She came in and she was looking for this coat. It was her father’s, she said. He’d left it on a bus last week. She spent a long time describing it. Herringbone was a word she used. Also she said it was a kind of faded moss-green. Or more like a faded sage-green, but like a faded dark sage-green, with a brown hue. She asked me if I knew the colour she meant. I said I thought I was getting the idea.
She had her hands resting on the counter, and she was trying to look round behind me, the way people do, like they think I’m hiding something. She said the buttons were tortoiseshell and one of them was missing. She said the lining was a very dark navy-blue and it was torn from one of the arms right down to the hem. She asked me if I thought hem was the right word to use about a man’s coat. I said I wouldn’t know about that. He’d left it on a bus the previous week, she told me again, on the Wednesday. It did have a belt but that might be missing, she said.
I turned the pad of Mis/Prop/B forms across the counter towards her and asked her to fill in her name and address and telephone number. I said I could do the rest. I said I didn’t think we had anything right here in the office but I could make enquiries. She was looking at the form like she couldn’t read it. She said it was definitely Wednesday. She said she thought the coat was from Burton’s. I asked her if she knew which bus the item had been mislaid upon. She said she didn’t. She said it would have been some time in the morning. She said her father had told her he’d gone to meet his friend for lunch, when she’d spoken to him, when she’d spoken to him on the phone, last Wednesday. The way she was talking, I felt like asking her if she needed to sit down.
I asked if her father had a bus pass and she nodded and I told her in that case he was unlikely to have been on the bus before nine thirty. She looked surprised. I said so we’re narrowing it down now aren’t we, love? I tried a smile. She didn’t smile. I asked if there were any valuables in the pockets. She said she wasn’t sure. She picked up the pen. She said there’ll be pens in the top pocket, in the breast pocket. She started to fill in her name and address. Kathryn something. With a Y. It was a nice name. It suited her. She had very dark black hair. I told her if she could put all her contact details on the form I’d be able to make enquiries and someone would be in touch. I told her she’d given a very good description and I was sure if the coat had been handed in we’d be able to locate it for her father.
There was another customer waiting by then. There’s never normally another customer. I said someone would be in contact as soon as possible, if it had been handed in. I told her unfortunately in this day and age etc. She asked me had she mentioned it being a long coat. I told her I thought I’d assumed that. It came down to here on him, she said, pointing to her knees, but he was a lot taller than me so it would look longer than that on me. I started to say something but I didn’t say anything.
We had quite a queue by then. We never normally have a queue. I said I hoped we’d be able to locate the item for her. I told her someone would be in touch. She told me the collar was brown. She was trying to remember the name of the material. She said what’s it called, it’s like inside-out leather, you have to brush it, it’s soft to the touch, it smells like leather but it’s soft to the touch when you stroke it, it leaves marks if you stroke it the wrong way. I asked her did she mean suede and she said yes, that was it, suede. I wrote on the form that the coat had a brown suede collar. I asked her was there anything else I could help her with today.
This short story appears in This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To You by Jon McGregor, published by Bloomsbury