The Dress

This is my one time article for the Virtual Blog Tour Award.
A little chick-lit fiction for a change.

The dresses were lovingly packed in tissue paper and the whole lot wrapped in a piece of sheeting inside a dusty old brown suitcase. She cautiously unfolded one and shook it out: no moths, no dust, just a faint fragrance of lavender. The suitcase had remained locked for so long and had served its purpose well. How many years had it been under the bed, she wondered, how long since it was last opened?

She noticed a card that had been tucked inside one of the dresses, an indigo brocade cocktail frock. Yes, “frock” was the right word for these early 1950’s styles with fitted bodices and full skirts, demanding stiff petticoats. The card showed a drawing of the dress and the name “Vogue” with a pattern number. So this was a homemade item. She looked at it more closely and saw how carefully it had been made, in spite of a few minor irregularities. It had been finished by hand, neatly and invisibly hemstitched,

She moved the tissue paper aside and pulled out the next one, a flowing, full-length gown of emerald silk cut on the bias, even more exquisitely made than the first, and held it up against her, turning to look in the chevalier mirror. She gasped.

“Gran,” she called out, “Granny!” and carrying the dress as if it could fall apart any second, she ran downstairs to the sitting room.

“Granny, look! Look what I’ve found upstairs!”

Her grandmother looked up from her crossword, with a smile that immediately disappeared again at the sight of the green silk.

“Where did you find that?”

“In an old suitcase under the bed in the spare room,” she replied, her eyes shining. “Isn’t it gorgeous; Gran?”

She stroked the soft smooth material, almost lasciviously.

“It would be perfect for my Prom, Gran,” she said with a wheedling note in her voice. “It’s real vintage, and just amazing. It looks my size. Oh Gran, it would be awesome …”

Her grandmother was looking at her with a strange expression, as if she were going to cry. It took her a few moments to regain her composure and then she smiled at her granddaughter and said quietly, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, sweetheart.”

But the girl had already slipped out of her t-shirt and jeans and was stepping into the green gown, which was a little long for her, but otherwise a perfect fit. She twirled and pirouetted for her grandmother’s benefit, and her long black hair flew round her flushed face.

“It’s magic, isn’t it, Gran? This is what they call Grecian, isn’t it? Made to measure for me!”

The old woman cleared her throat. “You are the same build as we were,” she said. “You have the Lewis figure. And your hair is the same colour as Helen’s was.”

The girl was catwalking to and fro on tiptoe, enjoying the swish of the silk and the feel of it against her skin.

“I know which shoes will go with it,” she declared, “They have six-inch heels, so the dress won’t even be too long!”

“It suits you, sweetheart,” her grandmother agreed. “But I think you’d better take it off now. We don’t want it to get spoilt, after it’s survived all these years. “

She helped the girl out of the dress, and laid it neatly over the back of a chair.

“Come and sit down a minute, “ she went on, catching the girl’s hand. “And I’ll tell you about it.”

They sat side by side on the sofa, and the solemn expression on her grandmother’s face suddenly struck the girl with foreboding. It was like an icicle on the back of her neck and she felt her skin turning to gooseflesh.

“Is it sad?” she asked warily. Her grandmother looked down at her feet and for a moment she didn’t speak. The silence lay like a thick cold blanket over them.

“You know we were three sisters, don’t you?” she began. “It was my older sister, Joyce, who was training to be a dressmaker and made those dresses you found. I didn’t know I still had them. It was great for us to have such a clever sister, and as we were all so close in age and more or less the same size and build, we shared most of our clothes. In those days, there was plenty of opportunity to get dressed up, and we all loved going to dances and parties.

Well, that green dress there was a very special one. The material was very expensive, and you know silk isn’t easy to sew, it slips and slides under the sewing machine, so Joyce had a lot of trouble making it, but when it was finished she was so proud of it! She had auburn hair, you see, and that green really complemented it and brought out the colour of her eyes. We thought she looked absolutely fantastic, like Rita Hayworth!” The memories softened the old lady’s face, as she recalled her sister’s beauty.

“Joyce was courting; a young man called Brian, and hoping to get engaged. They were going to a dinner-dance, and she knew he was going to propose that evening. She loved emeralds, and had been dropping hints about the kind of ring she wanted, and that was why she picked that colour for her dress. She looked so lovely, standing there waiting for him to come and collect her. Well, she waited and waited and he didn’t come. We were all getting anxious, and she was devastated, couldn’t understand why he’d stood her up. And then, much later, there was a knock at the door and it was a policeman.”

She paused, swallowed, blinked away a tear and then continued in a low voice: “Brian had one of those little sports cars, with an open top. He was on his way to our house, and … well, obviously he was in a hurry to see Joyce. It all happened very suddenly. The car skidded in a bend and turned over. He was killed outright, the policeman said. No seatbelts in those days, of course. They found a little box in his pocket with an emerald ring in it, and a card he had written that said: My darling Joyce, will you marry me?“

The girl’s eyes widened and she stared aghast at her grandmother.

“Well, of course, after that Joyce never wanted to wear that dress again. She hung it at the back of the wardrobe and left it there.”

“And did it stay there for ever and ever?” asked the girl.

“Oh no, not at all. It was such a lovely gown; it was a shame for it not to be worn. So after a while, I asked Joyce if she would let me have it. She was only too happy to get rid of it! I didn’t have the hair colour of course, but we all thought I looked nice in the dress. It is a very flattering style, as you can see. Anyway, I was madly in love and had a date with a handsome young airman at a special do at the officers’ mess. So off I went, full of happiness and hope. And halfway through the evening, he told me there was someone else! I felt as if I’d baled out without a parachute. He didn’t even have the decency to escort me home; just called me a taxi and said goodbye.” She gave a wry smile, but the pain and humiliation were still reflected in her eyes.

Her granddaughter snuggled up to her and squeezed her hand.

“So after that, I didn’t have very pleasant associations with that dress either,” she said. “I passed it on to my younger sister, and Helen was thrilled with it. She was a bit taller than Joyce and me, but that didn’t matter. You look very much like her, actually, same colouring. She got Joyce to alter the neckline a little bit, to make it more up to date. This was about 5 years after Joyce wore it, and necklines were plunging a bit more. She wore jet beads with it, and long dangly jet earrings.“

“Did she have a nice time?” asked the girl, timorously. Her grandmother shook her head. “She went to a dance,” she said, gritting her teeth. “You’re growing up now, so I suppose I can tell you. Do you know what ‘date-rape’ means?”

Horrified, the girl nodded. So did her grandmother.

“So, now you know why none of us ever wore that dress again,” she concluded.

The girl looked at her, thinking about what she had just heard.

“You can’t blame the dress, Gran,” she protested. “It’s just a coincidence.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” responded her grandmother. “But I believe that dress is jinxed. I have no idea how it got into my things. I suppose Helen didn’t want it after what happened to her, and Joyce certainly didn’t, so it probably just got put back with my things. I wish it hadn’t. It’s very bad luck, that dress. “

“I’m not superstitious, Gran! I don’t believe in all that stuff. Please let me have it for the Prom, it’ll be a sensation! I don’t think you really believe it’s jinxed, either – these things happen.”

It took a lot of persuasion, but the girl finally left with the green dress carefully wrapped in its tissue paper, revelling in her victory and with a sense that somehow, even though she wasn’t superstitious, she was challenging fate. She tossed her head and told herself there was really no reason to be afraid of anything bad happening.

The evening of the Prom soon came around, and the giggling gaggle of teenagers set off for a fantastic evening at the country house hotel that had been booked for the great occasion.

Her grandmother sat at home, her eyes fixed anxiously on the phone. She thought of the three times the dress had been worn up to now, and the disastrous events associated with it. She feared for her granddaughter, praying that she would be spared the kind of trauma she and her two sisters had endured. The phone didn’t ring, and she went to bed at around midnight with a heavy heart. The next day dawned, dismal and gloomy. She felt tense and worried all day, waiting for the bad news.

She was just pouring her afternoon tea when the doorbell rang. It was her granddaughter, limping, biting her lip and obviously distressed, holding a carrier bag in which a bundle of emerald green silk was visible.

“What happened?”

“I’m so sorry, Gran. There was a little accident,” said the girl tearfully. “I’m afraid the dress is ruined. Please don’t be mad at me.”

“Tell me,” said her grandmother, trembling with apprehension, as she sat the girl down and handed her a mug of tea.

“Oh, it was dreadful! I was having an amazing time, everything was fantastic, and then – well, you know the dress was a bit too long, so I was wearing those killer heels – oh, shoes to die for, Gran! And I nearly did! I was just starting to go down the grand staircase and I caught my heel in the hem of the dress and went bump, bump, bump like a bouncing ball all the way down to the bottom. I felt so stupid and clumsy!!”

“Oh my goodness! Were you hurt? Are you all right?”

“Oh, I’m fine, Gran – you know I do martial arts so I know how to fall. Just twisted my ankle a bit. But the disaster … the dress … I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to bring it back in this state … but, well, what broke my fall at the bottom of the stairs was the desserts trolley.”

She bent down and extracted the emerald gown from the carrier bag. It was torn and covered in smears of trifle, fruit salad, whipped cream, ice cream and chocolate.

“It’s ruined, Gran. I don’t think anyone will be able to wear it again.”

“Oh my darling! Oh, don’t worry about that! As long as you are all right, and – what I feared most – you haven’t had your heart broken through wearing this cursed dress!”

The girl grinned through her tears.

“Oh no, Gran – just the opposite! Tristan Perkins picked me out of the wreckage and carried me to safety. I’ve fancied him for ages, but he’s never noticed me till now.”

She laughed gleefully.

“He called me his Green Goddess and kissed all the chocolate off my face! Oh, Gran – he’s just awesome, amazing! I think I’ve broken the curse – that dress has brought me a wonderful boyfriend!”

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9 thoughts on “The Dress

  1. I am glad it was a happy ending, Cat. Great story. I was all ‘ears’, wanting to hear, what else was going to happen to that dress. Kept me in suspense. How did you come up with the idea for this story? Did you know someone who had a similar experience?

    • Well, my mother has a suitcase full of old clothes under the bed in the spare room – but nothing like this! Not sure where the idea came from, the story just told itself.

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