This story grew from two prompts: “What I found at the flea market” and “She found the perfect little dress for….” I wrote half of it yesterday, but I was feeling a bit under the weather so I finished it today. Language and mild sexual scene alert.
THE PERFECT DRESS
For all of last year, Julia had scoured every bridal shop, every online designer store and every vintage clothing boutique from San Diego to Eureka looking for the perfect dress. Who would have guessed that she would find it here—at the local flea market—of all places? And now the old hag, wouldn’t let her buy it. Julia fingered the soft silk sheath, the same delicate pink of the inside of a conch shell. It was truly a vintage gown cut on the bias and the asymmetrical hem draped gracefully, midi length in front with the lace fanning out in a short train behind. The pearl beads gave weight and movement to the over-tunic done in delicate crochet. She simply had to have this dress, perfect for the 1920 theme of the wedding. It would fit her without time-consuming alterations too. It looked as if it was tailor-made for her figure.
“I’ll give you five-hundred dollars.” Julia turned to the old woman with a frizz of white hair who stared at her through thick fly-specked glasses.
The woman shook her head. “I told you. It’s not for sale. It’s just my display piece. I’ve got all these other gowns to choose from.” She swept her arm at the rack full of vintage flapper dresses dripping with fringe, white embroidered petticoats and filmy organza peignoirs. “And even more in here.” She pointed at tables piled high with more clothing under the canvas sunshade. “Surely you can find something suitable.” The old woman picked up a white lace dress. “Now this is from the same era. I’d say about 1919. It would look lovely on you with your slender figure.”
Julia’s stomach growled. It was two-thirty and she needed to be across town to meet with the caterer for the final choice of Chicken Cordon Bleu or Chicken Kiev. Here she stood in this God awful heat, sweat prickling her underarms and the damn old witch wouldn’t sell her the perfect gown. The woman must be senile; she looked about a hundred years old. “Listen, I’ll give you a thousand for this dress.”
The old woman’s chin went up like a brick wall. “You don’t know what you are asking for. This gown belonged to my sister, Angela, and I won’t sell it for any price.”
“You don’t understand. My wedding is in two weeks and it has taken me a whole year to find this perfect dress.” Julia rummage in her oversized purse and pulled out her wallet. “I’ll pay cash. Just name your price.”
“Miss,” the old woman’s voice went a notch louder and cracked. “I’m telling you that you don’t want this dress and I’m not going to sell it. That’s final.”
A group of teenage girls chattering like a flock of geese swarmed around the clothes racks. They rifled through the stacks of clothes on the tables. One girl pulled out a rabbit fur coat and put it on, flipping her hair back, posing and mugging like Marilyn Monroe. The old woman turned her back on Julia and hobbled over to another girl holding a floor sweeping skirt at her waist.
“I’ve got a little changing area behind this curtain there if you want to try something on.” The old hag pointed to a corner draped in a vintage bark-cloth fabric printed with garish bouquets of damask roses. The girls crowded around completely engulfing the little woman.
Julia sighed; she’d been dismissed. She dropped her wallet back into her yawning purse and looked at the gown of her dreams one more time. The silk slid through her fingers, as inviting as a cool breeze, and she saw herself on Papa’s arm gliding down the aisle like a fairy princess in the gown. The silk whispered between her fingers telling her that it belonged to her. Julia glanced at the old woman. Her back was turned and she was wholly absorbed in her new customers, placing velvet cloches on their heads and fox stoles around their shoulders, her words a steady waterfall of flattery.
The gown seemed to slide off its hanger of its own accord—another quick glance at the old woman’s back and Julia stuffed the gown into her purse. But she wasn’t a thief, oh no, she slipped a thousand dollar bill out of her wallet and slid it under the battered metal till on the card table. One last look told her that the woman hadn’t seen her and Julia sauntered away, fighting the desperate urge to run, her heart beat pulsing in her throat.
That night, Greg took her to dinner at La Majestic’s and walked her to her apartment door. “Aren’t you going to let me in and show me this dream dress you keep talking about?” He nuzzled her neck with his lips.
Julia felt her face flush. She hadn’t told him that she had taken the dress behind the old woman’s back. “No, silly, you’re not supposed to see it until the wedding. Don’t you know anything about tradition?” She gave him a little shove. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t forget to pick up your tux from the tailor’s. Make sure they altered it right.”
She slipped into the apartment and locked the door behind her. There hadn’t been time to actually try the gown on since she ran late from the caterer’s. Such a headache to choose, but after a few bites and endless discussion on the merits of both chicken dishes, she had settled for the Kiev. So many things left to do, the last minute follow ups on the alterations to the bridesmaids’ dresses, the florist, would they be there early to decorate and would the reception hostess let them in? Julia bit her lip. Would all of this stress never end? But her dress, at least she had found that.
Julia switched on the light in her bedroom and there it hung on the outside of her closet door, the pearl beads glowing in the soft light. She stripped and pulled the gown over her head, it fell around her like a second skin. It smelled faintly of orange-blossoms and gardenia’s, the same flowers she had chosen for her bridal bouquet. The silk caressed her skin like a lover’s hand. She turned and took in her image in the full-length mirror, turning and watching how the material swayed gracefully with every small movement.
But something was off. She’d need to match the pink silk for her shoes, maybe add some pearl beads to them. Yes, and matching beads on the veil, simple tulle so that it didn’t detract from the lace on the dress. And her hair—Julia raised a hand to touch her dark curls and gasped at the image staring back at her. It looked like her, but the eyes were pale green, not brown and the nose a bit more aquiline. The cleft in her chin had disappeared. A rash of goosebumps swept over her body. A warm puff of air as if somebody was breathing down her neck raised the hairs on her nape. She spun around, and faced an empty room.
Turning back to the mirror she saw her own image there, the brown eyes, shortened nose and yes—there—the cleft was back. It must have just been a trick of poor lighting. That neglected burnt out light-bulb would have to be changed. And well, she had to admit that she’d maybe drank one too many glasses of white wine at dinner.
The other bulb flickered and winked out, leaving the room in darkness. Damn-it what next? Julia started for the livingroom but it looked just as dark and the streetlight didn’t stream through the curtains—another blackout. Where had she put the flashlight? Damn, in the rush of getting ready for the wedding why couldn’t she have taken a bit of time to buy batteries?
A key rattled in the apartment door and it squeaked on its hinges. Greg…thank God. He must have seen the lights go out and came back to check on her.
“Greg—you’d do anything to see me in this dress wouldn’t you? Don’t you know it’s bad luck?” Julia moved toward the door, but his arms encircled her and his mouth found hers. The force of his passion swept through her. Never had he kissed her as if they’d been apart for years. She tried to push away, but he held her firmly in his arms and covered her cheeks, her eyes, her lips with kisses and moved down her throat, while his hands moved to her breasts. Her head spun with desire and she melted into him. He whispered her name over and over in a desperate moan of a man long deprived.
The next morning, Julia woke up caught in a jumble of twisted sheets with the sun streaming across her face and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth like a lizard on a desert rock. Greg—last night—but he had already left. The alarm clock blinked, reminding her of the black out the night before. What time was it? She grabbed her cell phone off of the side table. Holy Shit! Already 8:45 and she had to meet Greg for their appointment with Father Sanchez at 9:15. Why hadn’t Greg roused her when he left?
She dashed water on her face, threw on some clothes and brushed a stick of lipstick across her lips, managing to meet Greg at 9:30 in the church vestibule. “There you are.” He stopped pacing and grabbed her arm. “Can’t you ever manage to be on time? Father Sanchez took another couple who fortunately came early or we would have to reschedule.”
“You could have woken me up.” Julia pulled her arm from his grip.
“What? I’m your mother? I have to call you now and wake you up so you can be on time?”
“Please, let’s not quarrel. Last night we had so much love to share. Let’s not ruin it like this.”
Two vertical lines creased his forehead above his nose. “Last night? What was so special about last night?”
Julia’s mouth fell open. “You—you were so passionate. I’ve never….” Her throat tightened and she couldn’t finish.
“The peck on your neck?”
“Don’t you remember? The blackout. You came back.”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “Honey, this wedding has you way too stressed out. You’re not making any sense.”
Julia went cold. If Greg had not made love to her that night, then who had been in her bed? Only Greg had a key to her apartment and yes she had definitely heard a key rattle in the lock before the door opened. He had whispered her name over and over—but no—that hadn’t sounded quite right. Now that she thought about it, he had whispered—Angela, Angela….”
From somewhere in the dark knave of the church and old woman’s laughter echoed through the rafters.