Secret Lives of Dresses #15

by Erin on October 10, 2009


Lucite Box Paillette dress

The little oil light was guttering, and her glass held a sliver of ice and a maraschino cherry stem. She'd been sitting there so long I'd heard the man at the piano play "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" three times; he didn't really have that big a repertoire. The waiter had been waved off so many times that he had given up coming by at all.

I don't know what she was looking at, but when he sat down it startled her. I felt her jerk in the chair.

"Been here long?" he asked. It could have sounded mean, but he didn't sound mean.

"A while." She smiled at him, out of habit. The next word was almost forced out of her mouth. "Billy?"

"You know you shouldn't expect a man with a boy's name to be responsible," he said. "There was a man in from out of town, and something about a poker game."

I felt her shoulders sag, slightly. It wasn't enough to see, just to feel.

"I'd say he sent his apologies, but you'd know I was lying." He made a little half-grimace, half-shrug.

She squared her glass on the bar napkin. "Thanks for coming by," she said. She reached for her black satin clutch from the seat next to her.

"Hey," he said, a little too quickly. "It's still early." He looked around the nearly empty lounge. There was one couple dancing. The piano player looked bored.

She didn't say anything.

"One dance," he said.

"I should really …" Something in his face stopped her, I think. He looked like a man it would be difficult to be rude to. "Sure. One dance."

I didn't know the song, but this late, it didn't really matter. They moved out to the floor, where the other couple had given up the pretense of steps and were just in a shuffling embrace.

They danced well together. Not in a showy, cruise-ship way, but a comfortable way. They fit. His arm tightened around her waist.

"Neal," she said. She stiffened.

"One of these dances," he said. "Or maybe on one of those picnics you have with you and two plates and the ants. Or on New Year's Eve, when you're standing alone when the ball drops. Right? Someday?"

"I can't say someday." She exhaled. It was almost a sigh.

"I can say someday. I can say today. I can say always."

For a minute there, I thought that she would relax, move closer to him. I thought I could feel her considering it, holding her breath, her arm across his shoulder and her hand against the nape of his neck, just laying there; it felt like there was something electric, like the hum of an engine.

"Who's this making time with my girl?" There was a too-loud voice, and too much aftershave, and then she was spun around. Neal was standing by himself, and she was held tight by other arms.

"Just keeping her entertained." His voice was almost light.

"Next time, little brother, try card tricks," Billy said. "Howzabout a drink?" His breath smelled as if he'd had a few already.

"I think I'll call it a night," Neal said, but he didn't move away from the dance floor right away, but stood looking as Billy steered her back to her chair. Two drinks were waiting on the table.

She let Billy pull out her chair, and she sat down in it, but she didn't look at his face. I think she was watching Neal walk out the door.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon October 10, 2009 at 1:40 am

Oh, lovely, as always!

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Jo October 10, 2009 at 2:59 am

Ooo. A dress of secret regrets and possibilities, indeed.

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Katherine Lee October 10, 2009 at 3:02 am

Absolutely beautiful. When is the book of the coming out? Ill buy it for sure.

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What-I-Found October 10, 2009 at 8:05 am

Yes, this had me wondering about the book too. Nice to see these coming back. It just feels good to read really good writing.

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Little Hunting Creek October 10, 2009 at 8:14 am

Men with boys names are always a mistake. They always lead to tears, as my grandmother would say.

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Anonymous October 10, 2009 at 9:48 am

Those sequins look uncomfortable. Almost as uncomfortable as the beads-around-the-armcye dress I bought for a Christmas party one year. (I spent the whole night holding my arms out to keep all the skin from being sanded off.)Perhaps, if the man in your life has a boys name and is unreliable, you need an uncomfortable dress to keep you awake while youre waiting for him.

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Packrat October 10, 2009 at 9:49 am

Lovely – the dress and the story. Almost had me weeping. BUT, wheres the girls backbone? After 20 minutes of waiting, she should have left. My grandma always said to have some pride…

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Claudia Lynch October 10, 2009 at 9:59 am

LOVE this! You might also enjoy my work. you can see my ShoeStories at http://www.claudialynch.com/shoestories.html.And, thanks so much for using the phrase Watteau back earlier. I was trying to think of what that was called all last evening. I thought I saw one in a movie, and even though it turned out to be something else, that elusive phrase was driving me nuts.

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Nora October 10, 2009 at 7:52 pm

SECRET LIVES!!!!!! W00T!Well, thats how I felt when I saw a new one. And now: *sigh*Just finished watching Desk Set – what great dresses Katherine Hepburn wore in it! I thought maybe they were Claire McCardell – very sporty in a way (short sleeves, tied waists, raglan shoulder seams, pleated skirts) – very well-suited to her wiry, athletic frame and great physical acting (she does one scene almost entirely with her back turned to the camera…Ive never been that big a fan but shes so perfect in that role.)

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Karin (the Mrs.) October 11, 2009 at 12:18 am

Thank you so much for sharing all these dresses and your stories. I love reading them!

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Rachel October 11, 2009 at 3:54 am

Im going to have to believe that someday she picked Neal instead of Billy.

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Anonymous October 11, 2009 at 4:06 am

love your writing.. bittersweet, poignant story. the dress, not so much. but yes, that dress does truly look like it lived through such a story :)jaya

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MoreBecoming October 11, 2009 at 1:47 pm

OMG, this dress story almost made me cry! Thats SO whats wrong with this world, too many Billys and not enough Neals. And then for those who find Neals, they dont know how to value what theyve got, *sigh*. Patiently waiting for the book.

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Joni October 11, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Team Neal!

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Birgit / Stitches and Loops October 11, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Faboulous! The story – definitely, and idea of the dress… For some reason, I had to think of Sabrina.

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Cookie October 11, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Hmmm…nice story! Her hesitation in his arms while dancing reminds me (somewhat sadly) of the men whove been a touch in love with me over the years…but whoI just couldnt give in to, for one reason or another. So Ive got a lot of dresses — and khakis and nice sweaters — but no Big Love!!!!!!! I WANT A DO-OVER!

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Anonymous October 11, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Neal, without question – you do NOT want to get stuck with the wrong brother. Will we be able to put your book on our Christmas lists?

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Sara October 11, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Fun! More, please!

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Theresa October 11, 2009 at 11:38 pm

that was so very sad and so very good. Hopefully soon there will be a happy dress. Maybe one that does on a picnic and she gets to kiss her crush!

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Lisa Simeone October 12, 2009 at 7:16 am

Magnificent! Erin, when, o when, is the pub date??!

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Sheila / Out of the Ashes Collectibles October 12, 2009 at 10:24 am

Im hooked – when will my next fix be?????

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lucitebox October 12, 2009 at 11:44 am

These stories are so addictive. Im not only glad to see youre at it again, but that my dress is part of your wonderful series. Inspired by your story about that dress, I wrote my own version today: http://www.lucitebox.com/blog/?p=527Thanks, Erin. Youre such a gifted writer and its tremendous to read your work!Holly

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Rachel October 13, 2009 at 11:19 am

Erin, I think you would LOVE these photos. Theyre 1940s photos posted by Texas AM from some kind of clothing-making domestic sciences kind of class, or something, and in the first set theyve got wonderful titles like Mrs. Charlie Mersmans Closet.http://www.flickr.com/photos/cushinglibrary/collections/72157618191538716/

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Cookie October 13, 2009 at 11:33 am

I hope theres a shunned dress in the back of someones closet, that was a wadder she couldnt let go of. Kind of a Disabled Dress.Golly…the possibilities are endless!Nice Freudian slip in my last post, BTW: but whoI just couldnt give in to, for one reason or another. Jeez, I cant even seem to TYPE about my love life without making a mistake. Get the net!

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jessica October 13, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Love this latest story.

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Rebecca October 13, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Beautifully poignant. I also cant wait for the book to come out!

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Zazzu October 23, 2009 at 8:44 am

This dress, and the woman whod wear it, is just a little too flashy and desperate for attention. Thats why she chose Billy…she fell for the sweet-talk and lies. And Billy would love his woman in a dress like that. Neal would probably find it a little over-the-top. The story gives us hope that shell ditch Billy for Neal. But, if so, why is she still wearing that dress?

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Amy A. October 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Heartbreaking.

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King family November 7, 2009 at 6:49 pm

The dress looks like Barbie, I love it. Story was awesome.

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Shelley November 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

Forget the dress pattern blog, your writing style is incredible. Reminds me of when I was a child and read Mom and Dads detective novels — Perry Mason and Donald Lam stuff.Ive got tree trunks for legs and my sewing is kindergartenish, so I dont do dresses if I dont have to, but I check back here hoping for new secret lives of dress stories. I love them. I really like the pattern stories as well, but the dress stories are delicious. Please do keep them coming!

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nana_ang_poppaphil March 27, 2010 at 12:04 am

I have just today discovered your wonderful blog, and your amazing stories. You are very talented.Keep up the good work.Love your vintage patterns too!AngelaNew Zealand

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Delores Daundivier February 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm

I juat dicovered you after the last issue of Stitch. You are my kind of gal. I used to remake clothes also as a poor miltary wife with 3 daughters. I am now a great grandmother and have passed my passion on to two of my daughters. They are pretty good at this too. Especially my middle daughter and I am forwarding your site on to her. You still have a follower here as I have lost 110 lbs over the last 3 years and my clothes are way to big and they were expensive work clothes. Bravo to you. Delores Northern California

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