PROSE from Issue #44
The Hoodie’s Tale
Its journey began in a Beijing factory, assembled, crated and shipped to the American manufacturer where it was inspected, its label sewn in, made in China, then on to a Target warehouse to be sorted and boxed and trucked once more to their Target, where it sat on a shelf in a stack of the others just like it, size medium. Its color was what attracted the mother, guava, she thought, remembering her own mother coming home with these in the summer sometimes, cutting them open, that rosy effervescence like the GMO version of a basket of strawberries meets cotton candy then bred into a dense, pulpy fruit. Pretty, the mother thought, on the daughter whose hair is the color of nutmeg.
The daughter thought so too and wore it like a second skin.
Its pockets were filled with: Bonnie Bell’s Lip-Smackers Dr. Pepper lip gloss, used Kleenex, loose change—two nickels, a quarter and a dime—a smooth pebble the girl had found two days before she and the hoodie would part company forever, flat and speckled with mica, to skip in the river shallows where she and the boy snuck off to sometimes, smoking a joint on the bank, the boy insisting only guys could skip stones, and her intent for this pebble was to challenge that; and a thin chocolate mint wrapped in shiny green paper from the Olive Garden, where she and the mother had pasta and salad the night before, nothing in the fridge and the mother too tired to shop—the one bit of edible matter that might have attracted the dog who dragged the hoodie out of the woods, and because of this mint it would end its journey bagged and tagged in a forensic file at the local police station—but that’s not what this tale is about.
Its pockets filled with her innocence, the hood and neckline scented with her shampoo, a Rite Aid buy, green and herbal; the sleeves at the wrists smelled like Fritos, the last thing she ate before removing the hoodie in the boy’s car, this her offering, like peeling an onion—the next layer for him, her bony shoulders, her bra points with their still developing breasts poking from the tank top she wore under it.
When the girl disappeared the boy, nervous he might be a suspect (he’d dropped her off a mile from her house annoyed she wouldn’t even unzip her jeans), tossed her forgotten hoodie in the woods on the other side of town. There it lay under a majestic white pine on a pine needle bed, which in the rainy spring became a mud slicked hole, and the sultry summer a dry, caked earth; in the winter the hoodie was entombed under a foot of snow. Above it the pine rustled and bent in the wind, songbirds nested and woodpeckers bore holes into a leafless branch, the forest alive with its patterns and routines, its scents and weather and the creatures it fed, sheltered, living and dying in their predictable ways that had little to do with the world the hoodie had been part of.
Its owner was a good girl, a girl filled with an innate goodness; the mother knew it, the man who held the girl captive knew it, the boy who hurled her hoodie into the woods knew it and suffered remorse that he was somehow implicated in her vanishing; even their community knew it at some level and felt a quiet despair that such a girl would be lost among them; and if the hoodie could know such things it would have felt this truth in the warm press of her flesh and mourned its absence while it lay in the forest that had no recognition of it, nor the hoodie of this forest.
For weeks after the girl didn’t come home the mother curled up every night in the girl’s closet thinking how good this girl was, and if any essential goodness remained in this wrecked world, she would be saved. The mother rocked and thought these things, her head between her knees, face down, eyes shut, visualizing the girl in the guava-colored hoodie, her nutmeg hair, her thin face beneath the hood, pictured her showing up one day in the little grey house as if she’d never been gone, and the mother would make her a guava chiffon pie like her own mother used to make, the guavas from Chile no doubt, or Ecuador, but she would tell the girl they were from Hawai’i, a tropical world where the sun always shines and the sky is cerulean, and with this her promise: they will go there, the mother, the daughter.
As the seasons passed the mother found a new job and went to it daily like it was her duty to do this, to move on, as her friends pleaded. When the hoodie was extricated from the jaws of the large black dog, the mother identified it at the police station and still she didn’t give up, though her friends, her coworkers, all stared at her with that drowning in their eyes. No, the mother thought, this is proof of her daughter, this hoodie she loved and wore like her skin. The mother imagined the girl deep in the forest perhaps, behind where the hoodie was found, and it didn’t frighten her to think it.
For this is a staunch and resolute land, impervious to the human drama on its outskirts—caring is for the humans who ruin things and are then compelled to care for what’s been ruined. For thousands of years the eastern timber wolf roamed this land, the chorus of its cries would have filled the cold nights like a symphony, until the colonists began to clear the land and in their fear slaughtered them all. Now there are coyotes, much bigger than their western cousins and recent studies bear witness to a new species, the “coywolf,” a coyote that has bred with the Canadian grey wolf and is social, sentient, one of the most intelligent, adaptable animals in North America, scientists claim, monogamous, protective of their young, with larger stature and beautiful wolf-eyes, howling mournfully—or perhaps joyfully, who knows?—into the night. A land where things can still evolve is a land where there is still some hope, and the sun paints its hills a deep blush at sunset and the leaves of its trees green in the summer, red and orange in the fall, none at all in the winter, its trees vital and waiting under the snow.
One night when she came home from work, the mother curled up in the girl’s closet again on the frayed beige carpet, lingering amongst last-year’s corduroy coat, the flung-about sweaters, thin summer tops hung neatly in a row over the mother’s head, a pair of jeans draped across the peg the girl left them on, the pair she didn’t wear that day. Hunkered down among her shoes, crawled into one of them, Chuckies the girl called these, a rich brown canvas the color of ale, the color of her hair. Inside the scent of her foot still lingered, muted but unique, the arch high like the mother’s, remembering how she counted her baby’s toes after she was born—you did it! She’s all here. The mother had glanced out the window in the birthing room, holding her swaddled daughter in her arms for the first time, and noticed an unusual bird with a golden head and throat perched on a tree branch. Look! she told her daughter, the infant’s eyes half-opening at the mother’s voice, a squint, her furrowed, crinkly brow. The bird preened its feathers then cocked its head as if listening to an unfamiliar sound, its gaze intent on something in the world beyond what their window revealed.
Jaimee Wriston Colbert is the author of: Shark Girls, finalist, USABookNews Best Books 2010; Dream Lives of Butterflies, winner, IPPY Awards; Climbing the God Tree, won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize, and Sex, Salvation, and the Automobile won the Zephyr Prize. Her new collection is due out in 2016. She is Professor of English at Binghamton University.