The Housecoat

by Ann Bogle


I wrapped up in the plaid duster my mother once wore before she gave it to the Salvation Army. She hadn't known that I shop there. I hadn't known it was hers.

She'd come barging in on me one morning, with her key for emergencies, to see if I needed geraniums. It was a Monday, because the garbage is picked up on Mondays, and I'd thought in my state of half-sleep that it was the garbage man coming inside. I put on my robe.

My mother was in the living room arranging beds of pink and red geraniums against the wall with her foot. She hadn't seen her robe on me yet, but she said, to the geraniums, "I thought you might want these. I'll just leave them here in the entryway." She refers to my living room as the entryway. She has seen the other room of the apartment, the bedroom-dinette, and the pink glass beads that hang in the doorway between the two rooms.

My sister, who is a high school student, called once to ask if I really read palms. Whoever told her that, I said, knowing exactly who but thinking only in the moment. It didn't seem fair to pit a high school student against her older sister, but, on the other hand, the effort had failed; now my sister wants to leave home and live in a place like this one.

I was staring at the geraniums, thinking about how my mother thinks I read palms—on the phone I had said, "poems"—when she said, "I thought I gave that old thing to the Goodwill."

"What, this?" I said to the robe. It annoys me when I act like her, so I said to her face, "This was fifty cents at the Salvation Army."

"That's nothing to be proud of," she said. "The Salvation Armies of this world are there for people who are suffering from emergencies."