Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Dress

The need for attention proves agonizing the crazier Jenna feels. It assails her mind until no corners are untouched by its wickedness. She sees herself strutting through the center of town, through the business square with its one street bustle, in her full-length seventies gowns, being judged and juried by the community. The dresses are hideous, showing the degree of her mental decline, they speak to her, and she hears their language; listens to the stories about the journey the garments have made from person to person until landing on the racks at Salvation Army, waiting for her to rescue them. The automatic door opens slowly with a creaking of age. The smell of time hits her in the nose. She runs her left hand over the garments. Each gown glows with an aura making her fingers get numb and tingly. Jenna closes her eyes to avoid biasing her choices based on favorite colors or textures. A dress must be felt intrinsically to achieve the status of the midday parade through downtown. No ordinary gown can qualify. Her entire body halts as electricity arcs into her fingertips. The feeling is strong and Jenna hesitantly opens her eyes to reveal a wonder. Beneath her hand is the most glorious dress she has ever seen. It is 100% polyester, floor length, black and white calla lilies pieced together in a visual feast. The sleeves are full to the wrist, and the neckline plunging into a shift bodice that pulls the eye to the floor. Jenna quivers in anticipation of trying the dress on. “It has to fit, it has to fit,” she chants to herself on the way to the dressing room. The curtain to the small changing room slides over easily, the sound of it reminds her of getting in the shower, it smells of mothballs and old ladies, but these attributes have become enchanting. They signify impending discoveries. Jenna disrobes down to her bra, panties and black, worn combat boots studying herself in the mirror, though it never does any good. She cannot see what kind of girl she is, and the girl in the mirror never tells her anything useful. With arms up high, the dress comes down over her head, sliding easily and perfectly into place over her breasts. The fabric releases from her hands and swishes to the dirty carpet below, swallowing her boots. Her hands smooth out the wrinkles, running over hips and breasts and thighs. The dress is immaculate and fits her without question like a second skin. The African charm fastened around her neck as a choker gives the look statement, her clean-shaven skull with swaths of paprika hair, adds just the right amount of color. Jenna studies her image and feels complete. She removes the garment, carefully folds it, checks the price tag several times to be assured it is affixed. Items without price tags cannot be sold until re-priced, and they almost always are more expensive once desired. Her clothes are replaced like old friends, and she sweeps back the curtain of the dressing room with flourish holding her head high like a movie star, an heiress, an artist, a musician, a woman bent in more ways than one. Jenna lays the dress upon the counter as if handling a newborn or a fragile artifact. The check out girl roughly unfolds it, shakes it out, inspects it and looks at her sideways, screwing up her face. She’s got to be crazy to wear a dress like this. “That’ll be $1.99 plus tax.” Aleathia Drehmer 2007 Published by The Clockwise Cat 8/07


Mikela watches Jonah blow smoke rings around his pallid face in the half darkness. The wisps trail from his lips along the bridge of his straight, long nose before dissolving in front of his eyes. Light from the television screen reflects in his glasses as he sits motionless. Jonah’s long legs fold up in front of him like stilts as he leans his back into the ratty brown couch. It is stained from late night parties and laziness, the fabric worn in places until the padding is evident. She looks at him as if he were a building whose architecture she might want to scale and measure. The shape of his limbs perfectly angular as they connect to the center of his body, beams jutting from a steel frame, his exterior slick and fragile, as if coated in a fine layer of glass. Images from the television make shapes on his face, the same as on her face as she sits directly behind him silently stroking the fine, dark brown hairs at the base of his neck. He blows a perfect ring of smoke into the silence. Mikela stares through the center at the black and white movie that has been playing for the last hour. She can see Tom Waits’ mouth moving, face contorting, arms flailing about, but she is relegated to imagining the gravel of his voice, as Jonah likes to watch movies without sound. He tells her he would rather study the language of the body in conversation than the language of voice with so many of its words wrapped in double meanings. “The body does not lie the way words can,” he says to her. Mikela tilts her head to the right towards the curtain-less windows; the squares of glass dirty from smoking. She looks at the field to the side of the house; the raspberry brambles build a fortress around the edges in the moonlight. She notices the fish swimming in the tank that is sandwiched between two low-slung sills. The off white paint slowly chipping reminding her of paper birch trees, and it makes her want to get up and start peeling it away. But the filter bubbles into the tiny ecosystem distracting her, and the light catches on the iridescent scales of her tetras. She is captured here for a minute, contemplating her arrival at this very place in time; how after all these years she would find herself alone, but not alone, watching silenced movies in the dark. She can’t touch him without the fear of drowning in his sorrow, without extinguishing her own joyfulness, and she realizes right then that he is something she cannot fix. Smoke dissipates above the crown of his head again hanging there like a soft mist and Mikela suddenly feels like an apparition. He is lost in himself in these moments and she is nothing to him. She could pass through him unnoticed except for the sudden chilling in the air that would make him shiver, but not notice her. And when the feeling of an invisible hand lightly brushing the hairs of his arm alarms him, only then will he remember she was once there. Aleathia Drehmer 2007 Published by Beat the Dust 1/08