Secret Lives of Dresses Vol. 9

by Erin on December 4, 2006


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I wish I hadn't hated her so much. There, I've said it, and I can't unsay it, or make it not true. I wish I could.

Sometimes I'm not sure if it was really hate I felt. I'm not sure if I can actually have any feelings, or if I just soaked up what she felt, or what the people around her felt, whichever was stronger. Like a blotter put over an ink stain. Sometimes she seemed to me compelling and frightening, powerful and dangerous, like a snake or a shark or a mink; something you watch with suspense even though you know what's going to happen. Other times she seemed lifeless, like a robot or some mannequin, hollow and empty, nothing inside at all. A puppet, but with nothing holding the strings, nothing that I could see.

It was worse when she was wearing me. I can't describe it, really. The closest I can come is to think of what it must be like to be the face of a clock, a clock that's really a bomb, and to feel all that tick-tick-ticking behind you. To feel it, but not be able to stop it. Whenever we walked into a party I felt her ticking. I felt her sussing out which men she was going to flirt with, and which flirtations would happen in sight of their wives, and which not. I could feel the gears move as she touched one on the arm and one on the cheek and let another light her cigarette; I could feel her eyes swivel to the next target even as her head was tilted towards the current one. She knew just how to laugh in a way that grates on a wife's nerves, but was completely unexceptionable to anyone else.

I don't know why she did it, except that she could. She never made an assignation, or even a date; she just liked the commotion, the whispers, the glares in the powder room. That made it worse; somehow it would be better if she had had some desire for human touch, even illicit, instead of just an appetite for turmoil. Every couple of months she found a new place to overturn. A resort here, a small town there. There was some excuse, always; she was "hunting up old family papers." She was "looking for a little place to buy and settle down." The lawyer or the real estate agent had to invite her to dinner, invite her out to the club, and after that it was easy. But there never was any old family, or any little place. There was only her, humming to herself, as she drove home alone in her fast little car.

Sometimes, if I concentrated just so, I could thwart her. Probably thwart is too strong a word. Sometimes I could discompose her. I could be stiff where I ought to flow; I could catch where there was nothing to catch on. I could pull, or wrinkle, or shift. I could make her hesitate just for a second. It's not like I could ruin the effect she had; I could just make it less than perfection.

It wore me out, though, just to do that much. It was against my nature. When you're on a body you want that body and you to be one thing. You emphasize the way the wearer moves, subtly, hanging around her like an aura. Sometimes I got distracted just by her grace and I found myself cooperating as if what she was doing wasn't pure concentrated unpleasantness. That was the worst part, when I found myself suddenly aware of being becoming to her, when I felt her prey looking at her approvingly, because of me. But I *was* becoming to her, of course! That's why she bought me. She never had an unbecoming dress in her life.

Of course I know it was all my fault, although we don't talk about it, in the closet. We used to talk about her, but we don't anymore. There used to be a lot of rustling about her — especially when a dress came back carelessly stained, or with the hooks and eyes bent or all torn out, or with a popped zipper. Anyone else would have taken a hurt dress to the cleaners, or the seamstress, but not her. Sometimes she just laughed, putting one back on the hanger, or just dropping it, bruised, on the floor. "Looks like I won't be wearing this old thing again!"

She won't be wearing any old thing again. Last Saturday she bought a new dress, to wear that very night. All red like me (she liked red), but long, cut low, with a ruffled train. Gorgeous. We were all envious — to be so new, and so beautiful! That poor dress. She was so excited, looking forward to be being worn, pleased to have such a beautiful wearer. Then we all started talking. Maybe it was meant as a warning, or maybe it was just a little envy. Maybe we laid it on a little too thick. I think maybe I exaggerated just how much I could move, just what I could do against her. Maybe the red dress didn't know how much more it could move, with all those ruffles? I've never had ruffles; I don't know.

The red dress went out that night, the ruffles a-quiver, but more from apprehension than the excitement it had expected. But it didn't come home that night, and neither did she.

The next day it did finally come back, but without her. Some other women hung it up in the closet, wrapped in a bag. The bottom ruffle was all ripped, and it wouldn't talk. We heard the women, walking around the bedroom, opening drawers, looking at her nightgowns and her bed jackets.

"Which one do you think she'd want?"

"Helen, she's never going to know. The doctor said she'd probably never wake up again. It's going to be a miracle if she lives until Tuesday — a fall like that! I don't think I'll ever walk down those stairs again!"

"If it were me, I think I'd know. Or I'd want people to hope I'd know. Did Joe Rossiter have any luck reaching her people?"

"I don't think she had any people! At least, none living. Or none she'd admit to."

"Don't speak ill …"

"She's not dead yet. But I guess you're right. Let's get back to the hospital and drop these off; I want to get home to have supper ready before Jim comes back from the game."

Nobody's come back since then. The red dress hasn't said anything, but I can feel it, in the closet. I can feel it blaming me. We don't really talk. We just hang, and wait. We're not sure what for.

I'm pretty sure it's been Tuesday already.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous December 4, 2006 at 7:46 am

well done Erin,a bit sad though seeing that is nearly Chrismast could we have a chrismast dress teeling its story?

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Anonymous December 4, 2006 at 7:56 am

brilliant ErinThat story is so poignant.Lucette

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Anonymous December 4, 2006 at 8:32 am

Tragic.But I want that dress. –Lydia

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fontfreak December 4, 2006 at 8:43 am

I like the darker air of tragedy and potential menace around this one.

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Thoughts on Life and Millinery. December 4, 2006 at 9:30 am

Daring. And I want that dress too.

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Carol December 4, 2006 at 9:31 am

She knew just how to laugh in a way that grates on a wife’s nerves, but was completely unexceptionable to anyone else.Exactly. I could feel my body trying to respond with the wife’s smile (mere nanometers from baring one’s fangs) just reading that sentence.

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lucitebox December 4, 2006 at 9:44 am

Well, I asked for it, and I got it, huh?! I just knew you had a side that wasn’t as perennially sunny as the one you wear so much of the time. Looming doom that was impending caused me speed read. I may have to read this one again. Erin, the moody side of your writing is as seductive as the dress itself. And, holy mama–that dress is smoking! I love the way you’ve (once again) given such a defined sense of purpose to this dress’ life. After all, we know what dresses like this are meant to do, don’t we?

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Carrie December 4, 2006 at 9:46 am

Wow, what a great tale. It was a little disturbing, but entirely engaging. Nice work =) It’s like a mini-feed of a sci-fi book. Gorgeous dress, too.

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Summerset December 4, 2006 at 10:23 am

What a dress! Now I need to go back and read the story!

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kmkat December 4, 2006 at 11:15 am

Twilight Zone. Your story could be/could have been a script for Rod Serling’s TV show in the 1960s (except that those scripts were not as imaginative as yours — written by men, obviously). I would totally have watched your episode.

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Kathryn Brown December 4, 2006 at 11:21 am

I have a red dress. I hope it doesn’t think of me like those dresses. Although I do flirt a bit…Brilliant story. I will be reading your blogs again. Would you try mine http://hiddenmelmelanieonline.blogspot.com/

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Julie The Vintage Goddess December 4, 2006 at 12:05 pm

Twilight Zone.Yeppers.You can just hear the dresses whispering to each other in alarge walkin closet….

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Shannon December 4, 2006 at 12:06 pm

Ooo, creepy! This one gave me goosebumps! Let this be a reminder to all of us to behave well, and take care of our things…

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S. December 4, 2006 at 1:38 pm

So noir! I hope I find her one day while thrifting and give her the happy healthy body she deserves.

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gray la gran December 4, 2006 at 3:22 pm

i just love your dress stories!

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mamafrog December 4, 2006 at 3:39 pm

Please for a happier story? I love yours–but they verge just on being a little creepy and Twilight Zone-ish like kmkat said!! Excellent writing though–if clothes do think (Eeeeww) it must be like your writing. Now what do mine say, I wonder? Do you find yourself wearing the most comfortable things in your closet time and again? I live in jeans and I’m sure mine just groan sometimes when I get them out. I need to wear some of my different blouses, my version of a dress a day!

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Belle December 4, 2006 at 4:04 pm

Awesome! Your last line was the perfect ending, too.

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n.b. December 4, 2006 at 4:13 pm

Wowee zowee. That was a good one. Creepy though! Do you have a book deal yet? This would make an very interesting coffee table book : photo of dress on one page, your story on the other.

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Susan December 4, 2006 at 5:56 pm

That dress is gorgeous!! and the story was great!

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Rose December 4, 2006 at 6:06 pm

A wonderful welcome-home for me, to get to read a new Lives of Dresses installment!

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Mandy December 4, 2006 at 6:19 pm

Oh man, what a sad story. Poor beautiful dress, to be such an accomplice.

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Crystal December 4, 2006 at 7:01 pm

What a beautiful dress! Oh, wow… I dream of owning something like that! And the story is great, too.

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Dani in NC December 4, 2006 at 7:02 pm

Great story! I bet that dress would be happier in my closet — I only have eyes for my husband :-).

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Jen December 4, 2006 at 7:07 pm

Oh, oh, oh…excellent-ay. Dark, a bit…sharp, like nettles, but so good and very engaging. Wonderful, wonderful job, as usual.

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MinaW December 4, 2006 at 11:22 pm

Ouch. Wonderful story.

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Anonymous December 4, 2006 at 11:47 pm

How about the dress that ended up in front of the Justice of the Peace (with a bouquet?) IMHO

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sewinggirlfromtheothersideoftheworld December 5, 2006 at 4:10 am

It was an accident! The ruffled dress is innocent!but seriously great story Erin

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Linda December 5, 2006 at 5:01 am

I love this! It sounds so mysterious and like one of those retro mystery themes!

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LA December 5, 2006 at 5:51 am

Nice!I really liked the idea n.b. had about these becoming a book. Very innovative, and very well-written.

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melissapedsrn December 5, 2006 at 6:23 am

That dress, that dress, that dress. I may have to see what I can do to combine a few patterns and make that dress. Perfecto Erin…I appreciate whatever tone your imaginative stories take…this one was perfect for THAT DRESS… Thanks!

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Alana December 5, 2006 at 6:29 am

*shiver* How horrible! I loved it.

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Queenie December 5, 2006 at 7:25 am

Poor sweet dress. God I’m such a sappy idiot.I hope it will be all right for them.

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Robinson December 5, 2006 at 8:00 am

An interesting title on the creation of the femme fatale.http://www.press.uillinois.edu/s06/menon.html

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Anonymous December 5, 2006 at 8:30 am

“I’m not sure if I can actually have any feelings, or if I just soaked up what she felt, or what the people around her felt, whichever was stronger. Like a blotter put over an ink stain.”I love this. I’m thinking of the leftover feelings you get touching an old dress or sleeping under an old quilt, or especially, and not so positively, trying on a heavy, old fur coat.

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Lisa Laree December 5, 2006 at 10:29 am

Brilliant, Erin!I’m hearing The Twilight Zone music, too…

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divashop December 5, 2006 at 12:17 pm

Wow, interesting story!

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nora December 5, 2006 at 4:07 pm

That dress! If I promise to only use its powers for good, can I have it? And I knew chiffon wasn’t as innocent as it looked…

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Ang December 5, 2006 at 6:56 pm

Dark, yet lovely. Not every dress has a happy tale to tell….especially the vampy, sexy dresses. The reality is these dresses are meant to tease, to seduce. I’d wager more vintage dresses than we’d like to believe have somber endings similar to this, and the ruffled number. I love the concept behind these stories, Erin…..I’d absolutely buy a book (but I’d expect all new, not the blog ones, I want fresh!)……Ang

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Cindy December 5, 2006 at 7:21 pm

This is such, such brillant writing. Beautiful and dark.

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Anonymous December 5, 2006 at 9:59 pm

Beautiful use of language, Erin.You have a special ability to draw the reader deeper into the narrative.You really should think about writing more.

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Kate December 6, 2006 at 1:34 am

“How about the dress that ended up in front of the Justice of the Peace (with a bouquet?)”Where is this story? I couldn’t find it.

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Kate December 6, 2006 at 2:06 am

Oh La La La La!! Erin, you just get better and better. I’ll buy the book even if it’s not all new material. K Q:-)

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Dane December 6, 2006 at 11:18 pm

Brava! You really know your psychology, and you knock it out of the park with something compelling every time.

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Floridaprincess December 7, 2006 at 2:58 am

Whoa that ruffled dress did what the rest of dresses wanted to do but could not. What a great twist to your dress stories.

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Anonymous December 8, 2006 at 10:12 pm

If The Secret Lives of Dresses was a book, I would definitely, definitely buy one. I loved this addition to the series!

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phoenix May 4, 2007 at 10:34 pm

This dress is gorgeous – I love the pleated/tucked detailing in the top!I stumbled upon your blog yesterday and it’s already a favourite. I LOVE these stories! Thank you. :)

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Anonymous December 3, 2007 at 2:25 am

beautiful story.

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martine February 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm

My, my. You have an attitude to you, don’t you. Fair enough, I guess. I doubt I would hate a person like that, but then thats me. The only people I don’t like are judgemental people. Dangerous people I like, and shallow people don’t exist. Remember that when you are tempted to call someone shallow next time. Maybe there really is a difference between us jeans wearing girls, and dress wearing girls. I enjoy beauty, even if it isn’t mine.

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