Apology for wearing your coat in the smoky bar in Prague.

December.

Dear C,

I understand why you are not speaking to me today. I am certain it is because of your black coat. Remember, it was my coat to begin with, although you seem to have claimed it for the entirety of the season, which makes sense because it is both warm and waterproof. I do have my own coat — newer, lovelier, more grown-up — but it is not waterproof, and I chose not to wear it last night on account of the rain. Instead, I borrowed yours. And I borrowed it without permission. Maybe it was my way of getting back at you for going through my drawers and stealing my one pair of wool socks without a hole in the heel when we went ice skating last week. The thing is, in addition to not being waterproof, my coat is white, and I thought I might have a glass of svarené víno at the Christmas market in Prague. You may recall the close call we had this afternoon when I drank my first cup of svarené víno. You and your sister were dancing in the alleyway and one of you knocked against me with your sharp little elbows. Nothing spilled then, but it was enough for me to worry about ruining my white coat. You know we are going to the palace tomorrow, and it just wouldn’t do to meet the prince and the princess* with a bright red splotch on my sleeve. So, last night, as you watched Netflix from the comfort of the Air BnB, I put on your coat. Dad and I went to the market, and then to the Mexican restaurant, and then to the theater to see the glow-in-the-dark “Alice in Wonderland” play that I really wanted you and your sister to see, but which you said looked corny. In fact you were right. Well, it wasn’t exactly corny, but it was abysmal. It was so atrocious, in fact, that your dad and I left at intermission. As we left, these young theater rats called out to us “ Don’t leave! It’s not over yet! There’s more to come!” in sweet desperation, but honestly, my days of sitting through second acts of godawful plays are over.

C, for years you will have to sit through plays that you despise, and you will think of this. I will tell you that the only time that you MUST sit through a terrible second act is when your dearest friends or family members are involved in the making of said monstrosity. Then you can put that second act to good use by constructing in your mind the appropriate feedback for your loved one. Here is a tip: Look for something very specific and positive to say, and try to focus on a task that your artist friend/family member has done particularly well. If your friend is a costumer, for example, describe how the costumes really contributed to your understanding of the characters, or how you loved the sheen of the dress in the ballroom scene. If your friend was the director, note the excellent stage pictures. You can mention casting to a director, but then you must also proclaim that you can tell how diligently she or he worked to wrest those performances from the cast.

If your loved one is an actor, you are out of luck. You’ll need to come up with at least a dozen specific compliments, and even then it won’t be enough. It is never enough for actors, god bless them, for they lay their hearts out for an audience to consume day after day after day, and no number of congratulations can repay them for their sacrifice.

This, by the way, is why I don’t want you to be an actor. It’s not the weak job market or the fear of rejection or the instability or even the unfortunate misogyny of the entertainment industry, it’s really that I want to protect your sweet soul, and I can’t do that if you’re laying it out there for bunch of strangers to eviscerate.

After we escaped the glow-in-the-dark affront to live performance, we were still hyper, a little bit tipsy, and eager to enjoy the night when your dad had the idea to visit the pub that we pass every morning. You know the one — it’s the place that resembles a kiosk at the Renaissance fair. Anyway, against our better judgment, we went in. Though it was smoky and seedy, there was plenty of room at the bar, and we were served immediately by a friendly and appropriately craggy barmaid. (This time a little bit of wine did slosh onto my arm, so I was especially glad that I wore your coat, because it will never show.) There we befriended a wild-eyed Scot who looked like he escaped from the set of “Braveheart”, and who, in exchange for a warm greeting and 3 pints of beer, treated us to a two-hour monologue which covered the entirety of European history from the perspective of a stone layer. I lost interest in his story during the years between Napoleon and World War I, but the increasingly drunk larrikin had interesting teeth, and you know how I love to examine people’s teeth. It drives your father crazy when he catches me examining his teeth, but there is much to be learned by watching a person’s mouth. People are generally adept at guarding their eyes, but they forget how much a mouth can reveal. This man had an unconsciously lewd manner of licking his lips. His wolfish teeth were stained by nicotine, and in some cases were missing completely, and he smiled a wide, feral grin that would have been terrifying had I been alone with the fellow. So we stayed to hear Braveheart’s story, even though the bar was smoky and my wine glass was empty.

Then, just as I thought we would leave, a young man tore into the room, blonde hair flying. He stumbled in like a drunken clown, and landed right next to Braveheart, whom he slapped on the back heartily, spilling the Scot’s beer right onto the sleeve of your coat (again, it will never show). Then grabbing Braveheart by the ears, the Blonde Madman smooched him square on the lips. The Scot was unfazed and took the kiss in stride, chasing it neatly with a swig of beer, as the bar cheered. This caused the Blonde Madman to dissolve in a fit of laughter. Never have I heard a grown man laugh so unabashedly. He threw his head back and giggled so hard that his legs crossed and then buckled beneath him. He would have fallen, had he not caught his armpit on the back of my barstool. I am lighter than he is, so my barstool slipped for a moment, and I nearly went down with him, but then your dad and Braveheart both grabbed my stool, and we all remained upright. At first, I thought that the Blonde Madman was simply crazy, but then the barmaid explained that he had just been electrocuted in the back room while repairing a lighting fixture. I had no reason to doubt her story: his long, fine hair looked like it had been combed with an eggbeater, and he was still somewhat cross-eyed from the experience. Everyone at the bar, including us, turned to laugh at his antics. Dad and I bought another round of beers for our newfound scoundrel friends, thanking Braveheart for his stories and his teeth, and celebrating the Blonde Madman’s narrow escape from the charged clutches of death. They really had given us quite the show — far more entertaining than the “Alice in Wonderland” piece.

In the end, it was difficult to extricate ourselves from the pub, and we were grateful when the barmaid finally ushered us all out the door. The two drunkards made plans to give us a tour of a cemetery later this week, but we conveniently forgot to give them our phone numbers, and we took the long way back to the flat so they would not track us down in search of more beer. Dad and I walked home in the cold rain, arm in arm, feeling more connected than I can remember feeling in a long time. It was only when we got back to the flat that I realized that your coat smelled like a brothel.

So I am sorry for that. I will air out the coat on the balcony this afternoon, and in the meantime, you can wear my my white one. Though your silent treatment is a bit much, it is fine for you to be moderately angry with me. I don’t blame you. But I am not sorry that I wore your coat last night. Now it will always hold the remnants of a fantastically entertaining evening. Someday I hope that you will step away from the comfort of Netflix and seize the chance to drink wine and swap stories with crazy people in a foreign land, wearing a coat that isn’t yours, finding infinite joy in the imperfections of your short, stolen life.

With love,

Mom

* True they haven’t been called “Prince” or “Princess” since 1918, but they do live in a palace, and if we were here a hundred years earlier, and if we were to visit their palace, we would, in fact be having tea with the Prince and Princess of Bohemia, no matter how down to earth they are.