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Harlan Goldberg

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The Jacket
By Harlan Goldberg
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Harlan Goldberg
· The Winner
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· The Doodler
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A boy finds a jacket in a store in London that changes his life forever.

Jonathan Hill looked out across the sprawling department store floor, still astonished after wandering around this monolithic place for nearly two hours. Harrod’s was the last landmark he would visit on this trip to London, on which he’d already seen the ancient Tower of London, the gorgeous Tower Bridge, and the massive British Museum, but it was the one that impressed him the most. He was fascinated by the sheer wealth and class that filled the seemingly endless maze of rooms that made up the store. There were the suits, put together perfectly by the top designers, the shoes, made of the finest leathers from around the world, and even the food court filled with cheeses, meats, and caviars far too elegant to touch, much less eat. It was unfathomable to Jonathan’s 16-year-old mind that there were people actually here to shop, that they could afford these wild treasures as something routine. There was certainly nothing like this back home in northeastern Ohio.

"Ready to go kid? Flight’s in three hours." Craig Hill placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. He was uncomfortable in a place like this, even in a city like this, but he knew it would be a perfect sixteenth birthday present for his eldest son to show him something completely different from where they were from, something besides the endless strip malls, Olive Gardens and Applebees that lined the straight-arrow highways of their homeland. He was glad to see the wonder that London had brought to his son’s eyes. It was almost enough to make him forget how out of place he felt here, how far from his job as a middle manager at the auto plant, from the bar every Friday night with his buddies, and from the modest home that his earnings had won for his family.

"OK, dad," the younger Hill replied, turning to start toward the exit, or at least in the direction where he thought the exit was. It was hard to tell, since they’d made so many turns since entering this winding masterpiece of commercialism. As they approached the hallway to the next room, something caught Jonathan’s eye on one of the racks. Without a thought, he darted over to it to view it more closely.

It was a jacket, stitched together in the most appealing shade of light brown that his eyes had ever seen. He reached out and touched it, his fingers tingling as they made its acquaintance. The suede on the outside was the softest, warmest surface that Jonathan had ever felt, the silk on the inside equally grand. He imagined himself in it, as if it would make him impenetrable to hurt or doubt or disappointment. It would take him away from Ohio, to places he could only have imagined until this trip. The person who wore this jacket, Jonathan knew, could go anywhere and do anything.

Daringly, Jonathan examined the price tag. It was in British pounds, but he quicky made the calculations in his head and determined that it cost roughly $7,500 American dollars. The most expensive article of clothing that Jonathan owned were probably his sneakers which were about 85 bucks.

"Whatcha got there?" Craig Hill asked, not waiting for an answer and examining the label for himself. "Geez Louise! That much for a jacket?"

"It’s not just any jacket. It’s amazing."

"Still a jacket. And from the looks of it, it wouldn’t do much against an Ohio winter. You couldn’t even wear it outside, the snow and rain would turn that thing into a rag in about a week. Come on, kid, we got a plane to catch."

Before Craig could yank Jonathan away from the rack, another voice interrupted them. "Quite nice, isn’t it?" The thick English accent belonged to a tall thin salesman, his black hair receding to reveal a shiny oval forehead.

"It’s incredible," Jonathan answered.

"Ah, yes. It’s a Cameron Holcombe. He is the top designer in all of England and perhaps in the world."

"Maybe he should design something that actually keeps you warm," Craig quipped. Jonathan was embarrassed by his father’s attempt at a joke and was further horrified when the salesman shrugged and walked briskly away.

"Dad..."

"What a stuck up piece of..." Craig cleared his throat as he whisked his son away from the jacket. "The top designer in all of England," he said mocking the salesman’s tone and laughing out loud.

After a couple of wrong turns the pair reached the street outside and Craig motioned to one of the caravan of taxis that lined the asphalt. They climbed in and Craig instructed the driver to take them to Heathrow airport. As they sat in the back of the cab on the sticky leather seat, waiting for the driver to guide them through the mid-day traffic, Jonathan made a decision.

"Dad," he announced. "I am going to buy that jacket someday. I’m going to be a huge success, and when I have enough money, I’m going to come back here and buy it."

Craig looked at his son as if he had four heads. "Alright, kid," he said, amused by Jonathan’s declaration. "Whatever you say."

Jonathan had always been an outstanding student, but from the start of school that September, his Junior year, he attacked every subject with an incredible fervor. By graduation time, he was valedictorian of his school and on his way to Ohio State on a full scholarship. He breezed through college in three and a half years, and then it was off to Yale law where he remained at the top of his class. The most prestigious firms from across the eastern United States lined up to woo Jonathan with six figure salaries, company cars and even, in one case, a free Manhattan apartment for a year. That offer, from Blake and Crowley, sealed it, and after easily passing the New York State bar exam, Jonathan Hill was fitted with a twenty-first floor office in the firm’s towering midtown headquarters.

Jonathan always remembered the jacket at Harrod’s. Through the years, he thought about it every night before falling asleep, before every exam and every presentation. Whenever things got difficult, it motivated him. It spurred him on whenever he let self-doubt creep into his consciousness. That jacket would be his, he promised himself over and over. It would only take a little more work, a little more determination. The jacket would belong to Jonathan Hill.

After just over six months with Blake and Crowley, nearly nine years after he’d first laid eyes on the suede beauty, Jonathan finally felt confident enough to take a Saturday off from work.

"You’re going to England for a day?" Ellie Landis asked. She was two years older than Jonathan, but had graduated law school and been hired by Blake and Crowley at the same time. She was not a blue-chip prospect like he was, and did not enjoy the same salary or the same coveted window office, but she was considered by her superiors to be a talented lawyer. Jonathan and Ellie spent a great deal of time working together, late into the night and on weekends, and had become close friends and sometimes more than friends. It was never anything serious, though, at least not so far, and Ellie was embarrassed to admit to herself that she was hurt that Jonathan had not invited her on his trip.

"Yeah, just for the day. I’ll be back in the office on Sunday."

"Why?"

"I’m going to buy a jacket. For my sixteenth birthday, my dad took me to London on vacation, and I saw this jacket. A $7,500 jacket. I don’t know, it just... moved me somehow. In a lot of ways, I am where I am today because of that jacket."

Ellie didn’t exactly approve of the idea of the $7,500 jacket. She came from even more humble beginnings than Jonathan, and even as it became more clear that she would escape that background, she’d always pledged not to spend her money haphazardly.

"Why don’t you just order it?" She asked. "I’m sure you can find it online."

Jonathan smiled. "Wouldn’t be the same. No, I want to walk into that store, and walk out wearing that jacket. That’s what I’ve imagined all this time, not taking it out of a box."

"How do you know they’ll still have it?"

"They’ll have it. I can feel it."

Jonathan picked up his coat and headed for the door to his office. Ellie stopped him. After checking to make sure that no one was passing by in the hallway, she gave him a quick kiss.

"Enjoy yourself," she said.

Jonathan entered the room in Harrod’s department store where the jacket had been. He remembered the layout of the store so precisely, that it felt as if it had been a day since he’d been there with his father, not nine years. It was like the past nine years hadn’t even happened, in fact. Though he was dressed in an expensive suit now, not a tee shirt and jeans, and though his hair was now neatly trimmed not curly and wild as it had been back then, Jonathan felt like his sixteen-year-old self again. There was no college, no law school, no six figure income. Just a kid looking for a jacket.

The room had been rearranged slightly, and the jacket was not on any of the racks that Jonathan examined. He was starting to think that this would be a more daunting task than he’d imagined, when he saw a surprisingly familiar face. It was the salesman, the same one that had spoken to Jonathan and Craig when they were looking at the jacket. Jonathan remembered him precisely, as he did all the details from the store that day, and marveled at the fact that he didn’t seem to have aged at all.

The salesman walked directly over to Jonathan without hesitation. "Can I help you with anything, sir?" Jonathan remembered his voice just as well as his face, that heavy but pleasant English tone.

"You can," Jonathan said, excited. "I’m looking for a Cameron Holcombe suede jacket. I saw it here before, but it was a long time ago. It was light brown, really soft... really expensive."

"Ah!" The salesman replied. "We don’t put those on display anymore, but I think I have just what you’re looking for."

He spun around and disappeared through a small doorway, leaving Jonathan standing there, anticipating what he might return with. It didn’t take long. The salesman came back holding what Jonathan was sure was the exact same jacket that he’d seen nine years ago. He reached out and touched it, and all the same feelings overwhelmed him, but in a different way now. The jacket no longer represented what Jonathan could someday be, but what he was. He had earned this now, and that knowledge made the suede and silk feel all the more soft and all the more welcoming.

"Can I put it on?" Jonathan asked, practically begging.

"Of course, sir." The salesman held the Cameron Holcombe open and Jonathan removed his own jacket and slid into it. When it enveloped him, Jonathan felt like he’d been missing a layer of skin his entire life. It felt so warm, so natural. He had to have it.

"I’ll take it!" he announced, almost shouting.

"Excellent, sir," the salesman replied. He took the jacket back, and Jonathan followed him to a checkout counter. He produced his credit card, and paid without even checking the current price. Whether the jacket cost $7,500 or $8,500 or $10,000 by now, it didn’t matter. It was more than worth it. There was no amount of money that could equal the sensation that Jonathan felt when he wore that jacket.

"It’s a fine piece, sir," the salesman said as Jonathan put the jacket back on and started for the street. "It’s a fine piece indeed."

Jonathan sat on the plane looking out at the Heathrow runway where it was stopped and waiting for its signal to take off. It had been some time since the jet had taxied away from the terminal, but there were only one or two planes ahead now, and takeoff would come soon. An attractive woman who looked to be in her mid thirties was seated next to Jonathan. Her clothes were clearly expensive, and she had a certain look about her. It was the look people have when they have a lot of money. Jonathan had come to recognize it in all of the partners at the firm. It was a look that screamed to the world, "Look at me! I can have anything I want!"

But this woman was looking at Jonathan. "Pardon me," she finally said in a voice that revealed her English nationality. "But I could not help but admire that jacket you’re wearing. It’s quite stunning."

Jonathan flashed a broad grin. He was giddy. "You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that!" he exclaimed, stopping himself at the last minute from reaching out and hugging this stranger.

The plane began to roll down the runway, gathering speed. Within seconds, it was airborne, gaining altitude. But something didn’t feel right to Jonathan. On the takeoff from New York, and on all the other flights that Jonathan had ever been on, the ascent into the air didn’t feel this steep. There wasn’t this much pressure pushing down on his head and shoulders. Suddenly a monstrous grinding noise pierced the jet’s cabin, and Jonathan could almost feel the steel twisting and tearing apart. There were screams from all over the jet, which lurched forward like a roller coaster falling over the peak of its initial climb. But this was no ride. Jonathan could feel the plane’s tail separating from its body. Not knowing what else to do, he buried his head in his chest. As the jet plummeted from the sky to meet its fiery end, the sweet musky scent of the Cameron Holcombe suede was the last thing that Jonathan Hill would ever smell.


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