Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Every so slowly, carefully, meticulously, he peeled the notes off the folded bundle he had taken from his pocket, one by one. Two battered fives, five newer, more crisp singles. He held them out to me, but didn't quite extend his hand. I watched his rough knuckles instead of his face, waiting for some admonishment. Behind his shoulder, drying her pale fingers on a cotton dish towel, she pursed her lips, her brow furrowed slightly. I glanced up quickly, with what I hoped was an endearing smile. He grunted and thrust the money into my palm and turned on his heel. She turned as well, but not before glaring at the notes in my fist. I backed up a few steps, feeling behind me for my coat on the wall hook, and turned myself out the front door as quickly as I could. I buried the bills deep in my pocket, suddenly afraid of losing them. Fifteen dollars was more than my father had ever given me, and certainly more than my stepmother felt I had ever deserved. I strode quickly down the street, turning the collar of my coat up against a sudden breeze. The dress shop was only a few blocks away, and I made my way there quite fast. A bell tinkled somewhere in the depths of the back, and I could hear the even thrum of a sewing machine in the quiet storefront. No one came to the front to see who had come in, which was just as well, as I preferred to look around on my own. All around the walls were racks of richly embroidered evening gowns, sequined cocktail dresses, day dresses with peplum waists and buttons down the front. One rack held a collection of fox and mink stoles, some still with the preserved heads of the animals attached, their glittering glass eyes reflecting my face. Near the back of the store were racks containing skirt suits of every imaginable color and material. There were heavy gray tweed jackets for winter, crisp seersucker blazers in palest blue and white, and closest to the corner, neat little blue suit with a dark skirt and a cornflower-colored jacket. I lifted the back of the collar above the hangar ever so slightly to read the label- Chanel. "Can I help you find anything, miss?"
I nearly jumped out of my skin as a thin, balding man in a sharp three piece suit walked up to me, smiling and fingering the chain of his pocket watch. 
"Oh! Oh, no sir. I'm just having a look around"
He looked past me at the suit, my hand was still on the collar.
"That is a lovely suit. It would look charming with your eyes."
I swallowed.  "How- how much is it?" I asked, stumbling slightly over my words. The old gentleman had the strangest gray eyes. I didn't want to stare, but I could hardly keep my own off them.
"Fifteen. But we'll make it eight, since the color so becoming on you."
"That's very kind, I-" But he was already taking the garments off the hangars and putting them into a tissue lined box with cream and green stripes. 
"Oh." I said, taking the money out of my coat pocket. 
He wrote out a receipt in lilting, smooth handwriting and smiled kindly as he handed me the package. I thanked him once more, then hurried out into the street, glancing back just once to see him still behind the counter, watching me. 
It was beginning to snow now, but I ducked across the street into a well lit shoe shop and picked out a pair of pumps and a new hat, paying for them with what was left of my father's gift. By the time I reached our driveway, the snowflakes had started to stick to the blackberry brambles in the yard, and I could hear my stepmother shouting from inside the house.  

I hope to be starting a new writing project soon, a novel detailing the extraordinary life of my grandmother Bobbi and the amazing things she accomplished. On my last visit, she told me how once when she was sixteen, her father gave her fifteen dollars for clothing, and she bought a Chanel suit, much to the chagrin of her stepmother. The preceding is loosely based on her story. 

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