The Dress

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a story I wrote for 12th grade English, and it's about a girl trying to find a grad dress, and having a difficult time with it. I drew from a few personal experiences to write the story, but rest assured the girl in the story is not me.

Submitted: November 30, 2009

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Submitted: November 30, 2009

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The store is full of  this hot, dead air. When I open the door, it whooshes out at me and I almost immidiately begin to sweat and gasp for air like a caught fish. For a minute, I am motionless, and my parents have to sort of push me in so they can enter too. While we are removing our slushy boots, a salesgirl materialises. She seems very young and small, and her name begins with a \"k\" and maybe has some other consonants in it. I feel her over-bright little eyes scanning my body, critiquing my tatty clothes and trying to guess my size. She begins to lead me away, and I become stiff with compliant fear, I will do anything she says to make this whole affair move along faster. K is telling me about materials and colors and beading and I am nodding obediently and saying the right things and regretting being born female.

I need the dress to graduate in. It is one of the things expected from me, that I have to do or else I'll regret it someday or whatever. This is just a thing that some retarded genius invented, where the graduates are decked out in all kinds of finery, and parade in a circle in front of everyone, and then get alcohol poisoning in a field somewhere. For guys it's easy, they rent a tux and then return it. Girls need their hair done, either professionally for more money than dumping products into a tangle of dead cells is worth, or by their mom. Makeup is also expected, but this one is supposed to be easy, as any woman worth her salt should know how to apply it. The dress is the sticky part. You have to go out and get prodded and shoved into multiple dresses in search of the right one, and then in the end you only wear the thing for an hour. In five or ten years, when the world has crushed my spirit and multiple pregnancies have ruined my body, my girlfriends and I will get together and talk about how hilarious and awful our dresses were, despite all the suffering. Our smudgy children of dubious paternity will be in the kitchen digging their dirty paws in the peanut butter jar.

Within five minutes of arriving, I am sequestered in a triangle-shaped room with ten or so dresses hanging on hooks around me. A thin curtain is all that seperates me from the rest of the store patrons. As I take off my clothes, it's hard not to imagine that the curtain is transparent, that the mirror I have been avoiding is a two-way and people in a secret room are observing me. Any laughter sounds derisive. The mirror covers the entire back side, the hypoteneuse, of the room, and it's hard not to see it. I know that I look wobbly, fish belly white, pathetic in my bra and the sad underwear with elastic poking out all over. I can't stand to see myself in any state of undress lately. The first dress is a vaguely obscene shade of pink, best saved for grotesque cartoons and feminist artwork. Getting into it is a huge struggle, and a fruitless one, as it makes me look like an improperly packed sausage and refuses to close up all the way in back. K comes in and holds it closed while I walk out from behind the curtain to show my parents. My mother and father shake their head emphatically. My mother comments that my grad date, BT, should be here to help, and the mention of his name makes my hunched spine go poker-straight, startling K. My mother doesn't know that BT and I are no longer going to grad together, and I have chosen not to tell her until the last minute. No need to open that can of worms yet.

Dresses two through nine are all problematic. They come in unfriendly electric colors that seem to shout their own names, like \"TANGERINE!\" and \"MAGENTA!\" Their fits showcase my problem areas, namely my stocky Scottish legs and soft stomach. The floor of the triangle room is now a mess of colored taffeta, chiffon, and tulle (which I learn is pronounced \"tool\" and not \"too-lay\", as I had previously thought.) I feel a sort of defeated tired. My skin is sore from being forced into unyielding bodices, and my hair is staticky. I no longer have the desire to graduate, I feel sadder and more volatile than I did when I entered the store.  If I got a sex change right now I could go to grad in a rented tux instead. If I drop out now I could be a transient hooker by tomorrow. I wonder if the Subway gift card in my wallet is sharp enough to slit my throat with. My father, outside the curtain, says five more dresses and we'll go. I have been out of the house an hour and a half, which seems a long long time. Putting all my strength together, I begin to squeeze into another dress

Dress ten is an awful shade of yellow, and too tight in the stomach, making me look very much like a pregnant banana. My mother makes a face at it. I know I'm not pregnant though, I'm just lazy lately. The test is buried deep in the bathroom trash, and I know that nobody would think to look for it.

Number eleven is midnight blue and zips up without a fight, but it makes my lower body look improbably disc-shaped, and I suddenly think of Rosie from The Jetsons. My father thinks it's nice, but he's only feigning interest.

Number twelve is the miracle. It's a royal purple, with a sweetheart neckline and a strange sort of fit that makes me appear to be a slinky movie star. An odd confidence comes over me, and I throw back the curtain to show my parents. I am queen of the store. My mother loves it, and starts fawning and  talking about ways she wants to do my hair. My father is smiling and adjusting his glasses. K is telling me over and over that I'll look so good at my grad, how I'll only do it once and I have to do it right. A middle aged woman comes over and tells me I'm gorgeous. I am Miss America, flushed and fanning back tears and everyone is cheering and singing a special song just for me. My father is negotiating at the cash desk, and informs me that if we buy it off the rack, we'll get a discount. I run back to the triangle room. I confront the mirror, and glamorous me stares back, showing me my great potential. The future is full of flowers and tiaras and white knights when I am in the dress. Thinking I have finally defeated my melancholy, I begin removing the dress, still staring in the mirror and smiling my white Miss America smile.

I can see how awful I look, how like a crab without a shell I am. My face is suddenly burning, I am embarrassed to see myself, my sad white socks pulled up high on my thick ankles. The bruises on my stomach and thighs are no longer as vivid, mostly green and yellow but still incredibly tender. I begin to remember how difficult the walk home was, how dizzy I felt and how painful every step was, how hot and powerful my anger was. How in the end I chose not to call the police and just keep my mouth shut, thinking it was the right thing to do. How I could still call, but I know I won't. I'm crying, but only a little, I've learned to keep these things down. I put my clothes back on slowly, like a flower folding up it's petals at night, like one animal swallowing another. When my clothes are on I am strong

The dress is paid for and put into a long plastic bag to protect it from the elements. We thank K and put our coats and boots back on. I carry the dress in my arms as if it were a bride over a threshold. Once outside, I feel incredibly relieved. I breathe in the good icy air, and expel the dead store air. I imagine it like a Bill Nye diagram, the good air entering and the bad air leaving. My mother is unlocking the car and fumbling a little, she is still recovering from her excitement over the dress. She says something like, won't BT be so excited, and I say, I don't think so. My mother nods her head, understanding that I no longer have a grad date. She suggests some cousin of mine and she smiles while I smile and everything is fine and good and fine. Under my clothes, my body is screaming.


© Copyright 2020 Marley Zed. All rights reserved.

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