Dessert is a showstopper.  Zuccotto says Lance for the third time.  Zoo-cot-oh … it’s Italian. It’s inspired by Il Duomo, hence the shape.  As he slices and dishes up, adding a splodge of marscapone to each serve I glance across the table at Toni, a charming but somewhat vague woman I’m guessing in her late sixties.  We are seated at the long lunch table for my Aunt Esther’s 80th birthday celebration.  The room is probably described in those posh country lifestyle magazines as a conservatory as it’s mostly glass.  The floors are timber. The air is cool and there’s mizzle outside. It reminds me of London.

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Toni has a black overcoat draped across her shoulders.  It’s not that cold I think.  She puts her arms through the sleeves and belts it.  That’s when I recognise the flower shaped press studs and realise she’s wearing my coat.  I don’t much care that she’s wearing my coat but in the left hand pocket is a shell.  That shell is my talisman.  It’s been with me in that pocket in that coat for many years. I picked it up on the shore at Whidby Island or somewhere on the Pacific North West coast.  When I wear that coat I walk with my hands in the pockets and caress the shell.  It’s worn smooth from my touch.  Round and round and round between my thumb and forefinger.
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I once lent this coat to my sister when she stayed with me in London.  Hey there’s a shell in the pocket she said.  Yes there is I said, don’t lose it, it’s my good luck charm.  In the other pocket there once lived a Paris metro train ticket but it’s no longer there.  I can only imagine I threw it out in Paris on a later trip so I didn’t mix up my metro tickets. I wouldn’t have thrown it out if I was anywhere other than Paris.
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I snap back to the glass conservatory and Toni and feel my chest constrict a little.  What if she leaves wearing the coat and takes my talisman with her.  I make a mental note to keep an eye on her movements because the day is lingering and people will soon start to push their chairs back and make small we should get going type motions.
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This is not one of those lunches that stretch long onto the evening and the hosts make delicate it’s getting late we should see you on your way so you can go home and drink your own fucking booze type of motions.  Not that this would happen here because Kyle and Lance are the most gracious and impressive hosts.  Toni stands up and begins her farewell ritual, my stomach skips as she tightens the belt and pulls up the collar of my coat in readiness for the late afternoon chill.
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I do a discreet but frantic search by eye of the various coats draped across lounges and can’t see anything similar.  Panic sets in.  Don’t make a scene it’s only a coat. We will get it back.  But what about  the shell what if it falls out what if she loses it what if she puts her hand in the pocket and finds the shell what if she loves it, all smooth and perfect from years of touch.
Breathe.  Think.  Say something.
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Toni is almost at the door she’s said goodbye to Esther and Kyle and she’s hugging Lance now I’m on the wrong side of the room and won’t make it in time to stop her.  My heartbeat thumps. I excuse myself from the circle of chatter and move between Toni and the front door.  I lean in and quietly say you’re wearing my coat. She looks confused no she says this is my coat.  I’m pretty sure it’s mine I say but let me have a look around.  Is this yours? No she says each time I hold up a coat this is mine I’m wearing mine.
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She becomes agitated and tells her husband there is a coat issue.  Oh god.  I remember there are bags and coats in the bedroom. I noticed them as I had to walk through the bedroom to pee in the ensuite bathroom.  I’ll check the bedroom I say I didn’t go into the bedroom she says.  Everyone is at their cars saying goodbye, I’m the only one inside. Toni will be gone with my coat with my shell.  I see a coat just like mine but with a colourful scarf around the collar.  I hurry to the door holding the coat just in time to see Toni waving as the car crunches up the gravel driveway.
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I pause to catch my breath as Toni turns to face me.  Oh you just missed Esther, she left with Max.  And you have my coat she says, I’ll be needing that, there’s quite a chill in the air.