I dreamed I put on my old coat. The long one. The wool one. The beautiful one I’d paid a dollar for. The one the sales woman at the second-hand store said she knew she should have grabbed for herself when she’d seen it coming off the truck. The one with the dark pattern of interlocking checks, and the pockets my fists of hands just fit inside when hugging myself against the cold.
Once I had it on, the weight of it surprised me. It made itself known not at the point where the coat came to rest upon me — my shoulders and neck — but farther down the line the pull of gravity was following: my feet. With the coat on, my soles pressed themselves firmly against the earth.
Something in the way the coat rooted me to the earth made me realize that in the five years since I’d last donned it, I’d been floating around, weightless, insubstantial, barely present as an actor in my own life. In the dream, I remembered standing in sturdy boots, on icy streets, snow piled shoulder-high on either side. I remembered breathing out long pillars of fiery steam. I remembered holding my wife’s hand — my God! She would not even have been my wife then — and feeling the icy air of December tickle my insides.
When I awoke I was amazed. I’d been given a chance. I’d realized something wrong with my life while I was still young enough to put it right. I’m going to start wearing the coat again, I vowed. Today. I tip-toed down the hallway and opened the door to the cubbyhole.
I’d already reached a hand between the tightly packed clothes arranged on hangers when I took note of my mistake. The coat was long gone. I’d sold it for twenty dollars and used the money to buy some things I couldn’t even recall. Coffee, probably. Some milk. Dry noodles. And it hadn’t been five years since I’d worn it, but fifteen. That young woman who’d held my hand: that was never my wife, but a long-gone girlfriend, someone who hadn’t crossed my waking mind in years.
What had I been thinking about being young?
On the way back to the bedroom, I listened to the sounds my house was making. Sighing. Moaning under its own weight. I put a hand to the heavy fabric of the curtain that covered the window at the end of the hallway, and this is what I thought: an old coat, a closed curtain, a dream, a wife, a house. It was the Mayans who’d invented the digit zero. They who first knew the truest low denominator of possibility.
I crawled back into my bed and tried to forget everything.