My submission into the Writer's Digest Short Story contest. Literary license has been exercised.
A Fetching Fur
Precipitation on the peaks overhead, fell soft and silent in giant, white flakes. The first snow always plucked bittersweet, tuning her heartstrings for the swan song of summer and the overture of winter. Rain drummed the cobbled streets in bone chilling drops. Rain and snow were not forecast though welcomed by the Vail mercantile. Off-season sales would end in the coming weeks and sooner was better.
From beneath her dripping brim she peered, picturing the street decked in snow, bows and boughs for the season. This village is romantic in any season she thought, before ducking into the corner furrier.
“Try one on,” Ric followed, happy for shelter.
She wrinkled her nose at him.
“Try one on,” he insisted, circling the chair before coiling himself into a comfortable pose for the show.
Overhearing them, Juan approached and after introductions offered, “Let me take your coat; let me see your size.”
He helped with her raincoat and fleece jacket. The stench of cigarettes surrounded him, emanating from his breath and clothes. Imperceptibly, her face averted.
Juan stepped back and stirred the air with his finger, prompting her turn as his eyes traveled her length. She watched his eyes stop and linger and move and stop. In different circumstances, his scrutiny would be uncomfortable and unwelcome.
“You’re tiny,” was all he said.
“Where I come from,” she taunted, “They shoot people for wearing these.”
“Where are you from?” His words possessed a distinct Spanish sway.
His shrug was dismissive. “Depends on where in California.” Juan refused to engage an argument.
“True enough,” she agreed, remembering the Hollywood royals.
“Let me put you in several coats.” Juan moved without hesitation, pulling from his palette of fur.
“First, something more classic. Mink.” He held it open and she dipped even as he lifted it to hang upon narrow shoulders. Half-length, it fell to her thighs, flawless, luxurious, black and smooth.
She twirled slowly, studying the mirror, remembering her grandmother’s pearls and thinking they would pop against the ebony fur. She assessed herself and glanced at Ric’s reflection.
“It’s beautiful … and black is not my best color.”
“This is timeless and always fashionable and elegant,” Juan complimented.
“You look stunning,” Ric smiled from his place of repose. When particularly pleased, Ric absently curled his tongue to touch his top lip. She twirled again, to gaze in the mirror, to study his expression, to catch his tongue curling in unexpected pleasure.
Juan left them mesmerized: the man with his lady in mink, the lady speculating on her startling suitor.
She had never been coaxed into fur and was taken by its texture and beauty. Friends for decades, he had never seen her dressed in finery and was astonished by her arresting appeal.
They eyed one another as Juan moved silently to fetch another fur. His return burst their bubble; broke the spell and the very private look exchanged through the looking glass.
“This is chocolate swakara from Namibia,” Juan raised the second fur, “It’s Persian wool.”
She loved textures, finding its cow-licked, curly quality instantly captivating and reminiscent of cao de agua, Portuguese water dogs.
“The ruff is lynx.” Juan held the coat as she stepped into it.
“Hold it closed for me,” he instructed, pinching the coat to her waist. “The closures are put in once the coat is purchased, for a perfect fit. We can put in as many closures as you want.”
A closure between her breasts let lynx lavishly languish off-shoulder, in a framing décolletage. Each closure, placed higher, pulled lynx closer until it fastened beneath her chin: swank, sumptuous, and shi-shi.
“It’s you,” Ric grinned, pointing at her reflection, his shoulders bobbing with laughter, his tongue slithering north.
“This coat will dress up or down easily,” she said, loving everything about it. She rotated away from the mirror, turning her head for a rear view. “I always worry that I’ll gain weight,” she thought aloud of the closures.
“The ruff is American lynx,” Juan offered. “The belly hair is the whitest, longest and softest fur, so the best coats use only pelts from the belly.”
She listened absently, picturing the coat with an array of outfits: skinny jeans and heels or splayed off-shoulder over a gown for an evening performance at the Mondavi.
Last, Juan draped her in full-length mink. He hoisted the coat onto her slight frame and she felt the press of its weight. Heavy and dark, it trailed the floor. Her thoughts traveled to European royalty, cold stone castles and dreary, dismal weather. All consuming, its shapeless bulk swallowed her.
Far too warm for California, the mink was easily shucked. Not so the lynx. She donned it once more and they discussed the care and feeding of fur.
“We made only three,” Juan said, “This is the last. On November first, we will double the price and I will sell this coat for Christmas.” He paused, “Shall I give you a minute?”
They fell silent, each seeking the next course. She, before the mirror, wrapped in chocolate swakara. TICK, the clock clicked on the wall. Ric mindlessly drummed a tattoo against the armrest, like Monk. Juan played it very cool, like Miles. She looked like heaven when she smiled.
“We’re negotiating for sex,” Ric said with a wry smile, prompting a guffaw.
“We always are.” The corners of Juan’s mouth curled discreetly, his words more than prophetic.
“Let’s get an Irish coffee and discuss this,” Ric sprung from his chair.
“Really?” She froze with eyes that grew to saucers. “You can’t be serious!”
Hand in hand, they crossed soggy cobbles, seeking a cozy corner and warm beverage as the weather broke and shadows grew.
Him: Could he purchase the fur for the likely enjoyment of other men?
Her: Could she receive such a gift without a yoke of obligation?
He: weighed investment to extravagance and struggled to strangle this barrier to its possession:
She: bound the fur to requirement and remuneration.
They: spoke of love, possession, obsession, obligation, expectation, possessions, pleasure, attachment, avarice, and animus, the negotiations more titillating than the pelt itself.
She: thought he should not.
He: knew he should not ... and he could.
Two Irish coffees in Pepi’s Cantina; fourteen dollars.
Three nights in Vail: two hundred, twenty-five dollars.
One roundtrip ticket, SMF/DEN: two hundred, eighty-one dollars.
One chocolate, Namibian, swakara fur with lynx ruff: fifteen thousand dollars.
Heartfelt conversations: very rich and very real: priceless.