Lorraine's Rainwear Club
A Spring morning in England and I'm driving in my car through a town. The day is fairly bright but there had been rain only recently and the roads and pavements were still piebald in their wetness. I drove in traffic taking it easy. I suppose I was playing the radio.
I stopped at a light and idly watched the people make their way across the road in front of me. One of the last to cross was a woman, in her mid- twenties, dressed in a black pvc mac. It was a brief vision. She passed my view and was gone - I followed her with my eyes as I slowly pulled away from the light - but only caught another of the briefest glimpses as she disappeared into a crowd. I drove on.
Such things happen frequently, I know, but on that day I stopped to ask myself how I felt about it, how I really felt about the sight I described above. It had clearly affected me. I replayed the event in my mind and took in the details of what I saw. She was brown-haired and of average height; she carried a shopping bag. The mac she wore was calf-length and very shiny; it seemed to swirl about her as she moved. And then I recalled the feeling; it was an ache and a longing, but it wasn't so much a desire or an attraction, it was a feeling of something like loss. She was there and then she was gone.
I needn't be surprised that I was moved by the event, I'm very aware that I find raincoated women attractive; as far back as I can remember I've been conscious of the interest. And there have been times when I've found myself lingering - just a tiny bit longer in a place - to take in the sight of someone near me who was dressed in a mac I found appealing. On one or two occasions I've been in conversation with such a person - they've asked me directions, or the time, something like that - and I've found myself shy in their presence. I've wanted to tell them how beautiful they look dressed like that, but of course I couldn't. It would be misunderstood and in any case it would be inappropriate.
There doesn't seem to be a fixed rule about the type or colour or style of raincoat which affects me in this way. Somehow it's the manner in which the woman wears it that creates the reaction within me. The pvc macs that have drifted in and out of fashion over the years are one favourite of mine but I also have a love of the rubberised cotton macs that are now more rare. I liked to watch the way the material rippled as it moved, the way it was constantly adjusting to the motion of the wearer. I thought myself wonderfully lucky to be close to a woman as she slipped one on, when I heard the way it seemed to rustle a greeting to the body it wrapped itself about.
These women I conclude are an enigma to me. They unsettle me and jar me out of the calm that I try to build about my life. They flash across my life like quicksilver, impossible to reach or to know or to study; they simply exist just beyond the bounds of my understanding and I've come to accept that that is the nearest they will ever come to me. Oh for sure there have been women in my life who have worn macs. Most times they've known my feelings about them and they've deliberately worn their macs for me. But no matter how close they become to me, no matter how well I know them, the secret is never revealed. It's almost like being beguiled, or perhaps it is exactly.
I have the feeling deep inside that these somehow have a key through which I can understand my life and what I exist for - just a harmless little fantasy, if you will, but none the less valid for me - but this secret is unlikely ever to come to me. I see them in the streets and on trains and such like, and I feel warm towards them. Their love and their care is for someone other than me but I can share through the sight of them a little of the magic that is their lives.
And I go home to the care that is mine and I drink her love and wonder at her own mystery. Tonight we may go out and walk somewhere to have some exercise and talk at the depth that only comes through movement. And I will hold her mac as her shoulders go inside it and then she'll turn and playfully button herself as I watch. Then we'll go and she will chat and seem to dance beside me as I clumsily keep pace. I'll recall, then again as usual, a phrase she once uttered in conversation, 'if I told you everything there wouldn't be any surprises left for you, now, would there?' And I shall smile, and so will she.
The girl in the blue mac
(Author's note. Some years ago I read a story - a ghost story, I think - entitled 'The girl in the Red mac'. Mine is about a blue mac and is definitely not a ghost-story. It is partly based on fact and for the sake of anonymity, the names have been changed).
"It's seven o'clock and you're listening to the Today programme with ... " - the well-known voice on the radio-alarm woke Robert Griffiths with a start. Where was he, and was it really seven o'clock on a Monday morning? - and, if it was, and he was where he thought he was, how was he going to reach work in London on time, with more than a 50 mile drive through the rush-hour traffic?
Gradually he collected his senses. What a weekend - and what a party the last two days had been. "Come on" they had said - "join us down in the country for a long-weekend - we're celebrating the years of our birth - the early to mid 1950's - and the only stipulation is that you must dress in clothes of that period".
The drive down on Friday evening was tiring - it was dark and raining. Some of the minor roads towards the village were nearly flooded, and Robert wished he had taken the train to the nearest halt - though that would have meant quite a long walk to the house. A wrong turning took him towards the rural station soon after a train arrived. Some of those who alighted were commuters, met by dutiful spouses, whilst others were obviously destined for the party - dressed in their wide-lapelled jackets and gaudy wide ties. Dressed like that Robert suddenly felt self-conscious, and then he saw her - a sight to behold, and, as it so happened, properly dressed for the rain. There she was, walking out of the station, resplendent in a light blue mackintosh, tightly belted around a slim waist . "Can it be the REAL thing" he asked himself, secretly hoping that this vision of loveliness was indeed encased in a rubber lining and that he would get close enough to hear her swish by and prove him right.
As he sat there, musing on his own liking for rubber macs, he was suddenly startled by a tap on the window. It was her. "Excuse me" she said, "but can you direct me to Holmwood House"? Robert's heart raced and he almost stammered "that's where I'm going - can I give you a lift"? The door opened and she climbed in with a rustle, the folds of her mac falling open to reveal just what he'd hoped for - a pale blue rubber lining.
Usually the confident one, Robert was nearly stuck for words. "I see you're dressed for the occasion" was all he could manage. "Oh, this" she said, moving the top half of her body so that the mac rustled even more - "a present from my ex-husband - in fact, one of many such presents. He bought half a wardrobe full of these things, hoping I'd wear them' - "both in and out of bed" she added with a wry smile. "Perhaps I should have done, and we might have still been married". "It's all very sad really, for now he's gone I'm beginning to enjoy wearing them regularly and it's amazing what they seem to do to some men'.
She hesitated for a moment and then looked at him quizzically - "not you, as well?". Robert could only nod - he was speechless - it had taken her just two minutes to find him out!
She broke the awkward silence - "I'm Jane" she said.
Robert recovered enough to introduce himself, started the engine and drove towards Holmwood Hall, hoping to get a touch of the folds of her mac every time he changed gear.
It was to be a varied and enjoyable weekend.. A party on Friday night until the early hours of Saturday morning, a country walk on the Saturday (no sign of Jane in her mac), and a dance in the evening. It was there that they met again - she, the elegant brunette with the most appealing face, communicative eyes and winning smile, and he, spending most of the evening asking her to dance.
Sunday was a time for relaxing before a formal birthday dinner in the evening. Robert walked across the fields to the local church. After the Service he sought out the village shop to buy a paper. Whilst he was being served the door behind him opened, and the sound of rustling rubber came towards him. "And how are you today, Robert" said Jane - resplendent in her dazzling blue, complete with matching wellies. "I suddenly feel a whole lot better" said Robert - "would you like to walk back to the Hall with, me?"
On that walk they soon discovered some of the things they had in common - the love of travel, of music, of the countryside - but no mention of rubber, though Jane could sense just what she and her mac were doing to Robert. At last he plucked up the courage to ask her - "would you like to go to see a film in London tomorrow evening?" and was quite taken aback when she said "yes".
And now, it was Monday morning and both of them had to be in London in tune for work. "Let me give you a lift there" said Robert, and she had accepted - getting into the car in her formal but attractive working clothes, and he now dressed as the dark-suited city gent.
They set off in fine weather but about half way there they ran into rain. They stopped in a lay-by.
"Robert, be a dear and get my mac from the boot of the car," said Jane, with a detectable twinkle in her eye.
He needed no second bidding. Round to the boot, and there, neatly laid out on top of the luggage, was the blue garment. He trembled with anticipation as he picked it up and marvelled at the wonderful sound made by the rubber as he shook it out. Jane had got out of the car. "I'm sure you'd like to help me on with it" she said. and then stood there in front of him, drawing the belt buckle ever tighter around her slim waist and smoothing the folds of the rustling material in a deliberately coquettish way.
It was well after 9.30 that they reached the outskirts of the City and both were going to be late for work. Jane leapt out of the car - "I can walk from here - see you later." "Anything I need to bring?"
"No" shouted Robert as she walked away, "just yourself and," - he hesitated for a moment - "and what you're wearing now". Did he imagine it, or did she really turn and give him a specially warm smile before disappearing into the murky rain? It was not a good day at the office - somehow, Mondays never were - and Robert couldn't wait for his evening rendezvous in Trafalgar Square. It had stopped raining and he'd been waiting for only a few minutes when the blue mackintoshed figure of Jane appeared - followed by many head-turnings and admiring glances, from both sexes.
"It's great to see you" said Robert, his pulses racing. He took the liberty of giving her a peck on the cheek and was rather surprised when she put her hand into his as they left the Square.
They reached the entrance to the cinema, and despite his inner longings, Robert thought he ought now to show some sign of chivalry.
"Shouldn't you" he said hesitantly, pointing to her mac, 'take that off before we go
She turned to face him, her gorgeous face framed by her long brown hair.
"I sure you'll be glad to know that I can't".
"You see" she said, tightening the belt even more, and with a renewed twinkle in her eyes, "I'm totally naked under this".
"Come on, let's go and enjoy ourselves ...
A new directive required that one person in fifty within the company should be trained in First Aid. The memo was read with mirth and each of the staff sought reasons why it couldn't possibly be them. The training was three days and - as reputation had it - utterly tedious. In the end we organised a Draw to decide the "volunteer". I cursed my luck as the folded paper in my hand revealed the ironic red cross which signified the "volunteer". I attended the training, took the exam, and returned to the office. I suppose I used the training once or twice a month and apart from the occasional need to restock the kit I never much thought about the role.
So why do I mention it now? Well there was something that came my way which made it interesting.
One of the girls in the office had stepped outside to take a parcel to despatch and had slipped on the pavement. She was led to my room with grazed hands to be cleaned and patched, which I did, and afterwards I filled out the report.
"You'd just as well go home now", I advised; "you won't be doing much work with your hands bandaged like that.
She didn't live far and I suggested that I drive her rather than wait for a taxi to arrive. She made the usual protests but was persuaded after I brushed aside the obstacles; I walked down the corridor and told her manager what was happening. As an afterthought I asked in her office if she had a coat with her and was told it was the red mac on the hanger.
I have to admit that I walked slowly back to my room. The mac draped over my arm felt warm and nicely clingy; I knew as soon as I saw it on the hanger that it wasn't one of the high street fashion things that have become so common. I also admit that when I walked with it I affected an awkward gait so as to make it ripple as my thigh lifted it and then released it to drop again in front of me. I found these silly, simple actions exciting.
In my room she stood to leave as I returned with her things. I made a show of concern for her well-being by insisting she put on her mac rather than carry it. I held it by the lapels in front of me and eased it very slowly up her arms allowing her bandaged hands to slide gently down the sleeves.
The noise the mac made as it molded to her body was over much too quickly. That sound has always had an elusive fascination for me. I buttoned the front for her as she stood passive and a touch embarrassed. I delighted in the subtly intimate task of easing her shoulder length hair from beneath the collar and letting it fall. Fastening the belt may have been unnecessary but I still did, pulling it securely into a tight embrace.
"As long as you don't go slipping on the way to the car the rain isn't going to bother you now," I quipped to ease the atmosphere a little. We were both aware, I think, that the actions described were a little deeper than completely innocent.
In the car I had to lean past her to reach the seatbelt. I was rewarded by savouring the scent of her perfume as it mingled with the mac. I wondered how it would feel to have her arms around me; to be standing in close contact with her body and hear the sound her mac made as she moved beside me. It was a short and very quick drive to her home.
I had to see to the door for her, of course, and she invited me in for a coffee - provided I made it, she said with a smile. I did. She had a cosy kitchen and I admired the decor as the kettle slowly heated; she directed the finding of cups and coffee, biscuits in the round, blue tin, cream in the 'fridge. I made the drinks and sat down on a kitchen stool.
"You know, you're going to have to help me off with this", she said, brushing her bandaged hands over the front of her mac.
"Oh, I don't think so", I grinned; "You'll have to get used to dealing with things like that, your hands will be bandaged for at least a couple of days."
She tried but even the belt wouldn't obey her clumsy fingers. I teased her a little but in my mind I was balancing the delights of helping her to shed her mac with the shame of not seeing her wearing it any longer. I believe I was also enjoying the fact that she couldn't get it off herself.
The rest of this account isn't of much interest to anyone other than me so I won't labour the telling of it now. I recall the reluctance I had to becoming the First Aider in the office and a part of my mind accepted as a reward for my own piece of suffering, that afternoon with a pretty girl tightly strapped into, and buttoned up within, a shimmering rubberised mac she was unable to remove
It's really nice to have Touchstone represented here.
I suspect that most of his female characters are wearing mackintoshes - especially the lucky girl in An Afternoon at the Mall.
|Footnote: I know that an author isn't necessarily authoritative on their own work, but you might like to know that Touchstone himself agrees with my suspicion here! In his opinion, the girl in the shoe-shop is wearing the appropriately short-skirted mackintosh worn by Polly - L.|
A carpet shop. Yes, a carpet shop - that's what Frank found himself doing, staring into the window of a carpet shop. There did'n't seem much else to do on this drizzly afternoon. He had come out hoping to catch a glimpse of a lovely mackintosh but had wandered along the high street. with not a delectable garment in sight. He was just weighing up the difference between a Wilton and an Axminster when he caught a reflection of red in the window. Turning round, he was nearly bowled over by this smart young lady in a beautiful full skirted,double-breasted, brass buttoned, shiny red satin-with-a-rubber-lining mackintosh, hurrying along with her heels going clickerty click and sheltering under a matching umbrella.
'Wow! It's a long time since I saw one of those,' he said to himself. He watched as she walked briskly away, rounding a corner twenty yards distant. He couldn't resist attempting to keep such a lovely sight in view as long as possible. But when he reached the corner himself she seemed to have completely vanished.
He couldn't believe that someone could disappear so quickly! He decided to nurse his dissappointment over a coffee and slipped into the restaurant of the large department store on the other side of the road. The restaurant was on the top floor.
Savouring his coffee, he tried to savour too what he had seen. The mackintosh had been so smart - in his favorite colour, and in his favorite material too - red, rubberised satin - and the girl wearing it had been so pretty! Could he just have imagined the whole thing?
He finished his coffee. and made his way down through the store. As he reached the first floor he noticed the Ladies' Rainwear department: and looking over (he couldn't not!) he was amazed to see real mackintoshes on one of the racks! Maybe his fantasies were taking over! He made his way across. and found mackintoshes not only in rubberised taffeta and rubberised cotton, but in rubberised satin,his favorite, too. He was so busy enjoying feeling the lovely material that he didn't notice the lady assistant approaching him.
'They really are waterproof,' she said.
He turned. And couldn't believe his eyes! It was the young lady he had seen in the street.
'Were you looking for anything in particular?' she continued.
Frank was still stuck for words as he withdrew his hand from the cool smooth rubber. 'Just looking for a present.' he stuttered. 'Thought these looked so smart... and ... practical'.
'They are, Sir. I have one myself. Wouldn't be without it, Sir. Not when we have weather like today! Could I try one on for you? I'm a 12. Would that be any good? Which do you think?'
Frank was in a kind of swoon. 'I think the g-golden satin cape looks wonderful,' he stammered.
With a swish and an expert twirl she lifted the cape off the hanger and swirled it around her shoulders. She slipped her bare arms through the slots in the rubber lining and brought her hands up to her neck, starting slowly to do up the matching buttons.
Frank watched and swallowed and swallowed again as she made her way in slow motion almost down the cape, easing each button delicately into place. She reached the bottom.. 'They really are waterproof' she said again, smiling up at him. She took hold of the bottom of the cape and turned the rubber outwards. 'The rubber sees to that! she said. 'And it's really lovely to wear. - Just feel this!'
Frank leant forward to feel the rubber lining.
Whether it was the distracting aroma, or the awkwardly-placed bottom rail of the rack, - or both - Frank somehow managed to overbalance! He found himself falling face first into the rubber she was holding out to him. 'Careful!' she said,as she flung her other arm round him. Frank found himself himself enveloped in the glorious mackintosh. Intoxicated by the experience, he nevertheless had the presence of mind to fumble around clumsily and so draw out the process of extrication as much as he possibly could ...
None of this disturbed the aplomb of his lovely assistant. 'Is there anything else you would like me to try on?' was all she said as she hung the disentangled cape back on the rack.
'I wonder,' said Frank, recovering well himself. 'Have you the same size in pale blue satin? With a hood? Rubber-lined, I mean, of course.'
'Of course! You do love the rubber lining, don't you,' she said with a smile so warm that Frank was encouraged to admit that this was true, and had been since he was a child.
'Do you remember the smell of balloons at parties?' she asked, a bit conspiratorially. 'I always liked that. My red mackintosh smells the same. I always think I must like it because it reminds me of those times.'
She was going through the macs on the rack. 'We don't seem to have it in pale blue here,' she said finally. 'But I'm sure we had some in the delivery the other day. They'll be in the stockroom . Won't be a minute.' Half-way to the door at the back she stopped and looked back. ...'Or perhaps you would like to come with me?' she said, with that inviting smile.
I always used to wear a navy blue nylon mac to work. - That sounds really cheap-looking, but it was one of those nice tailored ones with a tie belt and yokes in front and behind. It used to make me feel not smart exactly but with-it and one of the girls.
In this particular job I used to sit opposite my boss - the two desks were pushed together back to back. One day she was in a really bad mood and accused me of 'fidgeting'.
'Barbara, do sit still,' she said out of the blue. 'I've just got to finish these figures and there you are twitching about all the time.'
She didn't shout exactly, but the others could hear perfectly well. I sat there feeling really humiliated, blushing furiously. I think I had been sitting still - reasonably. It was just her bad temper.
She said nothing more for a bit, just glowered at her wretched papers, and kept underlining things very hard several times.
Eventually, I had to get up to go to lunch, which I tried to do very quietly. She exploded.
'Oh, Barbara, you are quite impossible! You're on the twitch the whole time. What's the matter now?'
'L -lunch,' I stuttered, fiery red, with Peter looking at me from the far corner 'I was just going for lunch.'
'Oh, for goodness' sake go on then! Just Go!' She really was shouting now.
I took my nylon mac from the stand and pulled it on, trying to get out as fast as possible. Of course it made a terrible din, the way those macs do. Like something by Tchaikovsky. I should have crept out with it and put it on outside. But I had my routine I suppose and never thought of doing that.
But the slithering and swishing as I pulled it on and pulled the belt tight etc. were just the wrong thing in the circumstances! From across the room my boss's stentorian tones:
'Now you are deliberately trying to annoy!' she bellowed. 'And I won't have it! You can forget lunch. You just come back here!'
I should have just cleared out, I know, but in the heat of the moment, the bark was too much for me and I turned from the door went across to her.
'Sit down, Miss Armstrong,' she said. 'Sit down and keep still! For once today, just sit still!' I sat, of course making a great slithering noise again.
'I don't want to hear from you for the rest of the day,' she thundered. 'Absolute quiet! Do you understand?'
I sat in my nylon mac, knowing that the least movement I made would be amplified now into a frightful rustle. I was blushing neon red.
She went back to her ferocious underlining - and there I was, completely stuck. For a long while I just sat there, not knowing what to do, but knowing that I mustn't move! I just held the position I found myself in once I had sat down - sitting straight up, rather on the edge of my seat, my knees together, (thank goodness!), my hands in my lap.
The central heating meant of course that you didn't need to wear a mac inside, and after a minute or two, I began to feel uncomfortably hot. I had done up my belt quite tightly before being hauled back - I like to have it cinching my waist like that - and though there are worse materials nylon does keep the heat in. Plus I had got very hot and bothered under misery-guts' withering fire.
But I just had to sit there - or so I felt anyway. For ages I daren't move. I felt more and more uncomfortable as my lunch hour crawled by, more and more anxious to relieve my back in particular, still ram-rod straight from the dressing-down I had received. After about a quarter of an hour I tried to relax it a fraction - but the nylon noticed all right and whispered loud enough to be heard across the table - whence I got a look so black it froze me for another age.
One of things I had wanted to in my lunch-break was to go to the lavatory! Now the pressure was building up, as I sat there perched motionless on the edge of my seat. I couldn't even wiggle my legs. It got to be the worst part of the ordeal.
In the end I got to be so very uncomfortable I knew I would have to be brave and make a move for the door. But then the door opened the other way and John and Anne came back. They were back from lunch, and the hour we were meant to take our breaks in was over! I couldn't just get up now - I would have to ask. So I went on sitting there! - and feeling more and more desperate as every minute passed.
I was rescued in the end by the fire alarm! I don't know if someone Up There did it for me, but suddenly the thing went off - and nearly took me with it, if you understand me! Anyway, I shot off like the cork from a Bollinger, and my ordeal was over.
I didn't go back that afternoon, and was fully intending never to go back at all. Only the battleship rang me at home in that evening with a really rather nice apology! So I carried on, and we got on very well after that. But I didn't take my nylon mac to work again! I kept it for going out - when I could actually enjoy its stage-whispering conversation and the sort of swagger it lent.
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