Audrey sat at the wrong end of her bed, back against the iron rail, eyes facing the wall. Her spine was tight like a cello string. She had put on a black winter coat far too big for her, nestled so deep in it that the collar finished inches above her head. Her feet stuck out the bottom, red painted toenails turned black without light. It was an old coat, thick hound’s-tooth tweed, and was filled with dust, but she didn’t care. In one pocket was a crumpled opera ticket, yellowed with age. The Barber of Seville. Row HH, seat 12. Doors open at eight. She knew it off by heart. In another pocket was a piece of glass, a finger-sized shard from a green bottle, its edges worn smooth by water. A lifetime tumbled in salt.
She closed her eyes, imagining the rhythmic rumble of a train’s carriage, the creaks and clacks of well-worn rails, safe like an old memory. She was in the coat, and it fitted her now; it guarded against the chill of the outside air that flew through chinks in the undercarriage, swirling, catching the edges of her nostrils. Her legs had black stockings, her feet comfortable kitten heels. In her head was the familiar richness of Don Basilio’s Aria. Ever her favourite: its joyous melody, its wonderfully ridiculous words—they lived so healthily in her head that the music could never die. She watched the scenery flash past, backwards, because she always sat with her back to where she was going. She loved to watch the corners disappear, wrapping in on themselves, retreating to the horizon, a distance moving ever away. She was going back home. This was the right way around. Everyone else had it wrong.
Audrey never wanted to climb inside the coat, but she always would. It was another skin—a skin she hated and loved. Not even her dad knew about it. She kept it hidden in an old toy box, secured under blankets and dress-ups. She had tried to throw the coat out so many times—once she held it over the fireplace until her arms shook—but deep in her mind she knew she would never part with it. Long ago it had lost her mother’s perfume, but a scent still lingered, like an empty bowl still rich with a sense of its contents. Occasionally Audrey would discover some new part of it—a seam, a corner, a thread—and the effect would be profound. Every discovery was the missing piece in an incomplete memory; every piece repaired a stretch of a timeline’s broken tracks.
Audrey’s right hand squeezed the opera ticket. She wanted to rip it apart, but she never did.