I only wish, for just one day, to experience the life of a coat rack.
To be a coat rack would be perfection. To stand in the hall, arms outstretched, charming – yet humble – would be magnificent. To wear coats of many colours and fabrics, to show off the furs and buttons that grace the slender body of a coat rack would be most outstanding. You must understand, I have never wanted much. I simply want to see the wondrous displays a long corridor, or perhaps a foyer, could provide. And to be on display, well, that would be quite nice too.
Oh, the hats! The hats a coat rack has the privilege to hold are each so exquisite, and yet so different. Top hats and bowlers, Sunday bonnets and trilbies! Hats with ribbons and feathers, with flat tops and with curved ones! And my favourite of all, the one that perches atop the coat rack every Saturday afternoon. Small and of black velvet, with a great purple and black raven’s feather, and a veil that delicately falls to cover this wondrous hat’s wearer – to hold that gift, if only for a short time, would be an honour.
I cannot complain too much, because I am privy to eyeing the coat rack much more than I probably should be. I attribute this to Uncle Ernest, who is not very fond of coat racks. He was in the navy and mistrusts almost everything. Except for me. I’ve heard him explaining himself to Edmund, who is responsible for the coat rack and almost everything else in this house. He says that a coat rack can be moved, it may be in a different spot each time he comes to call, which is almost every other day. “A closet,” he states, “will never move. It will always be in one place and, therefore, is supremely more reliable.” I am grateful to Uncle Ernest, though I greatly disagree. Can he not see how dependable a coat rack is? It will always stand tall and never droop. With its intricate wood carvings it will not rust and because of continuous use it will no doubt be free of dust and mothballs. Anything that hangs on a coat rack becomes, almost at once, much more lovely and noticeable.
In the closet it is dark; there are no lamps or candles. Wire hangers clutter the pole, some in use, most broken. Dust layers the heavy woollen coats that once belonged to Mrs Graham – Edmund has been meaning to take them to the attic, but he forgets. I understand, it’s hard to remember a closet.
I used to be able to fling my door open and make them take notice of me. Mr Graham would yell, “Who’s left the bloody door open?” and slam me hard, giving me the shivers. But Mrs Graham would shut me nicely; sometimes she would give a surprised “Oh!” when she realized that a vase she had been looking for was tucked into one of my corners. The best moments were when little Edmund would see my door hanging open and scurry inside, shutting the door behind him. He could sit with me for hours – talking, singing, making up riddles and reaching into the pockets of the coats that hung within. Sometimes he found sweets or pennies. But Edmund is much older now and Mr and Mrs Graham are long gone.
The last time I truly remember being happy was when Edmund was nearly seventeen. Mr and Mrs Graham had come home unexpectedly from a night at the opera and Edmund had hid inside me with Daisy Ellis from next door. Their breathing was laborious, full of the possibility of being caught. Daisy had to cover her mouth to stifle an escaping giggle. Mr and Mrs Graham’s voices came close and we all held our breath in expectation, but the door did not open. “Thank God for the coat rack,” Edmund had said before kissing Daisy on the mouth.
Coat rack, I thought, what is a coat rack?
I was never envious. On my first glimpse of the coat rack, I could clearly see that it deserved the attention it got. It was confident and modern, but it never snubbed me, not once. In fact, upon our first meeting, the coat rack nodded, ever the gentleman, not in pity, but in camaraderie. I only became sad as the days without seeing light grew to weeks and then even Mrs Graham stopped opening my door. I could no longer swing open of my own free will – rusted hinges and broken locks held me back. Years would go by without so much as a hello or a spring clean. When Uncle Ernest’s heavy-lidded, rusty-bearded face loomed in my doorway one afternoon, I was overjoyed. I readily handed over one of my wire hangers for use as he took off his thick, black sailor’s coat. I knew at once who he was, though I have only heard muffled stories about Uncle Ernest, and I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t as disagreeable as I had thought he would be. Through my hinges I heard him tell Edmund that he had come ashore to stay. From Edmund’s tone I could tell he wasn’t very happy, but over time, due to the many visits from Uncle Ernest, Edmund grew to like him, I could tell.
I am not ashamed of my profession, I am not distressed. I only wish, for just one day, to experience the life of a coat rack. To hold Ms Ellis’ raven, feathered, velvet hat and to hear Uncle Ernest’s stories of sea first hand, instead of straining to hear through the crack between my world and that of the coat rack. I would be sorry not to be relied on by Uncle Ernest; I would miss his heavy sailor’s coat that smells of sea salt and tobacco. I would miss the pride that swells within me each time he tells Edmund, “Never trust a coat rack, son.” I will admit, these things I would miss ever so much, but to be a coat rack – well, that would be wonderful.
Yet today something wonderful happened! My door was opened, and not by Uncle Ernest! Late this afternoon, my doorknob rattled and turned, my hinges screeched wearily and my door was pulled open. Light flooded my corners and revealed Edmund, panic spread across his face. He was muttering, “Not in a drawer, not between the sofa cushions.” From his pocket he produced a small black box and slowly opened it. Inside was a silver ring with a brilliant diamond right in the centre. I recognized it right away as once belonging to Mrs Graham. Edmund took it out, held it between two fingers and looked at it for quite some time. Then he put it back in the box, closed it, and, glancing around, slipped it into the pocket of one of his mother’s heavy woollen coats that he had been meaning to put in the attic. He looked me over, noticing the dust in my corners and the broken state of my hangers and his mouth pulled down into a frown. “I must clean this closet,” he said, “but it will do for now.” And with that he smiled. Edmund smiled at me again! “You’ll keep it safe for her, won’t you?” he asked, and as I nodded excitedly he said, “A coat rack would never do for this, no good hiding spots.”
In that moment I remembered how he used to hide between my coats; whispering to ghosts and telling stories. I saw these same memories pass over his face and he gave a slight chuckle. “See you soon,” he said and saluted, shutting my door ever so gently.
To be a coat rack would truly be perfection. But only for a day. Because a coat rack holds no hiding places, no secrets, hears no whispers. A coat rack may hold magnificent fur-lined coats and the newest bowler straight from Paris, but it holds very few memories. And – I must stress this – memories are what keep me alive and well.
Grace Hertenstein is currently a student at the New School in New York City. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sleet Magazine, Midway Journal, Ozone Park, The Wayfarer, and in the anthology The Gothic Blue Book (the Haunted Issue). She is currently at work on a novel.