It was Locklear’s first time in the rain. He couldn’t say that he was enjoying it. The droplets of it beat at his fibres and soaked through to his lining in a way that made the wind chilling. His pockets were sodden, as though Mother Nature wanted them for a drinking cup. It was not at all to his liking, but it was better than the shop.
Anything was better than the shop. Endlessly hanging around, day after day; life had become one long fluorescent funeral. He had been pulled this way and that, his fabric rubbed with oily fingers, his lapels turned up and down with alarming frequency and for all that he had been shoved back on the rack to wait again. In the beginning he had hoped that being taken from the rack would mean a new life, freedom from the confinement of the shop and each time he had been disappointed. The final insult had been being hung badly on a hanger – his only means of support – and falling to the floor, where he remained, crumpled and disregarded and miserable. As he lay there amongst the dust and the grit and the hours withered away, hope failed and died.
Locklear shuddered at the thought of lying there and settled into the warmth of his master’s body, which he could feel even through the other clothes with which the master adorned his person. That was strange to Locklear. He couldn’t imagine putting anything over himself, though he had to admit that his master’s scarf did keep the rain from some of his lapels. Perhaps his master was not as hard-wearing as he had been created to be. Perhaps he needed the extra layers to protect himself. Could the rain be harmful to his master? Locklear felt a new pride in his work, keeping his master from harm. It was no longer a duty to shield him from the fury of the elements, but a responsibility.
This new found outlook sustained Locklear as he and his master ventured through the streets. He thought about how fortunate it had been for them both that his master, quite by chance, had dropped a coin which had rolled and come to rest against Locklear’s cuff. The master had then, gently, picked Locklear from the dirty floor, examined him with a practised eye and tried him on. Locklear knew even as his fabric settled on his master’s shoulders that he had been made to be worn by this human. The master had known it to and had bought Locklear then and there, removing the restraints that kept Locklear’s pockets closed and his tails together with a small penknife. That instrument of liberation was now carried as carefully and reverentially as Locklear could manage in his right hand outside pocket.
Despite the care with which Locklear defended his master from the rain, he was still glad when the master entered a building. The master stood for a moment, wiping the rain from his face and Locklear took the opportunity to drip water onto the fine carpet and exquisite tiling his master stood on. There seemed little sense in remaining this wet now they were inside. The master seemed to think so too, as he slipped Locklear off and carried him towards a counter.
“Could you take my jacket. I’m afraid it’s rather wet,” the master said in that strange jolting language of his kind.
“I’ll see it’s placed in the drying room, sir. Here’s your ticket,” The man behind the counter said as he took Locklear gently from the master and slid something papery and pink across the counter, which the master retrieved.
Locklear was not worried that he was no longer with the master. His master had a special cupboard in which he allowed Locklear to rest after a long day’s work. Sometimes Locklear wouldn’t see the master for hours at a time, but there were others of his own kind in the cupboard and they’d been welcoming enough towards him. They rubbed along together nicely.
He was carried, still dripping everywhere, through a large room filled with racks that reminded him rather too much of the shop, though it was more dimly lit. Lots of coats and scarves and those synthetic fabrics stretched across frames that humans held aloft when it rained were hung up in here, each grouped together and with a pink piece of paper attached. Locklear couldn’t see any price tags on the coats, though, so he knew he couldn’t be in a shop. A sign on the wall read “CLOAKROOM”. This must be a CLOAKROOM, Locklear thought, wondering what that would be. Humans had a funny way of giving names to things, but he was not one to argue.
The man carrying him brought him out of the large room into a smaller room. It was like a large version of the cupboard at home, in that it had only the one rail for hanging from, but it was much bigger and, Locklear noted, warmer. He relished the feeling of the increase in temperature and noted that some of the rainwater that had soaked into his fabric began to shift almost at once. In a place like this he would be dry in no time. The counter man hung him on a smart hanger and attached a pink piece of paper and then settled him nicely on the rail. Then he was left alone.
Or rather, alone without humans. There were two others of his kind on the rail. One was a battered brown leather motorcycle jacket with the central zip hanging off halfway down and rips in the elbows. The leather itself was badly cracked and the lining looked as if it had seen better days. He was called Barnaby. He eyed Locklear suspiciously and asked for his name. Locklear gave it. Barnaby sneered and rippled on his hanger as if shrugging.
“Don’t mind him.”
This was the second occupant of the CLOAKROOM. She was a white trench coat, a homage to a classic in modern style, with beautiful black buttons and a gleaming gold buckle that hung from a central belt. Locklear suddenly wished he wasn’t soaked to the lining and then thought that if he hadn’t been he wouldn’t be here now and then he realised that he hadn’t been saying anything and the silence was stretching.
“What’s your name?” he managed to blurt out.
“Evey,” he repeated and the gentle breeze from the vents in the wall seemed as the summer winds that he remembered blowing in through the grimy windows of the factory where he was created. It had spoken then of promise, of adventure, of a better life. He was convinced it offered no less a prospect now, “It’s a beautiful name.”
“Thank you,” Evey said, in a quiet voice that suggested shyness.
Barnaby scoffed. Locklear frowned at him, but resolved not to say anything. For a moment there was nothing but the gentle turning of the vent and his own embarrassing dripping onto the tiled floor.
“I’m sorry I’m so wet,” Locklear said, “It was raining very hard when I came in.”
“That’s okay,” Evey replied, generously, “I’m a still a little damp myself.”
Barnaby laughed out loud about this and Evey went quiet again, turning slightly away from the pair of them. Locklear stiffened on his hanger and stared at Barnaby.
“What’s wrong with you?” Locklear asked, a little hotter now than he’d intended, “Surely we’re all a little wet from the rain? What’s funny about that?”
“It’s alright-” Evey said, in a quiet voice, but Barnaby cut her off.
“I haven’t been out in the rain. Can’t you see I’m dry? I’ve been in here for years and years, tucked away out of sight. My leather has cracked with the constant heat. I wouldn’t be complaining about a bit of rain if I could feel the wind.”
“I’m sorry,” Locklear said, regretting that he’d been so short, “I know what it’s like to be stuck in the same place for a long time.”
“Do you?” Barnaby said, shaking in disbelief, “Do you really?”
“Yes, I do. I was in a shop for a long time and I was left on the floor for days.”
“Everyone spends time in the shop. That happens to us all. We wait and we wait for a master or a mistress and then we get bought. That’s nothing at all.”
Locklear stiffened again, his buttons standing out from his fabric. It wasn’t nothing. It was torture. He’d hated every moment of that shop, hated being there and having no one care about him. How could this old coat say it was nothing? He looked at Evey as if asking for answers but she simply shook and gave him a supportive smile. He felt some of the tension leave him and something else hit him where his master’s toned stomach would usually rest.
“It wasn’t very nice,” Locklear said to Barnaby.
“Life isn’t, as a rule. Take me, for example. I was in a shop once, waiting, just like we all do. I thought no one would ever come for me. I thought I would be the last on the rack and sent back to the factory that created me. But one day a young man came in and he tried me on and we fitted. He bought me and took me home and he wore me every day, even when it was sunny. I knew what it was like to feel the wind and the sun. I shielded him from rain and cold and rested on the shoulders of young ladies to help him succeed with them. I served him faithfully as the years went by. He wasn’t always the best master. Sometimes he would weave along the road as if he couldn’t tell what was where and he fell and ripped me. My zip broke while we were on holiday and my lining- Well, it was never made to last. One night we came here to this place and he traded me in for his ticket. It was wet that night too and I was soaked through, but I felt comforted by this room with its gentle warmth. I hung here all night and dried off, talked with a few of the others while we hung here and then one by one their masters and mistresses came in to collect them until I was alone. My master never came for me. I’ve hung on this same rail for five years, the best years of my life behind me and I know that soon I’ll be taken from this rail and that will be the end. So don’t tell me that you’ve had it hard, Locklear, because you don’t know anything yet.”
Locklear dripped onto the floor, feeling as though the water was being squeezed from his body. Evey, too, was shedding water faster than before. He managed to glance a touch on her arm as the breeze moved them. She smiled at him.
“Maybe your master will come for you soon. Maybe he forgot where you were.”
“But you don’t know. Our masters and mistresses are always forgetting because they have so many coverings to stop them being hurt or cold or embarrassed. Maybe he’s coming tonight. What do you thing, Evey?”
“Yes, I think you’re right. They always come in the end. My mistress left me on a bus last week. I went round and round the city before I was at a place called the depot. I’d nearly given up hope before she came to claim me.”
“There you are, Barnaby, you see.”
“You’re just kids,” Barnaby said, ruffling his battered collar, “He’s not going to come. He’s abandoned me. There was a coat similar to me – Jacob was his name – who was brought in here on a wet night about two years after I was left. He was so similar that I bet if I were as new as you two are even my Creator wouldn’t be able to tell us apart. We got talking and eventually I told him about my master, about how I’d been left. There was a new counter man that day and he’d forgotten to give Jacob a pink ticket, so he had Jacob’s master come in to identify which coat was his. And do you know, Jacob’s master was my master. He didn’t even look at me, maybe didn’t recognise me. He just took Jacob and went away. He’s replaced me and my time is over.”
Locklear didn’t know what to say. He had no experience to draw on. The shop had been the most horrible thing he could think of, but now he saw that it wasn’t at all. Would he be replaced in time like Barnaby? Forgotten on a rack? No. No! It was Barnaby’s fault. He’d got himself damaged. He’d got old and worn. His master wouldn’t be like Barnaby’s. His fate wouldn’t be Barnaby’s fate.
He was about to say so when the counter man returned. He approached Evey and took her from her hanger, draping her over his arm. Locklear rustled, but Evey could do nothing and neither could he. He wanted to say something before she went, but what? His mind raced only over what Barnaby had said and nothing more. Then the counter man turned and was gone, with Evey still in his arms.
“Let her go, Locklear. You’ll not see her again.”
Locklear shed the last of the water in his fabric. He tried to ignore Barnaby but Locklear could hear his words over and over again. He looked out of the room and saw that the counter man was taking away other coats and jackets and scarves. The humans had finished whatever they were doing here. Locklear watched them go, worried that he would remain here with Barnaby forever, but then the counter man came for him.
He felt relief and hugged tightly to the counter man’s arm, afraid that if he fell he wouldn’t be retrieved and he would remain on the floor forever. He could imagine nothing worse. Then he saw Barnaby still hanging on the rail, alone again, and he felt his relief evaporate.
Soon, he was back on his master’s arm and then being swirled in that way that made him thrill with life as his master slipped his arms into Locklear’s sleeves. He clung to the master, aiming to keep him shielded and warm. If he did that, he wouldn’t be replaced, wouldn’t be left behind. His master stepped with the crowds into the street. The rain had stopped. A car flashed its lights and Locklear’s master raised an arm. Locklear prided himself on not pulling an armpit stitch when the master did that. He was too well made for that.
The master went over to the car and got in, sliding Locklear from his shoulders and folding him carefully. There was a mistress in the car, but Locklear had no interest in her and barely looked at her as the master moved him to the back seat of the car.
It was Evey. She was on the back seat too, folded carefully, with her buckle resting on top. The mistress must be her mistress.
“I’m glad I got to see you again,” Locklear said and heard the same words repeated by his master in the strange human language.
“You too,” Evey and her mistress said together.
The car engine started and they all moved forward together. Locklear smiled at Evey as they sat together in the back seat. As the car turned a corner, the moonlight fell like silver fire across Evey’s buckle and they tumbled together, their arms intertwining for the first of many times.