Jessie hangs her coat back here, a yard from the half-booth that is my usual table. A deep green pea coat with wooden toggle buttons -- those clumsiest of all fasteners, pinkie-long pegs which hang by thongs and have to be threaded through another dangling loop of thong. Preposterous, but I love them, and I love, as always, Jessie's sartorial extravagance. She is raffish, ridiculous, adorable. The sort of girl all those pop songs of my youth were about. Apple Scruffs. Ruby Tuesday. Everyone-Knows-It's-Windy. I let my gaze linger on the coat, from time to time, since I'm too polite to let it linger on Jessie.
I have wondered sometimes why she doesn't hang her coats in the kitchen. When she comes on shift she walks over to my corner and hangs her things on the standing hat rack here by the window. But just now I realized: "Dale, you idiot, you'd think you'd never worked in a kitchen. She hangs it out here so that it won't reek of fryer grease by the end of her shift." Of course. Nobody with any sense would keep garments they cared about in a diner kitchen.
The cloudlight brings up soft blurs of lighter green where the angles of the coat face the sky: the edges of pocket and sleeve are the bright green new pool-table felt, and the shadowed draping is exactly the color of old fir boughs. For a moment I become Jessie, shrugging into the coat to go home, the hood heavy against my neck, my thoughts wholly taken up with the world beyond the cafe, a world Dale knows nothing about, but which I am anxious to enter. Today is the day -- what? I don't know. I'm Dale again, just me, with my own to-do list: massage at noon, then work, then home. Taxes to do, dishes to wash. The ordinary world. Not a loft apartment, close-in Southeast, with cloudlight slanting in and falling over Indian beadwork, belts with thick buckles, fragrant with spice tea. Oranges all the way from China, peeled by quick, slender fingers, scents that tickle the nose, candles, tapestries. Time coming slowly to a stop. Dalliance.
It makes me laugh: how quick each image runs to the next, how deep this groove is in the vinyl of my mind. It makes me laugh, but that doesn't free me of it. It's a dream of freedom, but it is as unfree as dreaming ever gets. It's the green, the green I should be lingering on. The familiar unfamiliarity of that color in the cloudlight, the stiffness of my old pea coat -- I did have one once: when was that, whatever became of it? I remember the silk lining, the abrupt transition to the rough old felt, the way the mist would bead up on it. Olympia, it must have been Olympia, where it was always foggy. And from there to Martha's pink trailer in the woods, and the woodstove, and the sunrise behind Mt Rainier. That was dalliance, if you like.
I have just missed something. Something has just run through my hands, too quick to catch: the brush of a cat's tail. I could catch up a sad nostalgia, if I liked, but there's something much more important. And it has to do with that green, that particular green and no other. There's a reason why doors are painted green, exactly that green. Let's run backwards, a moment. Rewind to the moment when the green was most intensely, newly green. There was something there that I must not lose.