My dad is an entomologist so I grew up surrounded by dead insects. Butterflies, beetles, bugs. The tissue soaked with ethyl acetate, the killing jar. Suffocated, mounted and framed. When I was four I decided to become vegetarian because I didn’t want things to die.
The year I turned 22 I was living with my boyfriend Jack, and I came into possession of this coat. I never wore it but I kept it. Because it’s from a different time. Because it’s sentimental. Because it’s got a satin lining too pale to call coral, too dark to call salmon.
We bought a birdcage together at a church fete, one that was shaped like an upside-down, decapitated boiled egg. Black and lacy. I threaded my fingers through it and held it up like a pair of knickers or a harp.
I grasped onto the snakeskin of Jack’s elbow as we walked down the aisle of the pet shop. We chose the most buttery canary, a male, because only the men sing. We called him Gus: a burst of breeze that doesn’t have an ending.
Late one afternoon, when the air was cool and the West End sky was turning salmon and coral, I said to Jack that now we could look after a bird we were obviously ready to have a baby.
‘You just want a baby ’cause your sister has one,’ he teased me.
‘No, I want one because I want one,’ I insisted. I want one because everything seems meaningless. I want one because I don’t know what else to do with my life. I want one because thread your fingers through my heart and you’ll see it’s a harp, a pair of knickers, an empty birdcage.
We’re too young, he said simply. I went silent like my mum does when she’s angry and the only sound was the canary, singing and skipping amongst its own spilled seed.
Many years later I phoned Jack to tell him our baby Gus had flown like a breeze out of his cage on my parents’ property, where we’d taken him to live after we broke up. “Do you think he would have survived out there?’ I asked Jack. I wanted to believe Gus was okay, that he would be safe, happy in the bush, like Mowgli.
‘No way. The wild galahs would have got him straight away.’
Jack’s certainty could still make me cry.
Earlier this year I reached for the fur coat for the first time. Who can we blame for the things that come to us dead already? The furrier, the entomologist, the women who came before us? Do we let these things sit in the cupboard to rot, or do we wrap them around us when it gets too cold and try to take comfort in them?
When I was 31 I decided to start wearing this coat because I didn’t want things to die.