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by Cheryl Ramette about a year ago in fact or fiction
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By Cheryl Ramette

It’s colder than frozen outside and I can’t get warm. Gelid in the old world. I have no money, no home, no nothing. Nothing but fistfuls of scavenged matches and cigarette butts lining the many pockets of my coat.

My coat.

I have this coat. The shawl collared, ankle length fur only slightly threadbare around the cuffs and hem. The coat found in the dumpster back of the abandoned cafe on 7th Street W where I’d wandered after jumping off the train. I know this coat is made from the skin of moles because I can rub my hands any direction on the velvety surface. There is no rubbing mole fur the wrong way. That’s a relief after watching my mouth in train cars, not wanting to rub my fellow hobos the wrong way ending up dead, or worse. I’d heard about mole fur coats from an aunt who enjoyed pretending she was high society and knowledgeable of things like fur and tea. That was before everything crashed leaving us all scrambling for our lives.

This coat is my lifesaver.

It keeps me warm, and makes me feel like a million bucks as I forage for frozen blackberries down by the creek which is also frozen. There remain a few places where I hear water moving around boulders. Not rushing as it would in summer, but moving enough that I know I could break through and so I stay where I am.

A few wild turkeys slip along the creek bank eyeing me suspiciously as they wrap their wing feathers tight to their skinny sides. I’m not like all the other predators in their midst. If I was braver or a different person I might leap upon one of them, strangle it, devour it. Devour it like the labour of moles who once wore these furs might have devoured a nest of grubs. But the turkeys are starving too. And the moles lives were terminated early so someone could one day leave their coats in a dumpster. This gives me pause, and compassion.

We’re in this together, the turkeys and me, the dead moles who gave their lives for mine. How many moles does it take to make a coat this large? I use the calculation challenge to take my mind off my aching belly. There was some food on the train, but it came at a cost. Frozen blackberries are free. So are rose hips. The branches offer them, wrinkled yet vibrant in their depth of color and obvious life making function. Those too I eat.

The wind whips up from time to time as I shuffle along the edge of the creek, wondering how fresh cedar cambium tastes but more importantly, how it goes down the throat. How much I’d have to chew it until it was masticated sufficiently to swallow without puncturing my windpipe. In the back of my memory files I recall my ancestors, people native to this landscape whose survival depended on the cambium which they used as medicine and food, and even baked into bread.

I doubt my cigarette butts would make a cooking fire. Maybe the matches. How many matches have I collected so far? As many as the number of moles who make up my coat? I’m trying to keep my mind thinking clearly. This frigid air is making me dizzy and I need to get inside somewhere soon or I’ll freeze to death. I know this. I hear it in the crack of branches breaking under the weight of ice, warning me of my own fragile bones.

Along the incline rising from the creek I use a large branch to dig a shallow snow cave. It’s rudimentary and takes the better part of the morning, but it’s worth it because inside the cold is diminished to almost nothing. In here wrapped up in my coat, I’m almost cozy. I gather up the pile of berries as a deer timidly emerges from behind a nearby cedar. The turkeys dash away, then return. We’re in this together, all of us. But my berries are mine.

The blackberries have melted into the palms of my hands. They look like blood. I have a feast which I lick up greedily. The turkeys back off, eyeing me sideways. The deer edges behind a tree. They don’t trust me and they shouldn’t, but the thought of their blood spilling onto the snow prevents me doing something we would all regret. After sucking every last drop of berry blood off my dark purple frozen hands I force them back inside the sleeves of the coat and settle in.

There’s something hard, somewhere, inside the lining. I can feel it but I can’t find it. When I sat on it earlier today I thought it was fur matted from the coat languishing in the dumpster a few days. Or a place where the leather hadn’t been properly tanned, sloppily sewn together. Maybe another reason the previous owner had trashed the coat.

Why had the previous owner trashed the coat anyway? Why not give it to the Salvation Army or something? Who throws a perfectly good moleskin fur coat in a dumpster? My aunt had speculated that moleskin fur would fall from fashion as more exotic creatures were hunted to appease the appetites of the rich, but all that was as I said, before. And still. Why dump it?

It’s warm in the cave, so I begin rummaging around inside the coat to locate the lump. It’s a very large coat. Large enough that I can wrap my entire self up in it to sleep at night, using the collar as a combined hat and pillow. The coat is becoming my own skin, and I’m discovering secret pockets while awake and in my dreams. Pockets inside pockets, layers upon layers. I start to get lost in these layers and feel my mind slipping away again when I find it.

There on the right, just above the hem, is a zippered pocket housing something small, rectangular, thin. It takes me the rest of the afternoon to work the zip open. It’s slow going with my frostbit fingers and I’m about to give up when suddenly the seam rips. Out comes a small black book with frayed edges, its stained pages filled with colorful sketches and doodles. A hundred dollar bill flutters out from the middle teasing me to greedily ruffle and shake the book for more.

Ah, money. I have no use for money, living on trains, then here with wild turkeys and a deer and snow on the brink of oblivion. Yet old habits are hard to break and I watch my mind settle on how I might use one hundred dollars sometime, somewhere, in some other life. And use it now to fuel the fire.

I’m intrigued by the sketches in the book. There is something odd yet familiar about them that my tired brain can’t quite determine. There’s something tricky going on. I’ve gathered some kindling and a few small logs, use a few blank pages from the book, a few matches, the hundred dollar bill, start a small fire — when it comes to me. This is an artist’s book.

The sketches are places, ideas, notions, visions. I’ve had some of these visions myself in my dreams. I’ve been to these places in my dreams, or in a different life. Blueprints for a better life.

The turkeys have hunkered down for the night but lift their heads as the flames rise crackling gently on the snow. The wind has stilled. I sit quietly too, allowing my inner mole to guide me. I wait, feeding the fire from time to time, and remembering I can go backward as well as forward. My fur slides either way. Mole like, I know which tunnel to take.

Exactly opposite the zippered pocket above the right side of the hem, where I’d found the little black book is another pocket. This one is so stealthily sewn into the lining as to be almost imperceptible. I use a piece of stone to cut away at the hem and extract a long fat envelope sealed with sealing wax, and these words on the front:

Cante Ista.

I know that this means “in the eye of my heart, because these are words from my people. I know what this envelope contains. I’ve been dreaming about something that will allow me the means to care for myself and others. I’ve been dreaming about having twenty thousand matches to light up the world. I’ve seen so much suffering, and thought my dreams were caused by delirium but instead, they were visits from ancestors. They were guides.

Curling up in my fur coat as the fire fades, falling to sleep, I hold the envelope close to my chest. I feel the edges of my mouth and eyes relax. I relax, knowing that the time of bitter longing is about to end for me and many others.

The turkeys rustle their feathers and sleep as well. In the morning I walk back to the dumpster to voice a prayer, and head into town. People smile and wave, admiring the coat, certain they have a movie star in their midst. Or maybe they know something deeper, that I will use my superpower generously, beneficently. Maybe they can see that in the air around me, the air around all of us because it’s obvious that things are beginning to lighten up. The worst might be over, for now at least. I walk with purpose.

Many moles gave their lives to save mine, unknowingly and unwillingly to be sure, but none-the-less; wild turkeys gave me companionship; the woods kept me fed enough and warm enough; and someone I will never know bestowed on me a windfall that is now mine to do with as I wish.

I want to celebrate all of it. Life, people, turkey, cedar, blackberry, rose. The ever changing nature of things that go from bad to worse, suddenly shifting to better fortune and back again. On and on in the cycle of becoming, never knowing what will be in store.

In the meantime, there is so much good that twenty thousand can do.

fact or fiction

About the author

Cheryl Ramette

I’m a creative spirit who is looking to share my work (art and writing) with a larger audience. I have short stories and poems in my files, a book in the works, and endless ideas in my imagination wanting to expand beyond my own head.

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