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The Girl in the Brown Coat

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

By Adrianna Sanchez-Lopez -

 

The first time John saw her, he thought of archival ink—of that which is made to withstand, to endure. He thought about his abandoned crates of pens and cameras and chemicals. The girl piqued a curiosity in him that he’d not felt since last winter. His hand twitched, an urge to photograph this stranger.


From the makeshift office built into his loft, John watched her walk nearly two blocks. She resisted gusts from the first snow of the season, face tilted downward in a way that only allowed John to glimpse the crown of her head. She kept a rhythmic stride, hands burrowed in her pockets. She wore a brown peacoat, the color of Yolanda’s biscochitos, buttoned to her neck. A green scarf spilled outward from her throat. Black slacks and heeled boots propelled her forward, buffeting forcefully through the storm. John kept thinking about ink, about how the storm looked like droplets of ink. He awaited the moment when the ink would evanesce into the wind so he could glimpse the girl’s face.


Strands of her chestnut hair spiraled upward as it got wet. He allowed himself to remember Izzy’s hair, the way unruly strands would poke upward from both temples. Yolanda would rub oil between her palms before pressing them to Izzy’s hair. John would laugh as Yolanda combed and smoothed with creams and gels and oils. Still, Izzy always returned from ballet with frizzy strands poking upward.


Just like our diablita, John teased.


Stop, Yolanda chided. Don’t call her that.


Panic roiled through his gut. He had allowed himself to remember for too long. His shoulders trembled as he noticed the girl standing directly across the street from his house. Can she see me?


The storm made the girl’s silhouette ethereal. John started to question what he saw, his own sense of reality. He wondered if this girl was trapped in his dreams or if he was in hers. John dreamt of glassed entrapment often, of thick glass chambers dissevering him from his own beating heart—from Yolanda and Izzy.


His breath hitched as the girl in the brown coat lifted her chin, keeping her eyes open as she peered into the grey sky. Standing still, it was as if she commanded the snow. She became her own gravitational pull. John imagined secrets held between her and the flakes, like prayers he’ll never understand. He envied her as she closed her eyes and let out a scream that made his stomach feel hollow, his bones fossilized.


The cold assailed John’s body. He turned, reached for Yolanda’s prayer shawl draped across her unused chair. He wrapped the purple, pink, and orange knots of yarn around his shoulders. Teeth chattering, he watched the girl sit on the edge of the sidewalk. To his surprise, her face was nothing like Izzy’s. Her features were challenging to make out in the storm, for her cheekbones, mouth, and nose seemed so small. Her chin made her look like the fairies in Izzy’s picture books. He thought her eyes might be green, though he wasn’t sure.


She drew a worn leather journal from her pocket. John thought he saw her body shake as she lifted a dead leaf, shook the wetness away, and smashed it between two pages. She clicked a pen open against her thigh, scribbling rapidly. With a single, dramatic gust, the storm devoured her silhouette.


That night, John imagined a life for the girl. She loved grape jelly slathered on saltine crackers. When she was little, she danced in thick wool socks atop her bed until her father told her stories of dancers and magical lands. She will one day abandon love to travel, hungry for more than her small town. He imagined her mother smoothing her hair before braiding it, whispering things John would never understand. He fell asleep to indigo dreams, envisioning the girl’s story in all its coppery luster.


The next day, he awoke before his alarm, and, for the first time since losing Yolanda and Izzy, he did not groan and wonder why he was still taking up space and energy in this world. His feet met the ground with purpose. He wanted to see the girl again. He imagined himself standing in a dark room, stilled life materializing before him and Izzy. John closed his eyes and recalled Izzy’s face in the red glow as she asked questions about light, about the possibility of magic. After sopping up fried egg with freshly made tortillas, he climbed the stairs, headed for his window. He logged in, sifted through emails. Every few emails, he looked outward, watching for the girl.


Despite John’s attentiveness, she never appeared. He waited until the sun poured over the mountains, overwhelming the evening in its apricot-pink glow. A brief thought to find his camera flit through him; he decided against it. He waited until he could barely make out shapes in the stillness. It was a black, stormless night. When his eyes tired, he decided on bed rather than another bowl of beans that he pressure-cooked on Sundays for the week. Fool, he muttered.


John tried to remember Izzy and Yolanda as he had the night before. He tried to remember the stories he used to tell Izzy—stories about a young healer learning how to use her powers—not just magic, but intuitions, knowingness, and compassion. Izzy fell asleep to his imagination on so many nights that he decided to write his stories down for her. Perhaps she could one day share the stories with her children.


That night, Izzy’s cat rubbed against the window. She meowed and purred. She pawed at inkblots of night. Her cries woke him and, to distract himself, he brewed tea. He stared at the kettle on the stove, beckoning it: scream. He found himself standing at Izzy’s closed door. He’d barely been in her room since she left. Hand on the knob, he turned it slowly. With a creak, the door opened. John thought of rummaging through her desk drawers, searching for the stories he’d written her. He wanted to know if they still lived in this home, or if, like everything else he’d ever loved, the stories had faded to intangible memory too.


But he couldn’t. John felt a tingling in his limbs. Fear, he realized. Fear of forgetting, but not wanting to remember either. Fear of going back to sleep. Fear of glassed nightmares, witnessing Yolanda and Izzy’s car lose control, catapulting through a starless night before crashing to earth—ricocheting, crushed metal and blood flooding his body until the permanence aches. He pounds on the glass. He wails. He begs his daughter—the one the newspapers called a charmed survivor—to come back to him. Please, Izzy. You’re all I have left. Still, his dream daughter lifts her suitcase, hangs her head, and walks out the door.


John woke in a fevered sweat. He found himself sitting in his rolling desk chair next to the loft window. He thought of Yolanda and Izzy. He thought about a time when he showered, shaved, and drove to work, Izzy singing to the radio in the passenger seat. He once had an eye for a good photograph; he cared about his Instagram following and attended exhibits and lectures with Yolanda, her critical gaze exciting and challenging him. He thought of a time when his house was so loud, he’d wished for silence—just one moment to be alone and think.


John waited at that window. His tortillas grew mold. Izzy’s cat gave up on his attention, only meowing when he forgot to feed her. He sketched images of the girl in the brown coat until he gave up too. He reviewed spreadsheets, answered emails, and surrendered to monotony.


On a cold morning a month later, John woke to a shattering sound in the kitchen. He reached for his pocketknife, moving quietly through his house. He wasn’t sure if he had any lingering fight in him, but he tiptoed forward anyway. In the kitchen, the cat sniffed at a small photograph of Yolanda and Izzy laughing beneath broken glass. She meowed, pawed at the front door. Damn cat, John dropped his knife on the table and followed the cat, opening the door and picking up the newspaper from the porch. He’d stopped reading the news. Each day’s news remained rolled and rubber banded—the print fading to brown lines—stacked beside chopped firewood. Today, however, he felt an inexplicable tugging. He felt it swell from his bellybutton until it burned his throat. John sat at his kitchen table and unrolled the newspaper. He skimmed the cover story before turning the page. The obituaries rested on the table. John shuddered, peering into a face that he recognized: small lips, inconspicuous cheekbones, round, pointed noise and chin. It was the face he’d sketched for weeks; the face that briefly made him feel just a bit less lonely. It was the face of the girl—who was really a woman, he realized—in the brown coat.


John closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. Her name was Sonya.


Sonya, John mouthed.

He glanced at glass shards on the kitchen floor, the inky impression of his wife and daughter’s smiles beneath. One sob followed the next until his entire body convulsed. He hobbled his tired body to Izzy’s room, adrenaline and tears flushing his cheeks. His hands shook as he searched for their stories, a howling escaping his lungs, reverberating through the blaze of early morning crimson light.

 

Adrianna Sanchez-Lopez (she/her) is a lover of words, trees, cats, and lavender tea. When she is not reading or writing, one might find her teaching, witnessing, or dodging small talk. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prose Online, the tiny journal, Five Minutes, The Headlight Review, Sky Island Journal, and elsewhere. Learn more about Adrianna at adriannasanchezlopez.com or visit her Instagram account: @a.drisl.

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