The Coat That Wouldn't Come Off! by A. A. Augustine
A timeless tale of humility & gratitude... Johnny was a rich boy. He lived on a grand old estate on the south side of town. He was as spoiled as a sultan’s son and that’s probably much more than you or I can ever imagine it to be. One day, the family servants were on holiday and Johnny’s mother had to send him to the store to pick up some groceries for the evening meal. “Now don’t talk to strangers and please don’t pick up anything else along the way. Only to the store and home! Got it Mr.?!”... Said Johnny’s mother sternly. “Yes, ma'am, only to the store and straight home!” parroted Johnny. “Here’s the list and five dollars and...
A timeless tale of humility & gratitude...
Johnny was a rich boy. He lived on a grand old estate on the south side of town. He
was as spoiled as a sultan’s son and that’s probably much more than you or I can ever imagine it to be. One day, the family servants were on holiday and Johnny’s mother had to send him to the store to pick up some groceries for the evening meal.
“Now don’t talk to strangers and please don’t pick up anything else along the way. Only
to the store and home! Got it Mr.?!”... Said Johnny’s mother sternly.
“Yes, ma'am, only to the store and straight home!” parroted Johnny.
“Here’s the list and five dollars and...
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THE COAT THAT
WOULDN’T COME OFF!
An Ebenezer’s Woods Tale by A. A. Augustine
Johnny was a rich boy. He lived on a grand old estate on the south side of town. He was
as spoiled as a sultan’s son and that’s probably much more than you or I can ever imagine it to be.
One day, the families servants were on holiday and Johnny’s mother had to send him to
the store to pick up some groceries for the evening meal.
“Now don’t talk to strangers and please don’t pick up anything else along the way. Only
to the store and home. Got it Mr.?!” Said Johnny’s mother sternly.
“Yes, ma’am, only to the store and straight home.” parroted Johnny.
“Here’s the list and five dollars and make sure you bring home all the change this time.“
His mother quipped pressing the list into Johnny’s right pocket with her right hand and rubbing his
head with her left.
So Johnny said goodbye to his mother and promised his empty promises to come right
home and not spend any of the change. He bolted right out the kitchen screen door, slamming it
behind him and lunging up to the front gate out of the estate. Johnny was lost in thought as he
briskly strutted up the street as to what goodies he would purchase with the change from the money
his mother had given him. He thought he could possibly buy a few of those caramel bars he
loved so much and eat them all before he returned home making sure he didn’t smile in front of his
mother and thus possibly giving himself away by revealing the remnants of the bar that would be
stuck to his teeth. Johnny was lost in delicious thoughts of creamy, caramel goodness as he passed
the second last corner to the left and entered the alleyway between the soda shop and the pharmacy.
There to his left, a few hundred feet up into the alleyway, he came across something he had
never witnessed in all his short, sheltered life and certainly never had seen in this part of town, or
even in this alley before. It was a man. Lying in a doorway. A strange, dirty old man. Dressed in
nasty, stained, old rags like the type the maids would clean floors with.
The site of the man shocked and scarred Johnny but also made him quite curious. He
couldn’t tell if the man had seen him or not so he eyed up the alleyway ahead and kept on his path
surveying how much speed he would need to pass the man if it looked like there was going to be
Johnny nonchalantly slowed his pace down a bit so as not to appear nervous as he approached
the man. To be safe as he passed, he locked his eyes on the man and began moving ever
so slightly toward the opposite side of the alleyway. As Johnny moved closer though, the man suddenly
looked up making eye contact with him. Just for an instant, and ever so briefly. Johnny
flinched and quickly brought his stare immediately to the ground. But it was too late. The image
struck Johnny hard. The old man had dark, desperate eyes that immediately burned into Johnny’s
psyche but as he approached, ever closer, he kept the man in his peripheral vision. Out of the corner
of his eyes he noticed that the man was now holding out a skinny, shaky hand and began to
speak in a frail, quiet voice.
“A penny please?” begged the man desperately. “A penny, for the poor!” said the man
holding his hand out toward Johnny’s side of the alleyway.
Johnny’s fear of the man took hold of his young body and he quickly broke pace and
stepped up his speed as he passed. His fear then got the best of him and he fought back in the only
way he could think if at the time. He began hurling insults loudly at the man hoping someone was
in ear shot and would come see what all the shouting was about.
“Well, You’re a dirty old man aren’t you?” scoffed Johnny, his tiny voice sharply reverberating
along the sides of the blackened-brick alley.
Johnny kept his stare blankly in front of himself. He was too intimidated and cowardly to
insult the man directly to his face.
“Get a bath! You stink!” he shouted.
“Why are you here anyway? You should be working! Get to work, old, dirty, smelly, lazy
man!!!” Johnny barked as he hastily moved well past the man. He kept his stare tight and blankly
straight ahead of himself focusing on the end of the alley a few hundred feet away, mentally
trying to gauge how quickly he could reach the end of the alley way without running. He was practically
pressed along the blackened brick wall next to him now and suddenly, he instinctively began
to run. Laughing nervously as he galloped out of the alleyway and to the end of this momentary
ordeal. Not daring to look back.
As Johnny rounded the corner out of the alleyway and hoped up into the entrance of the
shop, relived and excited from his encounter with the man in the alleyway, he suddenly heard a
loud “BANG!”. It sounded as if it came from everywhere all at once and it immediately stopped
him dead in front of the stoop of the store looking all around in every direction. He was visibly out
of breath and hunched over with his hands on his knees searching around him for the source of the
noise. He couldn’t see anything that would cause such a harsh sound in site. No smoke, no commotion,
nothing. Oh well, he thought, straightening himself back up. It must be the construction crew
down on Baker street. He shrugged his shoulders and trudged up into the store and grabbed a basket
inside the door puffing up his chest, quite proud of himself for scolding and escaping the dirty,
old man and forgetting about the sudden loud noise outside of the store.
“Why, I should be sheriff! I could really clean up this town!” Johnny thought as he
smiled to himself picking up his pace as he raced up and down the isles of the store carelessly
throwing the items he had on the list from his mother into the basket. In a flash, Johnny finished
purchasing his items and for once, thought he should actually obey his mom and purchase only the
items that were on the list she had given him.
Marvin the cashier was as cheerful as ever to Johnny as he was checking him out asking
him this and asking him that. But being the rude boy that Johnny was, he didn’t answer all but one
of the questions the nice clerk asked him.
“Is that all Johnny?” asked Marvin as he rang the last item up and placed it in a brown
Johnny thought about it for a second and asked Marvin how much change would he have
“Well, I’d say somewhere around 45 cents.” replied Marvin.
Johnny immediately threw four caramel bars into the basket not even hesitating as per
his mother’s instructions or even the poor, strange old man Johnny insulted who asked for only a
“Why ruin a perfectly good record!” he thought. “What kind of boy goes to the store for
his mother and doesn’t at least get himself a little something for the effort.” Johnny selfishly reminded
With that, Marvin finished ringing Johnny up and gave him back a nickel change which
Johnny then unflinchingly preceded to spend on even more candy! Five penny candies. Johnny
then took off like a shot out of the store, clutching the bag, gnawing on a caramel bar and greedily
stuffing penny candies into his mouth as he went.
Johnny decided he would take the long way home and avoid the alley all together. Especially
now as the man would surely try to steal Johnny’s bag of groceries or worse yet, go for some
of his newly acquired and soon to be devoured candy. That would not do.
So Johnny head off toward another way home. Straight down Main Street toward the
street that would take him home to the estate.
As Johnny entered the flow of pedestrians along Main Street he noticed a crowd building
a few stores down. The crowd was surrounding a Man in an old, tattered top hat and a funny red and
black checkered jacket. The man had a table in front of him that had a sign on it that Johnny couldn’t
quite make out. The man was showing a red coat of some kind to a group of tourists who frequented
the town this time of year and were also frequently, easily parted with their hard earned cash.
Suckers, Johnny thought to himself. Suckers one and all! That’s what pop says about the crowds that
glutted up the town during the summer months, Johnny thought as he approached the mass of curious
onlookers. But it was at that very thought that Johnny caught a glimpse of the most beautiful red coat
he had ever seen in all of his young life.“Well, well, well!” thought Johnny, ”That sure is a spiffy
Johnny approached the table and stepped a little into the curb of the street and attempted
to push himself through the crowd to get up front to get a closer look at the coat to see what all the
hubbub was about.
As Johnny moved in under the arms and pocket books and purses and bags of all the
merchandise the tourists had in their arms, he began hearing the man speak.
“Step right up folks!!! Step right up!!! Don’t be shy!!! Today we have an absolutely
delicious deal on a super special, one of a kind magic coat.” Bolstered the top-hatted man behind the
“Why that coat doesn’t look Magic you say? Well, I beg to differ.” continued the man
“Ma’am?! Ma’am!!! You there in the pretty spotted sun dress and large hat with the bird.”
The man behind the table pointedly declared.
“Me?” said a pretty women in a polka dotted sun dress with a bluebird on top. “Why, yes,
you… ma’am! You! Now you step up here and we will show these fine folks what this coat can do!”
demanded the man behind the table.
The lady int he bluebird hat approached the table with great humility. Mostly at the
pushing encouragement of her apparent husband who was next to her holding her hand until a
moment ago and seemed to want to know, more than anyone else, what the coat had in store for
everyone to see, but more than likely, what it had in store for his wife.
Johnny could hardly contain his excitement.
Why, how much would a coat like that cost? Johnny thought to himself with his chest
pressed tight against the grocery bag which in turn was pressed tight against the table thus squishing
the nice loaf of french bread Johnny bought that his mother sent him to purchase.
The man behind the table began to take the coat down from the stand it was on and only
then could Johnny could see that indeed this was no ordinary red coat. Such impeccable workmanship
and craft! He thought as he gazed at it’s sheer majesty. It was shinny and yet didn’t seem to
reflect much of anything off of its surface and it had a great wide lapel with a bit of fine stitching into
the seam. And the buttons, well, Johnny had never seen any as fine in all his life. Like jewels stolen
from a temple in some far off jungle. Just perfect. Every last detail. Just perfect. “Why I could buy
that coat in a second if I wanted to” thought Johnny, lost in the gaze of this beautiful spectacle. And
he certainly could as he was, after all, the son of the the wealthiest family in town.
“I’d be the envy of everyone in school!” As he proudly said to himself.
As Johnny was lost in thought at his debut at The Martin Academy for Boys on Monday
wearing such a magnificent specimen, the lady in the polka dot dress with the blue bird hat had
finally made her way through the throng of ever-gathering townies and tourist spectators and settled
in behind the table with the man. The man grabbed and held her hand pulling the women closer as
he began a loud strong clear pronouncement.
“I will now put this coat on this fine young woman and we will see what happens next!”
“She’s ten sizes to small for that coat!” said a faceless, buried voice inside the crowd. And
the crowd began to laugh.
“Hold on, my fine compatriots! Hold on! Suspend your disbelief for just a very brief
moment in time and you shall see! For I have told you this… this, is a very special coat! Now watch
with your very own eyes!“ Hissed the tattered-top-hated man from behind the table.
At that, the man began putting the coat onto the woman with the polka dot dress and
“Well, indeed!” said an older woman in the crowd. “What’s so special about an oversize
ruby red jacket. Especially on a woman. It looks ridiculous!” she chided.
“ Noooo ma’am just watch” Said the barker confidently! “Feast your eyes on a material so
profound it will have the garment industry on it’s knees! Imagine! One size fits all! One size for all!
Why this coat, this coat, holds the power to change it’s size to match any occupant that wears it! Now
folks, you will see! I’d like you all to help me count to three! And on the count of three, you will see
the most miraculous thing your eyes have ever seen!”
The air became thick with baited anticipation.
One, twoooo, threeee!!!... Yelled the crowd led by the man behind the table. And on three,
a small puff of smoke from the mans feet erupted and when the smoke cleared, well, there was the
women in the polka dotted sundress with the blue bird hat looking like she had just stolen a coat from
her fathers closet. Sleeves down around her ankles and the waist of the coat at her feet. Her face had
now turned as red as the coat. Embarrassed that nothing had actually happened at all except her
sleeves fell down and her naiveté and gullibility were now on parade in front of half the town, no less.
The man behind the table looked flabbergasted! “Why, why, hold on folks! Maybe she’s
not in it all together!” The man began adjusting the coat to and fro and at this point, a rather smallish,
rotund, elderly lady in a white dainty bonnet and a housecoat began chastising the tattered, top-hated
carnival barker behind the table with insults.
“This is preposterous! You sir… are a charlatan! A bamboozler and a cad! Promising us
magic in that coat! You’re an imposter! Unhand that girl sir!” The lady declared.
With those very words, some of the crowd toward the back began to leave. The rest of the
crowd that did stick around out of sheer curiosity to see what happened next, began to boo the
tattered, top-hated man behind the table and hurl insults in his direction as the women in the polka
dotted sundress with the bluebird hat started to squirm out of the coat while her husband streamed
through the crowd to grab his wife, pulling her from the coat’s oversize clutches and the obvious,
painful public humiliation of it all. In the commotion of that heated moment, the coat suddenly fell
to the ground right under the very table Johnny was standing at with his crushed bag of groceries. It
fell right at Johnny’s feet. The tattered, top-hatted man behind the table had failed to notice the coat
had fallen as he was too busy fending off the sudden barrage of insults and ad-hock comments that
were heading his way.
“No, stay, fine lady! Stay!” The man pleaded as he stepped between the husband and the
lady in the polka dotted dress with the blue bird hat. “These people know not of true magic! Folks,
folks, please! I assure you this is a most magical coat! One that will fit any size! Big or small!
Instantly! Folks, folks, please!” Implored the tattered, top-hated man who was now becoming visibly
more tattered than even his hat.
His pleading seemed to take hold on some of the crowd and some more of the men in the
back decided to stay, arms folded and grinning, much to their wives dismay and see for themselves
what this “magic coat” could actually accomplish.
Johnny had decided that the bonneted lady in the crowd might be right and whatever the
man was up to was probably a hoax and he would only try to sell everyone in the crowd some sort of
snake oil miracle material solution after the presentation. Well, Johnny decided he was no fool and
began to push out from in front of the table. But just as he did, something inside him wouldn’t let him
take his eyes off the coat on the ground. It was just sitting there and no one seemed to know or notice
or even see it. Except Johnny.
“Maybe in the commotion, I could grab the coat and see for myself what it could do!”
The tattered, top-hated man had now stepped outside the table area to try to convince the
woman in the polka dotted sundress with the blue bird hat back behind the table to stay so he could
try to get her to try on the coast one more time. But her husband kept insisting that he was going to
give him a knuckle sandwich if he comes near her and tries to embarrass her again! Which was funny
Johnny thought, because it seemed like the man was pushing his wife up to the table in the first
Before Johnny got too far back into the crowd, he changed his mind and decided to go for
it. He set his bag of groceries down and started to crawl between the legs of the crowd and under the
table to retrieve the coat when all of a sudden a large hand clasped onto Johnny shoulders. “Busted!
“So close…” Johnny thought. “So close.”
Suddenly, a large voice behind him began to shout. It was the tattered top-hated man from
behind the table.
“Now, folks this young man here… he, he will now try the coat on! Just look at him! Look
at the size difference!” The man grabbed Johnny and held him up by his waist pressed against his
chest and held the coat up in his other hand.
People all over the street now began to turn around. A lady Johnny knew from town yelled
“Put him down, sir! Put him down!” She stubbornly insisted.
Then her husband yelled, “Yes, unhand him this instant!”
Well, Johnny would hear of no such thing and said...”Why, I’m OK really... I’d love to
try the coat on. Really I would!” Johnny recognized a few people in the crowd and being such a vain
boy would never discourage the opportunity to have the spotlight on him.
At this response, the crowd broke out in laughter and cheered and began to gather around
the table once again. Now, the man behind the table had them all right where he wanted them and
his voice became even louder now. “Folks please, please all gather ‘round! Take a look at the most
miraculous thing you have ever witnessed!”
At the sound of the man in the tattered top-hats booming declaration, even more people
turned back and began re-approaching the table. Much to the man and Johnny’s chagrin.
“ Alright now” said the man. Puffing his chest up to start again. “We will now put the coat
on this fine young fellow!”
The man began to put the coat over Johnny’s right arm and around his back, helping him
get the left sleeve over his left arm.
Boy, thought Johnny, it sure is heavy, but I bet I look like a million dollars!
Johnny began to squirm a bit so the crowd could get a better look at him.
Now, stand still kid. Whispered the man quietly into Johnny’s ear from behind him and
over his shoulder as he pushed the coast up Johnny’s arms to keep the sleeves from falling
As the man straightened out Johnny’s lapels and gave the coat a final once over, he turned
to face the crowd waving his arms through the air like an acrobat on the dismount and successful
“Now folks, on the count three, we will see the most miraculous material ever invented by
man spring to life and fit this boy to a tee!”
The original spectators had now fallen off to the other side of the street, but many had
come back to watch from their original vantage point. Johnny could see some of them peeking over
the shoulders of a new tourist group who had blindly stumbled onto the scene and stayed to watch
the show. The tourists, in their usual pushy manner, shoved their way to the front of the table coming
in too late to really know what was going on. But like people do in a crowd, they all gathered in at
the request of the man behind table.
“Remember now folks, at the count of three! Here we goooo … Onnnnneee…
twooooooo....threeeeee!!!...” roared the crowed, joining in on the two count.
Johnny could see that on the last, loud crescendo of the two count, the man behind the
table had thrown something to the ground which caused a great deal of smoke and a small puffy
explosion that scarred the dickens out of Johnny as the crowd roared onto the number three. The
instant Johnny saw the explosion, he felt a tightness around his arms and chest that felt as tight as
the time he was lost in the gardens on the estate for over two days and his mother found him playing
in the champion juniper bushes near the front entrance gate. She held him so tight he thought he
would explode and his eyeballs would pop out!
It felt just like that, remembered Johnny. It was so sharp and sudden that it knocked the
wind out of him.
The crowd began to gasp as the smoke quickly enveloped them and then started to clear.
“Why that’s impossible!” yelled someone.
“He’s got the kids twin somewhere under the table and they just changed places!” yelled
the old lady wearing the housecoat and the white bonnet who chastised the man earlier and was on
her way to leave, but, of course, couldn’t seem to pull herself away from all the hubbub as she
“Noooo, my fine friends. Noooo, it’s magic! Why this material will revolutionize the
clothing industry forever! Forever I say!” said the reinvigorated, tattered, top-hated man behind the
table.” This is no mere trickery ma’am! I can assure you of that! Have a look around if you must!
Under, over and all around! You will find nothing! Nothing… but magic that is! I promise you of
that! Why just imagine the money you will all save!”
Now, the lady in the bonnet was known locally as quite the seamstress and had seen all
she could possibly take from this obvious charlatan and pushed herself up to the front of the table.
“Sir...sir.....let me see the boy!” She asked.
“ Why of course madam. Of course!”
The man pushed Johnny to the lip of the table for the woman in the dainty bonnet and
housecoat to inspect.
“ Can I come around?” Asked the old woman.
“Yes ma’am. He’s all yours. Do what you will.” Said the newly ordained magic man
behind the table encouragingly.
“I know this boy!” Said the old woman cresting around the side of table toward Johnny
with her index finger out pointing at Johnny and stabbing the air. As she reached Johnny, she got right
into his face and asked. “Why, you’re Johnny Wisken from the Wisken estate! Aren’t you boy?”
“ Yes.” said Johnny, “I am”!
“Folks”, the old women in the bonnet and housecoat then turned to the crowd to say, “this
boy has no twin as far as I know and I know of no other boy who looks as similar to him that could
pass for a twin!”
She began to pull up the cloth over the table and look underneath and ask Johnny another
“Johnny, do you know this man here?” Poking the tattered, top-hatted and newly ordained
magic man behind the table in his ribs rather hard.
“No ma’am” said Johnny. “I have never seen him in all my life.”
“ Well, there most certainly is something fishy here if I say so.” She said. Growing
increasingly frustrated at this whole affair.
“Johnny, take the coat off so I can inspect it.” The woman demanded.
“Yes ma’am.” Said Johnny. And he began to take the coat off, from his right arm first.
But before Johnny could even get his thumb under the collar, the man behind the table
jumped between Johnny and the old, accusatory woman in the bonnet and housecoat and gently,
steered her off the makeshift sidewalk stage to where she could no longer cynically hinder his pitch
The man in the tattered top hat then began spreading his arms out wide to half address the
old lady in the bonnet and half address the newly enlivened and disbelieving crowd.
“Nooo! Noooo! I will not hear of it! It is magic, ma’am! Pure and simple! I realize madam
may be weary of the wonders of the world at her brazened age, but I can assure you, it is real pure
magic that is afoot here in this town on this day! I will show my secrets to everyone here and tell all
of you how simple the process really is. Then you can reap the rewards of this miracle material and
set up factories to manufacture it and spread it throughout the entire world.”
The man behind the table suddenly had a frantic tone to his voice and his arms began to
gesture to the crowd as he moved away from the old lady in the housecoat and bonnet. Imploring
them, almost begging. Like a used car salesman about to loss his only catch for the day.
“Why, think of it! This town will be rich and you can all share in the glory and prosperity
of this wonderful new material! Every man woman and child in the world will want a garment made
of this material! And it can all be yours!!! But I have one condition first!”
The crowd quieted to listen in as the man in the tattered-top-hat slowed his hurried pace
down a bit and pulled at the bottom of the train of his coat attempting to resume some dignity to what
has surely already been an embarrassing, undignified escapade for him.
“I will now make an unprecedented offer to this boy who has been most gracious to offer
us his time and talents here this afternoon! If he excepts, and can meet the exact terms, then the deal
will be done and I will show each and everyone of you the secret behind this expanding and
collapsing miracle material. But if he refuses, or cannot meet the terms, in any way, then I am sorry
but the secret stays with me and I will move on to the next town and take the ancient secret with me.”
As his words left the air, the man moved around Johnny in a clockwise manner. Like a
snake. Stealthily, sleuthfully attempting to coil around it’s unknowing and unwitting prey. Closer and
closer. The coil growing tighter with each pass.
“ So I have an offer for you boy!” The man behind the table loudly, hissingly, whispered
so that all could hear, but just loud enough to enhance the drama and make them all push-in a little
“I would like to offer you a very special, once in a lifetime deal! And would you like to
know what it is my son?! “
The man then snapped and recoiled back, almost laughingly, looking up into the air. Like
a madman in one of Johnny’s Super Hero comic books. His hands folded over his paunchy belly fat
staggering around in a child-like, drunken, circular fashion. His boots clacking and clicking on the
sidewalk as he did so.
“ Yes, I sure would” said Johnny? Not knowing what to expect but knowing that no matter
what the cost Johnny would surely be able to afford the coat. He was the most wealthy boy in town
“Well,” said the man. Glowing from the prospect of the sale, “I will offer you this coat, a
one-of-a-kind jacket unlike any the world has ever seen and the one piece of material you will need
to grow all other future materials out of, for the small price… for the most infinitesimal amount…
for the measly paltry sum of ... of…”
The man behind the table could now sense he had the crowd’s attention as all you could
hear were the sounds of a few passing cars and the old, accusatory lady in the bonnet snickering and
clicking her teeth off to the side of the table near Johnny.
The man in the tattered-top-hat had the crowd exactly where he wanted them and held his
words for a moment, heightening the drama and tension in the air to a new, even higher level of
“...of... just ... ONE NICKLE!!!”
The crowd gasped! The air taken out of them for a brief instant.
“But,” the man continued almost mockingly implying “ this one nickel, must be removed,
freshly, from your pocket, young man!”
“One nickel?!” Someone shouted. “For that?!! Why it’s worth millions!!! Billions! It will
change the world!”
Johnny, of course knew the answer and felt it in the pit of his stomach. He already spent
all of his change and had no dime, no nickel and certainly, painfully, not even a penny like the old,
dirty man in the alleyway begged him for. Not a single one.
Johnny half expected from the tone in the man’s voice that somehow, inexplicably the man
from behind the table knew it as well. But how?
Johnny simply did not have any change left. In his selfishness and greed, he had spent
every last cent. Frivolously wasting it on candy just like his mother implored him not to do this time.
He was crushed. Sunk. The world conspired against him. Maybe for the first time in his
young selfish life, but certainly not the last. As we shall soon see.
If he had only listened to his mother.
Johnny, knowing full-well he didn’t have a red-cent on him, reached deep into his pockets
anyway. Too embarrassed at his greed that day to act otherwise. And all that he found was the now
crumpled and chocolate and caramel stained list his mother had given him for the groceries along
with three other balled-up receipts. Johnny feigned innocence and ignorance.
“Ahhh, ahhhh… no sir, I don’t have any money on me. You see, I was sent by my mother
to the store for groceries and had only just enough for the provisions.”
The man in the tatter-top-hat snapped back hastily. Half laughing at the simple, avoidable
irony of the situation!
“Well, where’s the change boy!? Where’s the change?! Surely there must be change! How
could the groceries you were sent to purchase cost the exact amount you were given? That’s
“I… I don’t know, sir. But I don’t have any left.” Johnny was desperately, feigning
innocence. Half playing to the crowd, hoping for some charity perhaps.
The crowd bought it.
“ I have a nickel!” Someone shouted. “Here, catch!”
The anonymous donor indeed threw the nickel up to the table and it glanced off a corner
of the table and rolled in a big uneven loop near Johnny’s feet.
“Gee, thanks, mister! “ Johnny shouted as the nickel wavered and shook left and right like
a see-saw to a slow stop and then a drop with an ever so slight “ping”.
As the tossed nickel lost momentum and settled flat to the sidewalk, Johnny bent down to
pick it up when the man in the tattered top hat immediately put his foot over it, stepping on it to
prevent Johnny from picking it up.
“Say, what’s the big idea mister?!” Snapped Johnny.
“Yeah, let him have it buddy!” Cried someone from the tourist group.
“Here’s another one kid!” Yelled someone else from the crowd throwing yet another nickel
over the crowds head.
It hit the wall behind Johnny and bounced back far out into the crowd.
Then, like people in crowds tend to do, they all followed suit.
Lemmings. Albeit Lemmings with good intention. But Lemmings none the less.
People suddenly began pelting the area where Johnny was standing with nickels. It looked
like silver rain for a minute and in the midst of this, Johnny must have caught at least a dozen nickels.
Which was of course, more than enough for the beautiful, magic, red coat.
As the flickering rain of nickels fell on top of Johnny and the tattered top hated man behind
the table, the man attempted to stop the crowd from parting with their silver. He began yelling in tot
he crowd. “Now people! People!!! This won’t do! This is not what I asked for! I appreciate your
kindness toward this young boy, but the cost is ... a nickel ... only from the boy’s own hands! From
his pocket alone! One nickel ONLY! A nickel that he should have in his possession. I will only accept
it directly from the pocket of this boy and none other.”
The old lady in the bonnet to the side of the table then snapped at the man ”Trickery!” She
moved in to poked him in the ribs once again! “He’s up to no good, I tell you!” She said to the crowd
as her eyes scanned the attentive faces before her. “A nickel, is a nickel sir!” She declared, shaking
her head in confirmation to the masses. “Why does it have to be from the boy? Why? What kind of
Tom Foolery is this?”
The man in the tattered-top-hat looked at her with all the fake sincerity he could muster
and bemoaningly, patronizingly, declared, “Beeeecause ma’ammmm… that, is the cost. I believe this
young man should have a nickels change on him and if he does not have any in his possession, then
the coat must be returned to me and we will sell it to no one in this town and my secret will stay safe
with me and I shall vacate the premises accordingly.”
“ Now, boy…”, he quickly turned to implore to Johnny as if quickly skimming and reading
the fine legalese at the end of a contract, “If you have a nickel in your possession and would like this
coat and the divine secret that comes along with it which will bring the townsfolk and yourself untold
riches and fame forevermore, then I implore you to please reach into your pocket and pay the cost
Johnny was deflated and pleaded to the man. “Sir, I have more than enough nickels then
you can ever imagine at my disposal if you could only give me a minute to go fetch them from my
mother. Why she's not even a few blocks from here as we speak and I can return before you even
know I was gone.”
The man behind the table brought his hand up to his chin and held his elbow with his other
and began to pace in yet anther ever tightening circle once again, mockingly, thinking Johnny’s
proposition over. He, of course, quickly reached a verdict while not even making three full revolutions
around Johnny. “Nope! No deal! I’m sorry young man! I can’t wait and you HAVE TO HAVE
a shiny silver nickel on you now, or we have no deal!”
Johnny insufferably implored.
“But I want it! And I always get everything I want! Always!!! I will be back with a
thousand nickels for you if you would only just wait a moment! If you leave, I will hire someone to
find you and I will have this coat!”
The man behind the table laughed. A deep, knowing laugh that only those who know
something we could never know do.
“... Find mmmmeeeeee?! Oh, I don’t think that would be possible young man! Quite
impossible”. The man then turned and winked at Johnny. Confusing and frustrating Johnny even
This would not do. Thought Johnny as he reached up to his right shoulder attempting to
take off the coat to give back to the man so he could run home to tell his mother of the incredible
magic coat he had found and retrieve a thousand nickels from the family vault.
But a funny thing happened when Johnny reached up to take the coat off.
It wouldn’t budge. It wouldn’t move or bend or pull. Johnny tried with his right hand and
yanked at the sleeve on the left and tried with his left hand and yanked on the right one. Nothing.
The old women then came in from the side of the table once again. Now attempting to lift
the back of the jacket over Johnny’s head consoling him. “It’s alright dear, we’ll get you out of this
fakery. Don’t worry.”
But the coat wouldn’t budge as she lifted. At one point, she had Johnny at least two inches
off the ground, shaking the coat upwards with Johnny firmly tucked inside it. The coat wouldn’t
move. Johnny panicked as the old woman set Johnny back onto the ground.
“Hey, get me out of this!!! It’s too tight! I don’t want to be in this coat anymore! I don’t!”
It seemed like every time Johnny or the old woman tried to remove the coat it would
tighten up and squeeze Johnny even more. Like a sausage. Pressing the very breath out of his lungs.
Resisting with all of it’s will. Like it was alive. This scarred Johnny and made him start to panic even
more. People began to gather around now all shouting out suggestions to the old woman but nothing
worked. The more they tried, the tighter the coat would wrap around Johnny. It was so tight now that
Johnny burst into tears.
“Leave me alone! It hurts! Stop touching me! Where is the man! Get me out of this ! Now!
I demand you get this off me!”
At this point, there must have been at least 50 people crowding the table area all packed
behind the table. Everyone shouting and crying out suggestions. But where was the man? Where was
the man indeed? He was there a minute ago and now he was gone. Like a snap of a finger.
“He’s gone!” said the old woman, he’s probably half way to out of the town by now!
Crooked rat! Some kind of trick gone bad I suppose! Like a Chinese finger trap. Poor kid. Out to
take us all for a bunch of small town fools!”
“Hold still Johnny!” said a man. “I’ll get that off you.” It was Manny Jacks, the strongest
man in town and the owner of the local gym. But even he couldn’t budge the coat off Johnny.
They were there for at least an hour. At some point, they even smeared grease on Johnny’s
arms inside the coat and everyone grabbed hold of everyone else in a chain down the block on both
sides of the Johnny like a giant rope-pulling competition. They figured it would slide off or at least
tear off the Johnny's back and either way, remove him from this devilish material.
Eerily, the coat would not give.
Much debate ensued among the frustrated and panicky horde as to what to do with this
poor boy with the old lady in the bonnet leading the way.
A consensus was soon reached.
The best thing they could do was to get Johnny back home and to tell his mother of the
event and let the family take care of the matter. This is a litigious world you know, said many of the
debaters, and one can’t go around fixing other peoples’s burdens without consequence anymore.
Best let his family take the matter in their own hands.
So the throng washed there hands of the event. After all, this was now a real dilemma and
this meant real problem solving and real work. And again, people are people… and in crowds they
are even worse.
“Hey, all we wanted was a little distraction. Some light hearted entertainment!” Let’s not
get crazy here.” This is a real problem. The boy could be in trouble. I’ve got enough problems with
my own kids as I’m sure we all do! Let’s get him home and out of our hands!” someone chortled as
the debate meandered to a disappointing close.
Johnny was taken home that day by the lady in the bonnet and housecoat. As suddenly,
everyone else was too busy to bother.
Johnny’s life and the lives of his family were never the same after that fateful afternoon.
It seems that sometimes, even the simplest of events can have the most profound consequences.
Johnny’s parents spent almost a full year and most of their fortune attempting to get that
coat off Johnny. They hired the most prestigious doctor’s in the most prestigious universities and no
one on the planet could help. Johnny was a growing boy after all, and the coat wouldn’t accommodate
a young boy’s sprouting girth. But it simply wouldn’t budge. There was even an attempt made
to cut the coat so it could be physically expanded but the material was unlike any anyone had ever
seen. It couldn’t be cut or moved or melted or smelted. It couldn’t be scrapped or worn out or down
The doctors feared that the coat would eventually crush and deform Johnny and possibly
kill him if nothing is done. But this was all speculation. No one knew what would happened. No one
had ever seen anything like it before. No one could predict what the outcome would be for poor
Johnny. But, at that point, it would surely be dire.
Theories were put forward and medical journal papers were written and studies done and
studies proposed. Johnny was a human pin cushion. Poked and prodded and prodded some more.
There was even a conference held in Helsinki in Johnny’s name. None of the outcomes were
optimistic. The doctors pressed on for months, rushing against Johnny’s growth and the futile,
inevitability of time to find a solution. But in the end, the final word of the brightest medical minds
was that Johnny's family would have to except the fate of the coat or keep attempting to remove the
coat at all costs and they would surely go broke in the process as this was an uninsurable liability at
But this was their only child. Their only heir and there was no choice, of course. And so
they pressed on. Working through the family fortune to try to save their only son. The coat became
an ironic, fatalistic burden.
The only upside of this, if there could be any at all, was that Johnny had somehow obtained
a kind of perverse, tabloid celebrity. This, for once, was a good thing. A monetarily, fortuitous good
thing that is.
As Johnny’s family began to drain their financial resources attempting to get the coat
removed, the money they gained from merchandising licenses and television and print appearances
helped finance Johnny’s soaring medical costs. The world wanted to know all about Johnny and they
were willing to pay and pay they did.
There were rights sold to a book and movie and even rights sold to a “Johnny” doll. But
this time...” the coat comes off!... Or so declared the commercial!
As word spread of “The Boy Who’s Coat Wouldn’t Come Off” the news media clamored
to get interviews and pictures. Johnny even had a press agent. But eventually, the ever-fickle public
and the fickle media hype flamed out and moved on to the next hot story as they always tend to do.
With the money they earned from the sudden interest in Johnny’s plight soon running out,
Johnny’s family we’re now using the last of their family fortune to pay for the medical costs and
we’re quickly going broke in the process. Just as the doctors had foretold. Cutting edge medical
treatment isn’t cheap and the doctors were charging a princely sum for the help.
In less than a year, the family sold their businesses, their vacation homes, their cars, their
boats, and their stock and investment holdings. They at least, were able to hold onto the estate until
the very end. Eventually, their financial situation became so dire, that Johnny and his family had to
live out of one room in the town’s seedy motel and sold everything but a suitcase of clothes each and
a few prized family possessions.
Of course, Johnny’s family believed that at the least, if no one else, the medical community
would maintain a high level of interest in his case. After all, there was a small boy’s life in the
balance. Even if they had to somehow seek charity, surely there would be someone, somewhere, who
could lend helping hand.
But, people are people. And no one stepped up or forward.
Doctors and universities who once donated their time and money so freely to Johnny and
his family were realizing that they had nothing to show for all their research on the immediate
horizon and had much more “interesting” [read profitable] and pressing matters to attend to thank
you! The donations, hospitality and charity soon dried up and interest waned and faded in Johnny’s
His parents still took him to see the last of the top medical doctors that they thought could
help, but now, all the doctor’s were charging top dollar for the visits and the families multigenerational
fortune was almost completely depleted.
Over and over again, Johnny and his family were told that “This was such an isolated case.
There’s really nothing we believe we can do.”
This was the consensus. An unacceptable consensus. But a consensus none-the-less.
Johnny and his coat had, in less than a years time, become a mere curiosity and novelty for
the medical community. A sideshow and Johnny the sideshow freak. Johnny and his family were
soon left to fend for themselves and had lost almost everything in the process.
On one particularly cold, dark day in November of that year, they finally had to sell the
family estate and their last car. Later on that same day, they moved into a two room, run down,
shanty-shack of a house on the outskirts of town in an old corn field with one of their old gardners
and his family who helped to took care of the estate.
The situation now seemed to grow more bleak with each passing day.
But as hope always seems to do. Hope rose.
Something wonderful began to happen amidst all the darkness.
The entire family had all taken to working odd jobs on the kindness of many business
owners in town and everyone, even Johnny, pitched in.
Johnny's Dad was now, ironically, the janitor for the company he once owned and had been
in the family for generations.
“Once the king and now the pauper!” he would jokingly say when he returned home every
evening worn out and disheveled from the first true days work in all his pampered life.
But Johnny’s father seemed to find a true dignity and certain happiness in that labor and
this was a great lesson for the entire family during that time. Those who were all primp and proper.
Soft hands and manicured fingernails and dinner at 5:30 sharp and weekend trips to the lake.
Johnny’s father would come home and tell Johnny about his day and always have the best
stories. In all the time Johnny had been alive, they had never spent so much quality time together.
The entire family soon began to realize a good many things about the world and their place
in it. Rich or poor.
Most nights, you could find Johnny and his family talking well into the night and Johnny
could sense a real change among everyone. Something real. Something grounding. Some
thing humble and good. Not at all what they had come to expect from such dire circumstance. It may
have been an impossibly difficult and trying time, but there was a true sense of togetherness that they
had never experienced before.
Something right and true was afoot and it enveloped each one of them.
But there was still, the looming problem of Johnny’s health and the coat. Like a cloud
stubbornly refusing to dissipate to the possibility of sunlight. All they could do now was take head,
survive and enjoy what time they had left as a family and with Johnny. Now after losing everything
else, all that they had was each other. And that was real and more than many people have and they
cherished the moments together now unlike ever before.
Johnny had even taken a job at the general store and was now a bag boy for Marvin the
clerk who had cashed him out on that fateful day which seemed like a lifetime ago. The store and it’s
staff loved having Johnny around as it was pretty profitable to have a local celebrity working there.
Johnny’s fame still loomed large in the local region and this in turn, of course, increased business.
One morning, on his way to work, Johnny decided to trace his old route to the store via the
estate where he grew up. As Johnny walked, he thought he would cut through the alley where he saw
the man in the doorway. And as he approached the alleyway, Johnny thought about all he had been
through this past year. He remembered how he wouldn’t even spare a penny to give the old man with
the dark and desperate eyes and the cleaning rags he was wearing on his old, frail body and what
horrible things he said to him. Johnny felt sick to his stomach and sad for the man and sad for himself
and sad for his family and sad for a world in which these things have to happen. The old man in the
alley and Johnny now shared a lot in common with each other. Him and the old, desperate man in the
“Who would have thought?” Johnny pondered to himself as he headed toward the corner
of the alley about to enter it. Who would have thought indeed?…
As he pondered his fate, Johnny began to come to wonder if he somehow, subconsciously
came this way in the hopes that he might see the old man again and make amends for being so cruel.
His new life had taught him a great deal and he thought about the events of that day many times when
he was in bed at night and would even have dreams of that day occasionally. They would haunt and
torment him. Retracing the steps and decisions of that day. But in his dreams, he would always make
the better decision and he would always curse the morning when it indifferently came.
Now approaching the foot of the alley, Johnny thought to himself
“If I ever see that poor, old man again I will apologize for being so unbearably mean and
uncaring and try to make it right.”
Up the alley he went. Walking up and around the second turn and off to the left.
And low and behold, what did he see when his eyes adjusted to the darkness in the
blackened-brick alleyway, but old man once again. Right where he was that fateful day. Johnny could
hardly believe his eyes.
Even from where Johnny was standing he could see that the man was sleeping, curled up
in a ball, shaking from the cold with nothing on but an old sweat shirt stuffed with the same cleaning
rags he was covering himself with on that fateful day Johnny first saw him.
He now wore some ratty, torn jeans and a scarf that was barely a scarf anymore and an old,
oily and torn woolen hat over his head that didn’t quite fit right and was far too small to really keep
his head warm. He was using his hands as pillows and had no gloves on at all and it was almost
Christmas time and getting truly cold out. Far too cold for someone to be laying in an alley like this.
The site of the man in that moment affected Johnny deeply and without a thought in his
head, Johnny immediately ran to the man and startled the him out of his sleep. Johnny was making
such a commotion running toward the man that he cowered into the doorway thinking the might be
As Johnny drew closer, he extended his hand out to shake the man’s hand and said in short
breath still huffing from his excited run greets the man.
“My names Johnny Wisken, It’s nice to meet your acquaintance sir!”
As Johnny's hand was protruding into the space between them, the old man’s face gave way
to realization and Johnny was quick to notice as he tended to get that sort of thing a lot down at the
“You probably recognize me from the papers!” Johnny said as matter of fact.
“Why sure, sure, of course, that's were I’ve seen you before, my boy!” The old man
“That’s where I’ve seen you. And that coat! Why, it’s...it’s enchanting! “
“Enchanted, is more like it sir“ says Johnny
“Please, sit down! Sit down!” implored the man as he cleared a spot in the doorway with
his fingerless gloves for Johnny to sit.
“ I wish I had something to offer you Johnny, but as you can see, I don’t have much.” Said
the man seemingly embarrassed of his situation.
“ It’s OK, sir!” I don’t have anything to offer either.”
As the words left his lips, Johnny suddenly became so overrun with emotions for himself,
for the old man and all that he and that coat had put his family through the past year that he just fell
apart and to pieces right then and there on the door stoop with the old man.
Johnny flung himself like a tossed horse shoe on top of the old homeless man. Crying so
hard that the words didn’t even make sense until he caught his breath for the first time a few minutes
in in the mass of garbly-gook remorse and regret he was feeling.
Johnny apologized over and over and over and over again to the man for ever being so
mean to him and sloppily, disjointedly, through his torrent of tears and snot and hiccups recounted
the day that he wouldn’t give the old man even a penny and insulted him and ran away into the store
and right into the coat to have his life and his families lives and fortunes changed forevermore.
He recanted the entire year to the old man in a way only a child could. Compressing the
entire traumatic chain of events into a single banshee like wail that lasted at least 10 minutes. With
plenty of ...and then… and they… and I… and on and on and on… he wailed.
As Johnny’s tale and tears subsided and his breathing pattern returned to normal and his
hiccups melted into the slow rushing wash of release, Johnny asked the man to please, please forgive
him for ever treating him the way he did that fateful day.
“ I understand Johnny.” Said the man sympathetically. “Sometimes we all do things we
regret and wish we could go back and change. But it’s part of life and learning. The important part to
remember is to live life forward with those regrets and learn the lessons and apply what you’ve
The old man told Johnny that he didn’t hold any hard feelings to those who don’t
understand or are fearful of him. And honestly, he didn’t even remember that day, but thanked
Johnny for his kindness and forgave him.
As the old man was talking, Johnny, for the first time, noticed how frail and weathered the
man looked. How his clothes wouldn’t keep a bear warm during a fall breeze and how his eyes were
full of things that Johnny had never seen or even dreamt of seeing before.
“Sir,” Johnny said more talking to the door stoop he was prodding with his fingers than the
man,” I wish I could let you have this coat. You’ve already stopped growing so it can’t hurt you and
it won’t ever come off. It will keep you warm and no one could ever take it from you. Ever. If I could,
I would give it to you. It’s brought me and my family nothing but unhappiness and it’s all my fault.
It’s very beautiful and you’d look like a million bucks in it. But I just can’t get it off.” Johnny’s words
fell off into silence as Johnny once again felt the weight of the burden the coat has brought him.
“You know, I used to be a tailor many years ago.” Said the old man as he clapped his hands
and wrung them together. I have a special gift with materials. I was once the tailor to Kings and
Queens and Presidents all over the world and knew of many secrets that the world has forgotten in
this mass production age. Why I bet I could get that coat off you Johnny. That is, if you would let
“That’s the problem!” Johnny cried out, shifting his weight on the stoop in frustration.
“Everyone thinks they can take it off and no one can! No one! Ever!”
“Johnny,” the old man said half smiling, “let me give it a try. Turn around and let’s see
what an old tailor can do.”
“OK.” said Johnny like this was as routine as getting out of bed in the morning by now.
“But I’m telling you, it’s not gonna budge!”
Johnny turned away from the man and felt a hand reach over his shoulder to remove the
right side of the coat and just as easy as you or I might take one off the man surely and slowly
removed the coat off Johnny.
“Easy as pie Johnny! Just have to hands the touch that's all.” Stated the man as calmly and
assuredly as a seasoned veteran.
Johnny just sat there. In shock and disbelief with his back to the old man. Dumbfounded.
“Well, aren’t you gonna turn around so you can thank me!” The man said, half jokingly
Johnny was frozen in disbelief and couldn't move.
“Johnny, you can turn around now. Really. It’s OK now. Everything’s OK.” said the man
But something had changed.
The mans voice.
It didn’t sound like the old, frail man that Johnny was talking to a second ago, but a
younger, stronger, more confident voice. A voice with a slight cockney accent that Johnny remembered
hearing, but couldn’t quite place .
Then it hit him and he spun around sharply to see what he expected.
It was the man in the tattered top hat from behind the table that started this entire, tortured
mess to begin with.
The man that had put the coat on Johnny and disappeared! It was him!
Johnny has dreamt of that day so many times and that the voice was still fresh in his ears.
Even after a year.
The hustler! The charlatan! The scoundrel!
Here he was again! Dressed in the very same tattered top hat, checkered jacket and brown
corduroy pants just like he was that day he put the coat on Johnny. He was starring right at Johnny
holding the coat in his hands and smiling softly. Like the proverbial Cheshire cat from Alice’s
Wonderland. Johnny was speechless and shaking now. Gap mouthed, with tears running down his
cheeks. And before he could speak a word, the man put his hand on Johnny’s slumped shoulders and
quietly, sternly apologized to Johnny.
“I’m truly sorry for all the trouble that I caused Johnny. But sometimes, the greatest lessons
are those hardest learned. You, my little friend, were headed straight for a life of selfishness, greed
and mean-spiritedness that we hadn’t been seen in quite some time and if you kept on that path, you
would eventually cause great pain and anguish for many, many people. The man looked deep into
Johnny eyes now and he could feel the man’s gaze look right through him.
“Sometimes,” the man continued, “ as much as we don’t want to interfere, we have to step
in to help. And you, especially needed to gain a sense of understanding and compassion for those less
fortunate than yourself and only true compassion and empathy would release the coat. You see
Johnny, being rich isn’t about having a new toy or a big house or the best clothes. True fortune is
found in the heart. It’s being kind and caring and considerate of others and helping those in need
when you can and sometimes even when you feel like you can’t. Especially those less fortunate than
yourself. You’ve learned a great lesson this year Johnny, which you can now share with others. You
can tell them your story. Write it all down and share it with the world. Tell them and teach them that
all the money and science and doctors in the world couldn't help you, but a simple true act of
kindness and compassion for another person finally allowed the coat to be removed and your life and
the lives of your family to be saved.”
Johnny couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing and grabbed the man and hugged
him so tight that he thought they would both bust wide open.
Then still in a half hug, Johnny stepped off the stoop and started jumping up and down,
screaming and clutching the mans arms!
“I have to go home and tell my mom and dad! We’re gonna be alright! WE’RE GOING
TO BE ALRIGHT NOW!!! Johnny declared at the top of his lungs.
Johnny began to turn to run down the street back to the two-room, gardener’s shanty-shack
and just as he was about to dart away, the man grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and spun him around
as quick as a top and looked even deeper into his Johnny’s eyes this time.
“They will think it was made up Johnny, but you will know it was true. You can teach your
lesson to all who will listen and you can start right here today in this little town.”
“I will sir! I will! I promise I will!!!” Exclaimed Johnny with all the verve of a recent
“Johnny, there’s someone I would like you to meet.” The man was now holding Johnny in
place by his shoulders now with both hands.
“Stay right here and don’t move.” He said as he winked his right eye and walked up the
door stoop and into the doorway.
The man kept a sharp eye on Johnny as he stepped up into the doorway and knocked three
times on the door in perfect rhythm. Johnny noticed that the knocks sounded musical. Not like any
knock he's ever heard in his life. A deep pulsating tone that seemed to trail off for miles behind the
large metal door.
The door then began to slowly open and a blinding light enveloped the entire doorway. It
was so bright that Johnny had to put his hands up to his face to cover his eyes trying to look through
the cracks in his fingers.
As Johnny’s eyes adjusted to the light through the cracks in his fingers, he saw a
silhouetted figure approaching him. He slowly took his hands off his eyes, dragging them down his
face and saw that the silhouette was that of a lady. An older woman, with a bonnet and a housecoat
“Hey!” thought Johnny, “That’s the very same lady in the dainty white bonnet and the
housecoat from behind the table the day I put the coat on!”
The door then abruptly closed with a loud deep thud behind her and she stepped down the
stairs toward Johnny and said, “Yes, Johnny. It’s me. Hello! We’ve been waiting for you. We’re
sorry you had to go through so much hardship this year, but in the end, you will see that it was all
worth it. For you will accomplish many great things in your life and the world will be a much better
place for it .”
“ You,” said Johnny. “You?!… But you, you… died just a few months ago. My mom and
dad went to your funeral!”
“Oh, I can only stay a few minutes Johnny, but we’re so glad you finally stopped by. We
have something we want to show you. It’s behind this door. It will only take a second and we don’t
have much time to finish this job. So, please, take my hand, don’t let go and come along.”
The old lady in the housecoat and bonnet gently took Johnny’s hand and lead him up the
steps into the doorway that held the old rusty metal door.
Johnny immediately noticed how soft the lady’s hand was. Softer than anything Johnny
had ever felt.
The lady then knocked three times in perfect rhythm on the door. Just the same as the man
did a few moments earlier. Each knock had the same musical quality as when the man knocked on
the door, but this time the notes were slightly a different pitch. All to Johnny’s wide eyed amazement.
The door immediately began to open again, but this time inward instead of outward.
And this time, there was no blinding light, but only the light from a small bulb that was
encased in a wire harness hanging high on a bricked, cobwebbed-entrenched wall behind a beautiful
young ladies face that Johnny could barely make out. But like the man behind the tables voice, it
suddenly came back to him.
“Hey!” as he pulled on the housecoat of the lady in the dainty bonnet ...”
“It’s the lady in the polka dotted dress with the bluebird hat from that day with the coat! It
was too big for her and everyone thought it was a bum trick!” Said Johnny half in shock now at all
that was taking place around him.
“Yes, Johnny, it certainly is !”said the lady in the bonnet.
The lady in the polka dotted dress and bluebird hat swung the door gently open toward the
interior of the hallway swinging swiftly around the edge of the door and landed in the middle of the
doorway like a spring shot exuberantly and cheerfully to greet Johnny.
“ Hello Johnny, we’ve been expecting you.” She said.
“Is everything all set?!” asked the old woman in the bonnet and housecoat to the young
woman in the polka dotted sundress and blue bird hat.
“Yes, we are right on schedule. The crew is just putting the finishing touches on those prize
Juniper bushes that Misses Wisken keeps by the front entrance gate. It’ll just be a minute now.”
At that, the lady in the bonnet and the housecoat gently handed Johnny off to the lady in
the polka dotted dress and bluebird hat, pushing him tenderly forward by the small of his back toward
“Goodbye Johnny, we’re sure you will do good work.“ Said the old woman in the bonnet.
Johnny stepped up into the doorway and waived goodbye to the man behind the table and
the old woman in the bonnet and housecoat as the lady in the polka dotted dress with the blue bird
hat took him by the hand and lead him down the steps through the doorway and sharply to the left.
He noticed that they were in a long, straight, dimly lit corridor.
The lady in the polka dotted dress then grabbed Johnny’s hand and proceeded to take the
lead and looking back, said to him.
“ Now don’t be afraid, dear. I can light the way for us. Watch this.“
And with those words, Johnny could now see tiny little colorful sparks begin to appear and
swirl all around the lady in the polka dotted dress with the blue bird hat. They lit up the corridor just
enough so they could see where they were going. Like a surreal, miniature fireworks display. Johnny
wondered how such a thing was possible. But after all Johnny had been through this year, and
especially in the last few moments, he thought anything was possible at this point.
And it certainly was.
Even though Johnny could hear his own two feet reverberating through the wide, dark
corridor as they walked, the lady in the polka dotted dress and the bluebird hat didn’t seem to make
a sound at all. Her feet were touching the ground alright, he could see that, even in the dim glow of
the colorful burst that surrounded her. She wasn’t floating. But, she also wasn’t making any sound
either as she moved through the corridor. Silent as a soft wind with tiny colorful sparks flowing all
around her pretty dress.
Johnny could hardly take his eyes off the firefly, fairy-like, miniature fireworks display
that surrounded her. The sparks were becoming even more pronounced the farther they traveled in
the darkness of the dimly lit corridor. Splashing the walls with tiny burst of color as they walked
forward into the darkness before them. He was transfixed on her. Almost hypnotized by all of the
surreal, ethereal beauty before him.
He was so taken in the transcendent bliss of the moment now that he did not even care
where she was leading him or where they would end up and what would happen when they got there.
He was smitten by her luminescent beauty and the quiet, soft grace that surrounded her.
“She is as beautiful as a dream and just the type of girl I would someday hope to marry now
that that horrible coat had come off and I can think of my future again.” He thought to himself as he
was surely lost in the haze of what was happening before him.
Johnny was lost in thoughts of picket fences and little cherubic glowing children playing
in the yard of a perfect pillbox home as the pair approached a large metal door that sat imposingly
around a sharp turn to the left.
They had been traveling straight back down a corridor parallel to the street from where
Johnny had just walked up from earlier before he entered in to the alley with told man.
They were silent the whole short walk with Johnny lost in thoughts of simple first love and
the lady in the dress engulfed in the beautiful sparks of colorful light that were silently glowing all
around her. Guiding them and softly lighting the way to the end of the corridor to this other doorway.
The lady in the bluebird hat finally broke the beautiful silence and with it, Johnny’s dreamy
haze stopping at the bottom of some steps leading up to this new door.
She gestured Johnny toward it.
“ Open it... it’s OK” She said softly almost in a whisper.
Her voice almost sounded musical thought Johnny.
“Go ahead.” She said. “Please. I think you’ll enjoy what you see on the other side. Don’t
be afraid.” She was gesturing toward the door one more time.
But it was hopeless.
Johnny was lost in his head. Dreaming of an impossible future with the lady in the polka
dotted dress with the blue bird hat and the kaleidoscopic, fairy-like, miniature fireworks display all
“Hello?… Johnny? Are you in there? Hello?” The lady snapped her fingers in front of
He was starring right at her, but Johnny was just gone. Lost in a sea of tranquil, domestic
bliss. The lady in the polka dotted dress and the blue bird hat then clapped her hands twice, loudly in
front of Johnny’s face. This time her voice even louder.
“Johnny! Young man! This is no time for daydreaming! There’s important work to be done
and we are running out of time!”
She clapped her hands once more, even louder.
Johnny came to quickly out of his dreamy fantasy and snapped his head slightly forward
starring blankly at the lady in the polka dotted dress and blue bird hat.
“Well, go on silly, open it.” She said and gestured one final time up toward the large metal
Johnny realized he was day dreaming and felt himself turn three shades of red in the
He was quite embarrassed and hoped his loopy smile and flushed face didn’t give his
sudden and first-in-his-life feelings of infatuation toward the lady in the polka dotted dress and blue
bird hat away.
“Oh… oh yeah” Johnny said, half-snapped out of his beautiful daydream.
He quickly shook his head from left to right and shrugged his shoulders and stammered
and swaggered a little and pulled up his pants and chuckled a small embarrassing “awww shucks” of
a laugh as the brain fog lifted and he realized what was going on.
Johnny cautiously stepped up the first stair and began to slowly, hesitatingly reach up to
the large metal door grasping the cold handle that was ten sizes to big for his tiny little grip and began
pulling with all his might. He noticed how awfully heavy the door was, but thought to himself that
he mustn’t show it and continued to pull, making small grunting noises in an attempt to woo and
impress his new found lady faire with his brute, manly strength.
As the door began to open, a great light filled his eyes and distorted all he saw in front of
“Oh no, not another hallway and another mystery person.” Johnny thought to himself.
But as his eyes quickly adjust to the light, he climbed up the last step and went down and
stopped on the first step on the other side of the doorway to get a look at where he was.
“Well!” thought Johnny, “it’s the alley I was just on with the old homeless man who turned
into the tattered-top-hated man from behind the table.”
He looked left , he looked right and concluded it. “Yep, it sure was!”
He knew it by heart! Every building, mailbox and crack in the pavement! Why, he could
walk it backwards blindfolded and tell you exactly where he was every step of the way he told
himself. He knew this whole side of town by heart.
But then he stopped and turned and looked at the doorway he had just come out of and
realized he had never noticed this door before. Ever. Surely he would have remembered a door as
large and imposing as this one. Johnny looked back again at the doorway.
The lady with the polka dotted dress and the blue bird hat had now made her way up the
stairs too and was holding the impossibly heavy door open starring down at him. Johnny looked
quizzically her and asked, “Hey ,What gives!? Why did we just go in a big circle down that hallway
only to come out a little way down the same alley. And what’s with the door here? I’ve never seen
The lady with the polka dotted dress and the blue bird then released the large metal door
closing it tightly with a deep reverberating thud behind her as she stepped down the first stair with
“Oh no, you’ve never passed this door before Johnny. It’s a very special door and we’ve
actually traveled quite far. Quite far. It’s not quite the same alley we we’re just in dear”
Johnny looked up at her, scrunched his face in a questioning manner and said , “But it was
only a little walk ma’am. We haven’t gone that far.”
The lady in the polka dotted dress and blue bird hat then stepped out onto the sidewalk
“Johnny, in a moment you’ll see just how far we’ve come. Here I’ll help you. That last step
down to Earth… I mean, um, the ground… the alley.” She laughed nervously. “
“Forgive me, it’s my first big job like this. ”But that last step down can be quite a doozy.”
She then lifted Johnny gently up in her arms and set him down into the alley just on the
outside of the doorway steps they just came down from. As she did this, she stepped down next to
him, grabbing him by the hand and leading him into the center of the alley and knelt down in front
of him, placing her hands on his shoulders. She was face to face with him now, looking directly into
his eyes like his mom did whenever she had something real important to say and wanted to make sure
Johnny was actually listening and not just pretending to listen.
“ Do you notice anything different?“ asked the lady rhetorically.
“Hey, you know my ribs aren’t so sore anymore and… and my back doesn’t hurt either.
And I feel kinda lighter. And... well, you sure are pretty. But I think your polka dots were a different
color before.” Johnny was now completely in over his head and overwhelmed, but going along with
it anyway like any normal kid would do.
The lady in the polka dotted dress with the blue bird hat began to laugh, turning her gaze
toward the ground, visibly embarrassed at Johnny’s candor.
“Not that kind of different silly.” She said, “Do you see anything different at all? Look
Johnny looked around for a second, proudly disclaiming to his newly-found, maiden faire
that he did not, in fact, see anything different.
“Well, no. Not really ma’am. It’s the same old same old, if you ask me!”
The lady then leaned in close to Johnny, shuffling to his left side with her her right arm still
held tight around Johnny’s waist and still knelling on the ground beside him
“Is there anything else? Anything at all? I think there's something you didn’t notice.” She
encouragingly said to Johnny as she pointed down the street again. But this time, toward the doorway
they had just entered in only what seemed like a few moments ago to Johnny. But was in fact, a good
long time ago.
“Do you see that man?” she asked, while still keeping her hand extended outward to an old
man sleeping, curled and shaking in the doorway that they had just come from a few hundred yards
down the alley.
Johnny did see the old man sleeping in a doorway now.
“AWWWW… That’s the man behind the table! You know that lady! Why is he laying
there again?! I know who he really is!”
“Johnny, that’s not the man from behind the table. That's the real old man who asked you
for money on your way to the store the day you tried on the coat!”
The lady in the polka dotted dress and blue bird hat then stood up beside Johnny and pulled
a small mirror out of her dress pocket and tapped Johnny on the shoulder and held it in front of him.
“Here Johnny, take a look at yourself.”
Johnny took a long look in the mirror and then even closer look and then finally snatched
the mirror out of the ladies hands and moved it to an inch of his face and stared with deep
wonderment into it. He moved it all around his face quickly and noticed that it was him alright but a
younger him. A him from a year ago. He began touching his face in disbelief with the mirror pressed
“Yes Johnny, said the lady, “it’s all true my dear. What you’re thinking just now.”
“Everything is alright again. Believe it, because against all your deepest wishes and hope,
it is true. You’re home Johnny. The estate is just around the second corner down to the south end of
town where it has always been. Just as you remember it. You’ll find the list that your mother sent
you to the store with a year ago is right back in your right pocket just where you put it. It even has
the five dollar bill wrapped neatly inside just like always. Everything is just as it was that day Johnny.”
Johnny quickly stabbed deep into his pocket with his right hand not believing what he was
hearing and seeing at this point in spite of everything he’d just experienced that the list would really
be there. But just as quick as he quickly jammed his hand into his pocket he just as quickly did indeed
feel a bit of paper gently stabbing his fingers and yanked out the list so quickly that it almost spun
The list still smelled fresh with ink and Johnny held it up into the air and shrieked with joy!
He looked up at the lady. Astonished and all smiles and wrapped his arms around the her waist and
hugged her with all the strength he could find in his little now unconstrained body.
“Then IT IS true! It’s really true!” Johnny shouted!
“Yes, Johnny. It’s all true. The lady in the polka dotted dress with the blue bird hat said
looking down at Johnny reassuringly.
“You’ve been given a great gift and now you have to go and share it. Share it with everyone
and don’t ever forget what you’ve been given. Here, I have a small gift for you to get you started.
This is a little something from me and the crew.”
The lady in the polka dotted dress with the blue bird hat then gently pulled Johnny’s
clutched arms from around her waist and held his hands against her bosom and slightly opened his
right hand and with her thumb, slowly pushed a brand new, shiny nickel into his palm, gently closing
his small fingers around it while continuing to hold his hands in hers.
Then knelling closer, she kissed him on the forehead and took his face into her hands.
“Time is running short for me here, Johnny and it’s time for me to go. Your Mother is
waiting for you Johnny. She is waiting.”
Johnny wrapped his arms around his Lady Faire one last time and with his face smashed
into her waist, looked up and smiled a slight, coy smile.
“I sure won’t be buying that candy this time!” Johnny declared as he released his grip on
her waist, thrusting himself away from her while starting to run up the street only to stop and look
back one last time a few feet later, declaring, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long
And with that, Johnny flicked the nickel the lady in the polka dot dress and blue bird hat
had just placed in his hand high up into the air in front of him, catching it just in the “nick” of time
and darted off down the street toward the old man that was sleeping in the doorway.
Thank you for reading....
THE COAT THAT
WOULDN’T COME OFF!
An Ebenezer’s Woods Tale by A. A. Augustine
© 2022 A. A. Augustine with The Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. U.S.A.
All Rights Reserved