Authors: Linda Grant
Also by Linda Grant
The Clothes on Their Backs
When I Lived in Modern Times
The Cast Iron Shore
The Thoughtful Dresser
The People on the Street: A Writer's View of Israel
Remind Me Who I Am, Again
Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution
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Copyright Â© 2011 by Linda Grant
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He had like many another been born in full sunlight and lived to see night fall.
Men at Arms
ged nine, Stephen standing outside the fur storage depot where his father works, his sturdy legs in shorts planted on Californian ground. Feet wide apart, shoulders up, arms behind his back, his neck sticking out from the collar of a checked shirt to which a narrow bow tie has been clipped, and his round, Charlie Brown head dusted with the dark shadow of a crew cut. All-American boy.
“That day,” he told his children, “was the most exciting day of my life. That's when I put on Marilyn Monroe's fur stole. And got thumped on the head by my old man when he saw what I was doing.”
The cold-storage warehouse took care of the fur coats of the movie stars. Stephen struggled to express memories he could find no words for, of walking along the lines of minks and sables, ocelots and ermines, allowed to carefully stroke their satin pelts, insert his own small arm into their dangling sleeves and feel the silken linings. His scrubbed hand was permitted briefly to enter the great surprise of a velvet pocket.
“This coat belongs to Miss Bacall,” his father told him, in his immigrant accent. “This one to Miss Hayworth. The animal was a living thing, a beautiful creature that once was. And only a beautiful woman deserves to wear a coat like this.”
If Marianne and her brother, Max, even as children cynically thought the world of their forefathers was unreal, made up by their father as a bedtime story, Stephen in his time had been far more credulous. For years he had believed that his father was on actual speaking terms with film stars, that he went to work every day with Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn and Ava Gardner. Only after he made the momentous first visit to the cold-storage company, driving home with his father through Los Angeles suburbs, did he learn that the actresses never called to pick up or deposit their own furs; they had assistants to bring in the coats, the heat of the stars' bodies still trapped in the linings, redolent of their sweat and perfume, the Joy, the Chanel N
5, L'Heure Bleue.
The brutal heavyset warehousemen regarded the coats as skin, animal pelts, weighty objects to be moved about in freezing conditions. They were all short, tough types, with large forearms and thinning hair. It was a shock, after the feminine world of home, his mother, his two sistersâtheir hair spray hanging in the air long after they had stood up from the mirror and face powder leaving scented trails scattered through the house; motes of lily of the valley and lilac whitened the rugs.
Inside the warehouse, Stephen listened to his father's explanations about why a fur needed to be kept under special conditions. The cool air and the darkness stopped the skins from drying out, the hairs from discoloring and held back the infestation of insects which could eat away at the garment. The duties of the employees included not just hanging the coats, but ensuring that they were not too close together, to prevent crushing. There was regular spraying of the unit with strong chemicals to control pests and rodents. Under no circumstances was a fur to be stored in a plastic bag, which could build up humidity and mold. The sight of a plastic bag in a cold-storage facility was the way, he said, you could detect an outfit run by a crook.