Fiction / Issue 5

Fiction by Jim Read

The Man with the Plain Beige Raincoat

It was raining, and he arrived wearing the raincoat with a soaking umbrella that he left open in the hallway to dry. He said almost nothing —, that was part of it — and I didn’t mind because of the way that he took possession of my body.

Okay, he was, I guess, in his forties, but he looked younger. That’s okay. I liked older men. I guess he was at the upper limit. He was white, tall, well-built without being muscular, and had a casual way of moving around with his hands in his pockets. I guessed that whatever he did for a living was not of a manual nature. Beyond that I remember he was modestly handsome. He wore his hair short and cropped. I can hardly recall his face, only a general sense together with how he was physically.

He said he was looking for someone to adore. That was dumb, wasn’t it? Who would fall for that?

He liked my pic. I liked his pic. I felt a connection. It was like he was beginning to tell me a story. Once upon a time. That’s the thing, you feel a connection, you feel this chemistry. I gave him a number to call. We chatted for a few minutes and I got this tingle in my spine. I want to come over, he said.

I let him in. His face shone. There was just this light that obscured his features. I felt a surge of anticipation. Take off your clothes, he said, as he took off his raincoat and tossed it on the chair in the hallway. He went into the living room and sat on the couch. I did as he asked, stepping out of my shorts and t-shirt.

I went and stood in front of him. His eyes were closed. I stood in front of him for a few seconds — perhaps longer, I don’t remember — and then he opened his eyes.

Don’t look at me, he said sharply.

I averted my eyes. I guess he looked at me for what seemed like a long time but was perhaps only a minute, saying nothing. I felt a tingle going up and down my spine.

Good, he said.

Sit, he said.

I sat on the rug in a semi lotus position. Again there was a tingle along my spine. It was a long time before he spoke again, perhaps five minutes. I kept my eyes averted and occupied myself by looking at the coloured threads in the weave of my rug and by listening to the sounds of traffic in the street below my window.

Eventually he spoke. Are you a mystery, he asked?

Yes, I replied.

Good, he said.

I was primed for sex. I wanted to be penetrated in the worst way. He got up, and I thought to myself, yes, now. I thought he was headed for the bedroom and then I heard him going out the door. What a jerk, I said to myself, feeling angry and disappointed.

I was so primed for sex that I thought about going out to a bar. There were tons of them within trolling distance, but I didn’t like bars, or alcohol. His hands were beautiful. I wanted them to taste me. I pleasured myself and thought of him.

I didn’t hear from him for several days. Then, late in the afternoon on my day off, he called on me. He said to me, go for a walk, I’ll call you.

I went out and began to walk along my street and then into the nearby park. I thought he wanted to meet me somewhere. I sat on a bench in the park with my phone in my hand. I watched the children play and swivelled my head around to try and spot him.

I was annoyed when, after some time, he didn’t call. I started back towards my building, but I found myself turning off before I got to my street. I wandered about the neighbourhood for maybe an hour. I bought some flowers and a chocolate bar in a corner store. I ate the chocolate bar for dinner. Eventually he called from a restricted number.

Go home, he said and hung up.

As soon as I entered my apartment, I was sure he had been there, a faint odor maybe, I don’t know. I looked around, and nothing appeared to have been disturbed in my front room or kitchen.

I put the flowers down and went into my bedroom. I searched the closet. I went into the bathroom. Nothing seemed to have been touched. I went through all my drawers and cupboards and finally even looked under my bed.

There was nothing that I could see. I went to the door and inspected the lock. It did not appear to have been tampered with. I trimmed the stems of the yellow roses and put them in a vase.

Then I began to dust. When I was done dusting I began to vacuum and then, after a few minutes, realized what I was doing. I flung myself down on my couch and stared up at the ceiling. A little while later, not long, I figured out what he had done.

I must be imagining it, I thought. Of course I was, but why? I was sure I was imagining the whole scenario. But why? Why think that? Oh, you know, it’s just a new defect in my personality, an exotic form of paranoia maybe.

I thought well, get up off the couch because you didn’t put any water in the flower vase. I didn’t move.

A siren went by in the street, a phone rang in the apartment above me, there were footsteps in the hallway, a dog barked in the street, the streetcar trundled past, the construction guys were hammering away across the alley.

Are you going to let the flowers wilt? No, I am not. Don’t be crazy. I didn’t move. I tried to think it through as if my spine wasn’t tingling. Disgusting. Call the police?

I thought I’m just being stupid and anyway my bladder was about to burst. I still didn’t move off the couch. My bladder was starting to hurt. I saw my predicament. Finally I got up. My legs were filled with sand. I tripped over the ottoman, I banged against the corner of my table, my elbow glanced off the side of the bookcase in the hall.

I entered the bathroom and pretended to fluff my hair in the mirror. I pretended to scratch my back and did a quick survey of the walls and ceiling. My bladder was screaming at me. What am I doing? Calm down. I peed. I knew he was watching me. My nipples were hard.

I watered the fresh cut flowers. Then I began to dust again as if that were the most natural thing in the world. You know, dust, dust, dust, la, la, la! I was so clumsy. I knocked over two ballerina figurines, an essential-oil diffuser in my living room. I dusted a framed painting on the living-room wall and it slipped off the hook and crashed to the floor. I dusted in my bedroom and knocked over a family photo, shattering the glass. You, what are you doing? There, I was talking to myself again. I knocked things over everywhere I went, and I went everywhere. I dusted in places where the dust bunnies had turned into crocodiles. Eventually I was sneezing so much and my eyes were watering so badly that I had to stop. It was dark then, and I realized that at the end of it I had been dusting in the pitch dark. I collapsed on my bed. But I didn’t fall asleep at first, because to be honest I had trouble admitting how disappointed I was.

I called in sick the next day. My sinuses were clogged. I blew black snot into a handkerchief. I had slept in my clothes. I was feeling grimy and dirty with all that mad dusting. The feeling of disappointment that I went to sleep with was still with me. I tried to reason it out, and all I could come up with was five billion hits on some Hong Kong porn video network and that I had suddenly developed some sort of spooky complex that compelled me to abase and humiliate myself in public.

There were no cameras. There was no man in a beige raincoat sneaking into my apartment. Right. Myself to myself, okay? I stripped off my dirty clothes in the middle of my living room without realizing that I had left my blinds up with the sliding windows pulled open to let out the dust. My apartment was eye level with the row housing development almost an arm’s breadth across the lane, which was crawling with men in hard hats. Hey, check this out, one of the construction guys shouted. I fled to the bathroom.

He knocked on my door a few days later. I saw him through the spy hole, not all of him, but I recognized the raincoat slung over his arm. I unlocked the door and went down the hall to my bedroom and took off my clothes. I was shivering with anticipation. I came out and saw the raincoat thrown on the chair in the hall. I went into the living room. He had drawn the blinds. The room, the air, and furniture seemed striped, glowing with black and yellow bars of light.

He was seated on the couch, his large hands clasped behind his head. I placed myself in front of him and kept my eyes downcast. I like that, he said. I liked it too, being looked at. Being told to take my clothes off in the easy way that he did the first time we met. I stayed still. I wanted him in the worst way. Sit, he said. I sat on the carpet. I felt his eyes on me. There was a weird kind of silence in between all the street noise, the hammering next door, a streetcar, random sounds from everywhere, the blinds rattling gently in the breeze that came through the screen. He looked at me for a long time, and my anticipation began to subside, and then it went away. Eventually, I don’t know how long, I felt a sense of peace with this man’s eyes all over me.

He got up, and, like the first time, I thought he was headed for the bedroom but then he went out the door. I went after him, to ask him to come back. I opened the door and stuck my head out and looked up and down the hallway. Nothing. I wanted him to come back. You bastard, I said and slammed the door shut. And then I saw that he had left his raincoat. I took that as a good omen. I went through it. Nothing, even the tags were taken off. Myself to myself, that man was a serial killer. Myself to myself, no he was just messed up like me. I waited for him to call. I looked for him on the web site. I looked for him every time I went out in the street. After a month I admitted to myself that he was gone. Whatever narrative he was playing out was over.

One day I was feeling sorry for myself for reasons I won’t get into. I called in sick to work. I was agitated, but I didn’t know why, just this heavy, agitated feeling I sometimes have. I found myself wandering around my apartment looking behind pictures. I got up on my step ladder and looked into the track lighting. I checked the edges of the mirror in the bathroom and the mirror in my bedroom. Eventually I gave up. I felt like a sandbag. I felt more disappointment. And then I remembered the raincoat. I took it out of the hall closet and spread it on the couch. I took off my clothes and stood for awhile with my eyes averted. Then I sat cross-legged on the rug. I kept my eyes averted. After awhile I felt his eyes on me and I started to feel better. I listened to the random noises around me. I began to feel my breath. I felt a tingle up and down my spine. I don’t know how long I stayed sitting. The random noises seemed to fade. I think I sat for a long time. Thoughts and feelings drifted through my head. The tingle went away and was replaced by a feeling of peace. The feeling spread throughout my body. I felt empty, at peace.



Jim Read has been published in various literary venues; most recently The Antigonish Review, Front and Centre Magazine, The Steel Chisel, and Pictures and Portraits. He lives in Toronto in the Village of Parkdale. Please visit his website at Selected by Gabrielle Bellot.

Image © Jackie via Flickr Creative Commons.