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The Blue Carcoat 

A Christmas story

The Christmas parade of Fulton did not physically amount to much, usually just a few flatbed tobacco trailers that had been decorated by local service clubs with cotton snow and elves; sometimes high school girls stood poised, waving the stiff formal wave of beauty queens while the tobacco beds rocked and swayed beneath them. There were usually a few Shriners scattered about on mopeds, their horns and whistles blowing, and of course the high school band was in full force, the majorettes drawing wolf whistles from the high school boys who sat on parked cars and smoked cigarettes.

All of this took place year after year, the band and majorettes and floats all wedged between a police car with siren going and Santa bringing up the rear. Santa was usually perched on the back of a Volkswagen convertible made to look like a sleigh, cardboard reindeer strapped to the hood. The parade of 1972 was the same. Mama and I stood in front of a store called Foxy Mama, which specialized in Afro wigs. Misty was supposed to meet me there, and I kept scanning the crowd for her orange hair while the band approached. I liked the way the steady beat of the drums seemed to make my heart beat louder and faster. As the parade got closer, I was torn between wanting to grip my mother's arm in excitement and wanting to walk three blocks down so as not to be identified with her.

I saw across the street a souped-up red GTO, its owner stretched out on the hood with some other boys as he waited for her, his girl, that blond majorette, to march his way. If I turned to the side, I could see my reflection in the window of Foxy Mama, my hair much too curly for the shag haircut I had gotten. I willed my hair to look like Perry Loomis's, all one length and with flaxen waves like a princess. "What's so great about Perry anyway?" one of the girls in my class had asked in the bathroom one day. She was one of Ruthie Sands's friends, one of the few in that group who had not gone to private school when we integrated. "I just don't see why all the boys like her." She looked around, her light hair filling with electricity as she brushed. Six of us stood there in front of the dark wavy mirrors, the old bathroom cold and smelling of rusty radiator heat and various mixtures of cologne. The graffiti on the walls dated back at least twenty years.

"I know why," Misty said, winking at me. Lately, she had been trying her best to attract interest in the two of us and what she called our "knowledge of the world."

"Because she's new," I said, giving my contribution to the conversation in a way that seemed too well rehearsed yet still carried no impact at all.

"Nope." Misty slung her arm around my shoulder and squeezed. "It's because she puts out." I felt my face redden as the other girls stepped closer. Misty had them, these Ruthie Sands groupies, right where she wanted them. "Todd Bridger has all but done the deed with her." I knew Misty was quoting what Dean, Mister Maturity, had told her; she was nodding, mouth stretched in a knowing grimace. Her words left me feeling odd as if my insides had been twisted, and I forced the same nervous laughter that came from the other girls, so as not to show my embarrassment; or was it envy? I felt as if they had all seen right into my head -- seen the way I had strutted across my mind in that fake-fur coat, like maybe I was Ann-Margret on my way to meet Elvis, seen the way I had kissed Todd Bridger or some faceless, nameless boyfriend in the back of the Cape Fear theater, and then taken his hand and pressed it to my chest. I had imagined I was there in the red GTO as that high school senior inched his hand over to the majorette's thigh; imagined that I looked just like Perry, that I was Perry Loomis.

"Well, what did he do exactly?" Lisa Burke asked in her high little-girl voice.

"Use your brain now," Misty said and crooked her finger to give a hint. "Kate knows." She patted me on the shoulder and again gave me the look that meant lift your chin. "Kate and I know a lot."

When Misty finally got to the parade, she whispered that she was late because she had stopped by Lisa Burke's house to loan her a copy of Valley of the Dolls. She assured me that I could read it next, and then she launched into her latest discovery, which was that Perry Loomis had to wear turtlenecks a couple of weeks ago because that older boyfriend of hers gave hickeys like mosquito bites. My mother and Mrs. Edith Turner turned and stared at Misty. Misty smiled sweetly, and then when Mrs. Turner wasn't looking, shot her the bird. The band was in front of us, and I felt my heart quicken as I watched the majorette and the boy on the GTO exchange looks, then a wink, lips puckered.

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