors called it. Around that time, Daniel went missing for days on end, leaving me to mind Ruby with the help of close friends. I remember the pounding headaches leading up to the neurosurgery, yet I remain foggy about the time directly before I fell into the coma. Retrograde amnesia’s like that. Leaves you with some gaps.

“You okay Mum, you’re so quiet,” Ruby asks, as we lock the car.

“Fine, sorry. I was somewhere else.”

As my mother opens the door to greet us, there’s something about her appearance, perhaps her choice of sensible clothes, that transports me back to that moment in the hospital, when I saw her as if for the first time. My mother — yet not my mother.

 

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