BY MARY SCHULZ
Copyright is held by the author.
THE DRESS was lying in its opaque shroud on the bed. Their bed. As she began to unzip the metallic teeth of the garment bag, she realized she was holding her breath.
A voice in her head gently told her to stop. To take a break, even though she had only just begun. She stood up from leaning over the bag and let her eyes rest on the window. Snow was softly falling. Not so hard that she thought it would accumulate into much of anything. A wistful snowfall that made her feel separate and truly alone. She bent her head to look down at the dress.
She knew every fold of it. Lately she had wondered what it would be like to run her hands down the full length of it again. To see what power it still had, if any. It was actually so much more than a dress — a gown, in the glittering, evening anticipation of the word. Gown. Apart from one’s wedding day, when did anyone talk about wearing a gown anymore? Not in her circle, anyway.
It was the colour of the sea caressing a Greek island. Shimmering and tingly. After gently untangling the dress from the crook of its hanger, she slowly lifted it with both hands, cradling it, as one would a small child. She pushed the garment bag aside and heard it slither to the floor. She laid the dress down again quietly, reverently.
Finally, the dress was free. It had been ten years. She studied it. The material felt cool under her fingers. Creases were etched into what had once been stiff taffeta but the netting of the full, floor length skirt still bristled with the promise of a crisp rustle. She closed her eyes and ran her hand over every fold. The last time she had done this, he was still here.
Undressing quickly in the chilly room, she put on the tortuous strapless bra that she had dug out of the back of her dresser drawer. Slipping off her shoes and jeans, she stepped carefully into the dress, being mindful not to catch the hem with her foot. She smiled briefly as she thought how silly she must look with her navy socks poking out at the bottom.
She drew the dress up over her breasts and hooked her arms behind her to do up the zipper. The dress seemed to gulp in air, to breathe for the first time in so long. Smoothing down the bodice, turning this way and that, she critically appraised her reflection in the cheval mirror in the corner. Pleasure bubbled up in her that it still fit, that the zipper went up with only the slightest hint of a catch over her hips and belly. Not bad for a 50-year-old broad, she thought, knowing that this is exactly what he would say, with a wry grin.
They had talked, off and on, about how she wanted to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Sometimes it was when they were sipping their wine after a lazy Saturday night dinner or when she turned to him, sitting up reading in bed. They had decided on an in-town getaway — complete with fine dining and playing tourists. It wasn’t so much for the sex — although that always felt deliciously naughty in a hotel — but for the teardrop chandeliers and young waiters with perfect, white teeth who seemed born to present an exquisite meal with a flourish. And the hush, while they leaned in and talked, twirling their wine glasses, pausing, smiling, then talking some more. Surely talking was the most intimate act between any two people in love.
She had finally decided, after much deliberation, that she would splurge and buy a new dress! Not just any dress but something crisp and elegant. And they would dance.
They had met after work, finding each other in the hotel check-in line. Such a gorgeous place, with its stained-glass windows, gleaming wood work and polished tile floors. They’d smiled at each other, feeling guilty and excited, like a couple sneaking away for a dirty weekend. Despite their fourteen years together, it still felt edgy.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” he had quipped, just loud enough so the lady with the pink flowered luggage behind them in line could overhear. “I know!” he snapped his fingers. “You’re Joe’s wife, right? Funny meeting you here.” He winked at her and brought the volume of his voice up just a notch. “I know this might seem kind of forward but – I wonder – do you care to make it a perfect weekend? I’m here on business and, well,” there was his sheepish smile, “I gotta admit, I just hate to sleep alone.”
The lady behind them tried unsuccessfully not to stare, wide-mouthed.
Flashing him the most coquettish smile she could muster, they had abandoned the line, walking arm in arm to the Library Bar to order ridiculously over-priced cocktails – Sidecars.
They had got their room with an hour to spare before their dinner reservation. Collecting the key, he had asked the impossibly young woman at the reception desk to arrange for two more Sidecars to be sent up.
They had almost been late for dinner, so luxurious was it to sit on the gilded chairs in their thick white robes, feet up, sipping cocktails. But when she finally stepped out of the bathroom, having arranged the dress around her, just so, she found he, too, was dressed for dinner in his navy suit, having carefully chosen a tie to match the colour of her dress. She had stood silently in front of the bathroom door, grinning, waiting for him to look up.
And when he did, he, too, had smiled.
They had walked arm in arm down the hushed, carpeted hall toward the dining room, the chandeliers throwing shards of light along their path. Always there to catch her, she felt his arm squeeze hers as she’d walked carefully, unaccustomed to wearing heels or drinking Sidecars.
She hadn’t had a Sidecar since.
She lifted the hem of the dress and walked slowly down the hall. The taffeta whispered, like walking through dry leaves. She experimented sashaying a bit. At the end of the hall, she turned and swirled, letting the full skirt swing and fall. She then walked back to the bedroom to the cheval mirror. She studied herself for a full minute, remembering how she had felt that night. But it was no good. It wasn’t working. Perhaps she was asking too much of a dress. And anyways, perhaps it had all been in her head. Or his. Maybe it was how she had been reflected in his eyes, how he had made her feel. But in any case, the feeling was gone.
With some difficulty, she reached to undo the dress, thinking how often she had taken for granted that there would always be someone there to unzip her. She gave the dress one last caress then let it fall to the floor in a mass of crumpled blue.