June 16, 2021
If you think about it, traditions around clothing are kind of weird. Why do we wear Christmas sweaters? Or wedding dresses? Or business suits? Or 13th unearthday cloaks?
But if you ponder on it a while, there’s usually some kind of reason we do the things we do. Once you hold up a thing and look at it from a few different angles, you can still say “No thank you. I will NOT wear that Christmas sweater.” Or you can say, “I like how serious I feel in this business suit.” Or you can say, “I’ll wear a wedding dress, but I’ll do it MY way.” But it’s those multiple ways of looking at something that make a grownup a grownup.
Scarlet kept her best capes, cloaks, and dresses in the front of her closet. But because her mom had commanded it, she was now looking for one of her worst pieces of clothing. She reached back-back-back, past her out-of-fashion dresses, too-small trousers, and a pair of like-new overalls she’d never worn and always hated.
There at the back was the cloak. That hideous crimson cloak.
Scarlet flexed her nosehole in disgust as she tugged it from the closet.
The cloak smelled like squirrel pee, which she hated.
To say it was a hand-me-down would be an insult to hand-me-downs. THIS cloak had been torn, stained, ripped, stitched, mended, cleaned, sewn, and lacquered over with weather sealant for so many generations that no one could remember when it was first made or what it had originally looked like.
Scarlet looked at Chucky Moldfish, doing slow laps in his tank.
Chucky Moldfish looked at her.
Chucky Moldfish said nothing.
Scarlet tossed the cloak onto her dirtbox and made ready to meet the morning. Out of habit, she looked at the “body maintenance” instruction list tacked to the vanity mirror. Scarlet glowered at it, though inside she was glowering at her mom, her dad, the universe, anything that wasn’t giving her what she wanted today.
She opened the tin of mouth moss, scrubbed a tuft across her teeth, then chewed it into a soft ball of cud. She worked it into a sodden lump, leaned her head back, and Ptooey! The cudball flew across the room and landed with a splish in Chucky’s tank.
Scarlet thought about the cloak. How could she not?
Before it was Scarlet’s, it belonged to Daisy. Before that, to Scarlet’s Grandma Bone. Before that, it had belonged to a long line of grandmas receding into the distant past.
Twice Scarlet had snuck the cloak into the donation box for the City Refuge for Orphaned and Abandoned Kids. Daisy had found the cloak both times and warned Scarlet that a third would mean her removal from the Threadheads.
Scarlet dragged a comb through tangled mats of hair, then sprayed it with Mister Spritzer Rain Resister. Good enough.
“On her 13th unearthday, every woman in the Bone family wears the cloak,” Daisy had told her many times. “You keep it until you become a grownup and then you give it to the next girl in line.”
“I’m not wearing it,” Scarlet said to Chucky. “Time for a new tradition.”
She pulled a snaker swab out of a jar and dabbed it in nose balm.
“If I ever have a daughter, she’s getting the dreams-cape.”
Scarlet swirled the swab around her nosehole lining. She plunged it in and when she pulled it out, it was covered in black grime.
“And we can use the cloak for a doormat or a dog bed or something.”
Scarlet looked in the mirror and nodded once. She was ready. She returned to the closet. “I’m a grownup now, and I can wear what I want.” At the front hung her favorite item of clothing (at least until she got the dreams-cape): a thin white satin jacket she’d appliquéd with black and red corpse flowers. The Threadheads had been almost impressed.
She pulled her leather shoulder bag off its closet peg and started upstairs.
“See ya later, Chucky,” she called to the moldfish. She watched Chucky’s dorsal fin cut the water like a shark’s before he disappeared in tank-murk. Scarlet paused. Like a shark.
She thought of the shark that bit Grandma’s legs off when Grandma was a young woman.
How Grandma had to get new legs that day.
How that was the day she met Grandpa.
How the day started badly but had a happy ending.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this, Chucky.” Scarlet fetched the cloak and stuffed it in her bag.
“Hurry, Scarlet,” her father called. “The best haggi will be gone!”
As Scarlet lurched upstairs, she caught a faint whiff of squirrel pee.
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