It’s funny. I think if I had been taller or if my hair hadn’t been so long and straight, my presence in the dress department of Dillard’s would have caused a stir.
I think this because when we were getting ready to check out, a man near the entrance to the dressing rooms did cause a stir. He was a relative of a woman trying things on, just like me, but somehow it hadn’t been a problem when I hung around with the sales girls and waited for Claire to come parade out with the latest selection, Rita trailing her like a lady in waiting. Like? As. Because that’s what a lady in waiting does, right?
There was one in teal that was deemed too bright, and one with sequined accents that was deemed too cheap-looking, and one with a chiffon bow and bare shoulders that was deemed too “tarty-looking.” I was asked my opinion about all of them but as you can imagine, my opinion counted for nearly nothing. Which was fine: I didn’t have much of one.
“If only the teal one came in a more sedate blue,” Claire lamented. She didn’t want anything with green or yellow in it, either, because it would highlight if she looked jaundiced. “And red is just too too much.”
“Is there anything dark purple?” I asked.
“Purple seems so… frivolous,” Rita said seriously. “All right for a girl’s dress, not so much for an older woman. Maroon wouldn’t be bad, though,”
Claire did a twirl in the navy blue sheath dress she was currently wearing and frowned in the mirror. “I think the school color is purple, too. Wouldn’t want to look like part of the decorations.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s true. How’d you know that, Claire?”
“I grilled your sister about every detail of course.”
At one point while they were in the dressing room swapping outfits, two sales girls (and I do mean girls—they looked like they couldn’t have been out of high school yet) amused me and themselves. One of them had that certain kind of fluster to her that usually means someone knows who I am and that knowing who I am means something to her. The other one was either oblivious or not fazed by me, but was amused by her friend being weird.
I tried not to say too much in return, you know, didn’t want to embarrass her more than necessary. In the course of the conversation though I confirmed that was my mother and that we were buying a dress for my sister’s college graduation.
The non-fazed one, who was blonde and had chubby cheeks, chirped, “I heard her say she had cancer. It’s awesome that she’s getting better.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. You’re wrong? She’s still got it? What gave you that idea? I stuck with “She just wanted to live long enough to see my sister graduate.”
“Oh, well, you tell her not to have a relapse afterward.” She seemed to think this was a cheerful thing to say and then went to re-hang some things that people had left behind in the dressing area.
People say some weird things when they find out someone has cancer.
That left me with the flustered one. “What do you think, is red too too much for my mom to wear?”
“Oh, um, red is kind of, you know, s-strong. Sexy, I mean.” She blushed. “I mean, that’s not the right message probably. Oh my god.” With a last glance at the red streaks in my hair, she fled to help her co-worker.
We went through a few more rounds of dresses and outfit directions and color schemes.
Eventually we thought we had a winner. Maroon pleated chenille with a matching jacket that was cute but not too cute, apparently. Claire stared at herself in it for a very long time.
After a while I asked, “Are you all right?”
“I just…” She cleared her throat. “I just had a thought.”
I put a hand on her elbow, meeting her gaze in her reflection. “I have those sometimes, too. Was it a scary thought?”
“A… sobering thought, perhaps.”
“Do you want to tell me what it is?”
She shook herself. “Later. Right now, I’m done with this. Done.” She marched back into the dressing room to take the dress off, Rita in tow, while I went to the cash register to wait for them.
When she didn’t come out after five minutes I started to wonder if she was having some kind of emotional meltdown or what. During that was when the other guy showed up, some girl’s brother who was there to approve or disapprove of her prom dress choice. I got the feeling that he was there to make sure she didn’t pick anything “too tarty.” They were very demonstrably Christian. Which is why I thought it was weird that people would get tweaked over him being there since he was obviously not there to get his jollies, right?
But what do I know. While one of the older sales ladies was trying to shoo him somewhere, Claire and Rita emerged, and I pulled out my credit card. Claire looked like she had been crying but now she was holding herself together. Okay, fine. We can all be gentle with each other, I figured.
So we got back in the car and I thought I’d try to lighten the mood. “You ladies want to go through a Dairy Queen or something on the way back?”
Rita spoke up. “I’d appreciate it if we could go directly back, please.”
“Sure. No problem.”
We were maybe a twenty minute drive away, half hour at most. A few minutes into the drive, though, I could tell that Rita was short of breath. She was sitting right behind me.
“Rita, you all right? Should I be making a detour to the ER?”
“No no, I’ll be fine. I just should get back and take some of my meds is all.”
“I’m sure,” she said. But she passed out about five minutes after that and I made a detour to the nearest hospital while Claire shouted at her angrily, “Damn you, Rita, you’re not supposed to die first! I’m supposed to wear this dress to my own funeral, not yours!”
Later, when it turned out Rita was fine, just dehydrated, and Claire was calmer, she told me that had been the thought. That the dress she was buying was going to be the dress she would be buried in.
I promise not every chapter will be this morbid in the future. I owed Ziggy a phone call, after all.