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September 18, 2023

The Black Fleece

By Gary Duehr

I lost my black fleece jacket. Boo hoo, I know. It zips up the front, with a pocket that holds a knit hat in a lump; on the subway, I touch it to make sure the hat's still there. I do have a forest-green fleece, but it's unworn, shapeless. I want my black fleece hanging there on the hook by the front door, ready to slip on when the morning's chilly, its rumples hugging my own. I'm no longer a 2nd-string high school football jock, my middle's been pulled down by our two kids hanging from my waist.

My wife, Jan, thinks I'm crazy. Buy another, give it up. But Brad, please, no more fleece talk. It's grounds, she says, any judge in Suffolk County would side with her. She dreams of a double condo like her pal Gail has, one for her and one for her former English professor with 15 years on her, joined by a connecting door that locks on either side. "Two," my wife mouths, holding up two fingers in a victory salute whenever a petty argument slides downhill.

We're Brad and Janet, stupid, I know. In college we used to do a mean Time Warp at parties. Now our go-to is "Shallow" with her screeching Lady Gaga and me growling out a ragged Bradley Cooper. My fingers pick out the notes, but their callouses have gone soft. I admit I'm a little jealous of the looks she gets.

So, yeah, I try to keep the fleece talk to myself, but she catches me looking at the empty coat hook. It's been less than a week. Like an idiot I left it at Logan when I was catching a daytrip to DC for a job interview with the Office of the Inspector General. I had settled into my Extra Comfort seat, earbuds in, and the overhead air hit my bare arms, pimpling them. "Oh shit," I thought, too late. I called airport security and left a message. I worried over it all day until I flew back, wandering down the Mall pinned down by its white marble buildings. I ducked in Air and Space to warm up and almost bought a navy-blue fleece with a NASA insignia. But that felt like cheating.

I texted Jan to drive out and search Gate 11, but she had meetings all day. First thing on touching down that night I scanned the rows of black vinyl seats. Nada. The terminal was deserted, even the Coyote Grill had its grate pulled down. I caught my pale reflection in the dark plate-glass windows, the red lights of jets idling on the tarmac. Even though it sounds ridiculous, I feel lost without my black fleece. After my last position got reorged, I can't stand to lose many more things.

The next day I told Jan I had an appointment downtown, but I spent hours at Logan searching nearby gates in Terminal C, thinking someone may have moved the fleece. I had to buy a ticket, but I just cancelled at the Help Desk for credit. Lost and Found had zilch.

The day after that I questioned the guy cleaning the men's room, the TSA officer who buzzes open the glass door to ground transportation, the American agents at gate counters. They looked at me like I was simple and gave me a pity-smile. I took photos of the boarding area with my iPhone until I realized I was attracting too much attention.

I saw an old guy bending down at Gate 13 to check under the seats and trailed him for a while. A scavenger? He had on a zip-up jacket but not fleece. I thought about partnering with him, but I'd rather work solo.

At home I search through our albums for an old photo of me wearing the black fleece, in case I have to prove it's mine. I remember the night our daughter lost her stuffed bear in a neighborhood park; Jan and I spent an hour combing the grass with flashlights while she sobbed in a sandbox. I know the bear's still there somewhere.

While Jan's out buying groceries I scour the closets, the mud room, the patio, thinking maybe I hadn't actually taken the jacket to the airport, and it's all a huge mistake. At dinner the kids notice how distracted I am, barely touching my pork chop, and ask what's wrong with Daddy.

"He's got too much on his mind," Jan says, scraping up squash from her plate. I catch her mouthing "Two" behind her hand over her mouth, her index and second finger pointing in my direction.

Article © Gary Duehr. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-09-18
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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